Contact photography / 70
The relationship of Sejn’s photography to reality came to my attention when I was viewing these photographs, made by the contact technique, through a magnifying glass. However obscure this method may seem (and, actually, why not magnify a photograph?), the photograph then gives the impression of living reality. This impression is possible just because of the values and gradations which cannot be preserved in magnifying the negative, however perfect it would be. However, the impression of reality is accompanied by the opposite feeling – a feeling of the unreal. A close attachment to the reality makes its magical copy, in which the sense of facticity is converted with its overlap into imagery. The elements of irrational coincidence also contribute hereto – Milos Sejn, with his own humour, mentions the “wanderer’s walking stick” which, traditionally, “appears tossed away” in the realised image. So the more the photography becomes itself, the more it clings to the image of reality, thus actually to itself. The strengthened effect and enrichment with a new dramatic quality brings a method of placing several contacts, which are a shifted shot of one and the same motif, besides each other. The succession of events in two slides in a film strip is a result of the mutually open relationship between the motif and the photographer in time and space. The simultaneous view, making a specific type of open space, is somewhat close to this movie-like approach (I can reveal that this is one of Sejn’s unfulfilled wishes), and yet it is part of the peculiar image poetics.
The irrational of the randomly tossed “walking stick” in magical copies is not far away from the irrational into which the seemingly strict and logical geometry is reversed. They both have a lyrical aspect in the sphere of which the apparency of the tight bondage between imagery and reality emerges. The secret of reality, however, is unveiled only to those who have patience and trust and accept the order of the photographer’s camera lens. This order also incorporates the form chosen by the photographer. The exhibition features various close-ups of one and the same negative beside each other. The format promotes or covers some sides of the image. The use of a small format, in combination with the selection of a particular type of paper, emphasises in this case the magical attitude in the relationship between photograph and reality. The large format, on the other hand, emphasises composition and image components in the photograph. Besides this, the format has another meaning – it proposes to the spectator the distance from which the photograph should be viewed as an entity. It is just like in reality – we view some things from very close and some from a distance. This distance is the bearer of a certain meaning not only towards the image but also toward itself: connected with a certain feeling of the spectator, it becomes one of the dimensions of the photograph as an art work.
The polarity of the magical copies and image compositions is only a different expression of the joint sense of Sejn’s photography – the relationship between reality and imagination. In the tension between reality as a fact and imagination as a possibility, the world is realised as something which isn’t rigid, recorded once and forever and unchangeable, or something wayward and arbitrary, but the dynamic order of nature, whether with the geological story of the stones or the morphological story of the plants.
It just takes us back to the initial notes on the photographs made by a painter who tries to answer the question of the relationship between a painting and photography. Those who know Sejn’s creative work certainly find similarities in both genres. I actually indicated that above. On the one hand, landscape portrayal while investigating the relationships of colours, especially recently, and on the other hand a study of spatial relationships of natural forms, resounding with the work of many creative predecessors, yet on his own obstinate journey and in the effort to merge both, this is the span which has so far seemed to be the axis of travel of Sejn’s work. This polarity is manifested in Sejn’s photographs as well. Why doesn’t he then resort to only photography, or to only painting, especially if he claims his key means of expressing himself are paintings? I will leave this question open. For the time being, the reply we can give is that the creator never belongs to himself but to his work which tells him what he should do. Whether the work of Milos Sejn is good or bad, I will leave to others’ judgement; these notes were aimed at unveiling the meaning of his work.
by Jan K. Celis, November 1977
From a text for the catalogue for the Light in Stones exhibition, Hradec Kralove, 1977