Pavel Mára is a distinctive European photographer. Born in Prague in 1951, for almost two decades now he has been a teacher at the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University, Opava. That is the calling to which he was predestined by his art, which entails working with concepts and meticulously thinking things through. The look of his works often stems from new interpretations of the possibilities of the photographic medium.
Mára creates in series, some of which are remarkable depictions of the organic and inorganic world in geometric shapes. He achieves that, for example, by how he selects his shots. He does not use the usual technique of manipulating the photographic image. Often striking, surprising, and sometimes even unreal, colour is an independent component of Mára’s photographs. Yet he also employs a detailed and bewitchingly clear transcription of photographed reality. His work in series excludes chance; it leaves the viewer in no doubt about the photographer’s intentions.
As early as in the 1970s, Mára was among the few people in Czechoslovakia who did art photography in colour and, moreover, mostly in large formats. Of his early works, one mostly recalls the pictures of the precisely textured surfaces of technological objects painted in bright colours, for example, Mechanical Still Lifes (1976–84). These are photographs that may reasonably be ranked among works of geometrical abstraction in other fields of art, even though they are at the same time quite concrete. He has been developing the principle to this day.
The human body became the main subject matter of Mára’s photographs. Using a simple method, he created the monumental Triptychs of nudes and portraits from 1990–93. The extraordinary impression they make consists in the sensed mystery of a shift of gaze. They were made without changing the position of the model by a vertical shift of the camera – the view from below, the view straight on, the view from above.
He made Mechanical Corpuses (1997) using special approaches with coloured lighting, linking real bodies to unreal colours. The inventive staging of models with shaved heads in precisely centred compositions brought Mára to international attention.
The publication is based on the counterpoint of black-and-white and colour photographs, including, for example, Black Corpuses: Family (2001); the magical tonality of this series was achieved by printing black-and-white reversal film on colour reversal paper. Negative Heads (2010), made in the scale of black, grey, and white, are, by contrast, digital portraits of a male model, defamiliarized by using geometric elements.
Pavel Mára’s whole oeuvre is pioneering. It is highly aestheticized but not calming; rather, it makes one uneasy. It is part of contemporary postmodern culture also because it is complete only when it has been installed, and in each case this is done for a particular space.