Antonin Kratochvil Incognito

Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton
Interview by Mark Jacobson
Arena Editions available via Marston Book Services, Abingdon. 2001.
Hbk, 192 pages, 94 duotone plates, £36.00.

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David BowieAntonin Kratochvil made his mark as a photo-journalist covering war and strife in Afghanistan, Rwanda and Mongolia. He shoots using black and white film in an expressionistic and subjective style. In this volume his camera turns its unblinking eye on famous people, film stars and celebrities.

Here we enter a world of refugees and stragglers wandering in the gutters of fame. Their faces are painted with a surreal light that shows the not so pleasant essence beneath their oh-so-familiar features. They are the never-to-be-forgotten undead who will find eternity on cable and satellite TV. 

Liv TylerWithout the colour, intensity and styling usually afforded such creatures of fame they wither into a Twilight Zone of striking deformity and infamy. Kratochvil relaxes his subjects like a poisonous snake and then his camera shoots its killer blow. Pow, the glamorous star is revealed not as a human being like the rest of us, but as an abnormal byped whose charisma is a black hole of desolation, alienation and vast loneliness. Some look starkly pathetic and lost, some glow brighter and more vividly beneath the make-up of contrived stardom.

Kratochvil takes the 'star' out of their body-guarded circle of fawning worship and his camera eye looks at them in a blurred and contorted vortex of light. He totally destroys their carefully controlled images and by hitting them off-centre they are shown in a different and perhaps an even more realistic and honest form.

Is he really showing us the star in a new light, or just re-framing them in a different yet equally contrived form? Can we get to the truth of a subject, indeed is there an absolute truth to be found? Stars and the famous have got to where they are by being supreme manipulators, so are they just playing another role in front of Kratochvil's camera? Who is kidding whom? In an interview with Mark Jacobson, at the end of the book, Kratochvil admits;

"'ve got to know when to con and when not to con. You want people to be in on the game. A good part of photography is a game: Let's see if we can break the mold, do something different. Mostly it works."
This book grows on you, and the images glisten in your memory like jewels picked from an ocean bed. Look especially at the images of Jean Reno, John Woo, Tim Burton, Pedro Almodovar, Rod Steiger (with his jacket hunched over his head), the ghostly Liv Tyler and the frighteningly grainy photographs of the 1998 Oscars. He certainly breaks the mold and makes his subjects even more enigmatic, strangely beautiful and vulnerable.

Nigel Watson
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