Light as Colour

Slavko Smolej, Gradnja 2. plavža / Construction of the blast furnace no. 2, Jesenice, 1940
Slavko Smolej, Gradnja 2. plavža / Construction of the blast furnace no. 2, Jesenice, 1940

Coloured and Colour Photography in Slovenia from Its Origins until 1945

17 April – 17 August 2014

Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubljana

WHERE: Pot na Fužine 2, Ljubljana

The exhibition offers the first review of coloured and colour photographic production on Slovenian soil from its origins in mid-19th century until 1945. At first it concerns various types of colouring, toning and monochromatic techniques, whereas in early 20th century the first genuine colour images appear, i.e. transparencies made with a standardised additive process called Autochrome plate. After 1907 this process was employed by the academic painter and puppeteer Milan Klemenčič, the pharmacist from Ljubljana Gabrijel Piccoli and the first lady of Slovenian colour photography, the amateur photographer Jela Repič. It is documented that this process was also used by the known pioneer of Slovenian film Karol Grossmann. These photographers mostly photographed family members and were devoted to a realistic portrayal. Milan Klemenčič was the only one who deviated from this by searching for colourfulness, typical of Post-Impressionist paintings, in his flower arrangements.

In the 1920s and first half of the 1930s photographers in Slovenia used the so-called Agfa colour plates. In the second half of the 1930s the colour photography market was dominated by subtractive transparencies and by large photography companies, e.g. the American Kodak and the German Agfa, which eventually superseded the additive, though contemporary Dufaycolor transparency.

At that time the following individuals established themselves: members of the Fotoklub Ljubljana (Photo Club of Ljubljana), the journalist Karlo Kocjančič from Ljubljana, the pharmacist Ivo Koželj and electrical technician Slavko Smolej, both from Jesenice, and a few independent photographers, e.g. Professor of Mathematics and Physics Franc Bajd and the professional photographer Peter Lampič, both from Ljubljana, and the amateur Mirko Križnar from Kranj.

The landscapes, portraits, genres and still lives from the early days of the medium were complemented by shots of movement and public events, by scenes of urban exteriors and interiors, and images of industrial buildings. Most of the authors upgraded their initial realistic approach with experimental shots under poor and monochromatic light and with colour studies, sequential atmospheric shots and modernistic compositional series. In the domain of science colour photography was extensively used in popular botany.

The number of colour photographs which have been made and preserved on paper from that time is modest in Slovenian collections; they were entirely produced abroad.

The wartime conditions once again shifted the focus of photography to its documentary side. Due to the condensed and fatal nature of events and the conditions under which these photographs were made, the colour reports are fragmentary, mostly anonymous and divided into the warring sides, i.e. to testimonies from German and Italian viewpoints and from the perspective of individual representatives of Slovenian civil society, among others from the Ljubljana judge Dr Jakob Prešeren. We can witness numerous, yet unfortunately likewise anonymous photographs from partisan life on the one hand and fewer reports on the Home Guard movement on the other.

One of the known partisan photojournalists, whose colour photographs have been preserved, is Čoro Škodlar; also active in the northwest margins of Slovenia were soldiers and officers of the American army, the amateur photographers Cruz Rios, John Woodward and William Ferguson. The historical review of this period is concluded with the soothing landscape and portrait photographs of Dr Janez Milčinski from the first post-war months.

Primož Lampič