Michael Borek : “Photography is the ability to see things” / Michal Borek: “Fotografovani je umet se koukat”Interview with a Czech photographer MIchael Borek | Czechmatediary
≡ Menu

Michael Borek : “Photography is the ability to see things” / Michal Borek: “Fotografovani je umet se koukat”

Michael Borek photography MICHAEL BOREK is like many of us. He is Czech to the bone and lives in the US. But he is also a photographer and a great one. I asked him if he would do an interview with me and he kindly agreed to it. I suggest you go on his web site and read this interview to get a better appreciation of his wonderful work :0)

CZ: MICHAL BOREK je jeden z nas: je totiz Cech do morku kosti a zije v USA. Je ovsem take fotograf a to nejen ledajaky fotograf – je velmi nadany! Zeptala jsem se ho, jestli by se mnou neudelal rozhovor a on s tim souhlasil. Doporucuji, abyste se mrkli na jeho stranky a precetli si nize uvedeny rozvhovor – budete tak moci ocenit jeho dilo do vetsi hloubky :0)

1/ Where you into photography even during your childhood? Were your parents supportive?

Yes, I did like to take pictures as a child, but I was not very systematic. When I wanted to actually develop these photos, the things got quite complicated: I had to take out the door out of our closet, put them on top of the bathtub, then put a bunch of bowls on top, each filled with a different chemical such as the developing bath, the interrupter and the fixer; I also had to put the red light bulb in  as well as the magnifier above the washer and that was all done in a a classic communist panelak bathroom, meaning that the space was VERY limited. And then in the morning you had to fish out your pictures from the tub, just like you would do it with the carp at Christmas time. I will never forget the ecstatic feeling I got once the picture started to appear in the developing bath, but I have to say, digital photography is still superior. You have so much more control over what you are doing! My parents were excited for me, although they weren’t that excited about the foul spots  on the closet door made by the developing bath. Over all, I had quite a few hobbies as a child, photography being one of them. I have been doing photography full time (and if I don’t do it full time I suffer with some serious withdrawal effects) only for the past 5 to 6 years.

2/ Which country do you think is more photogenic? The US or the Czech Republic? Or is it some completely different country?

If my specialty was taking pictures of the landscapes, I would probably say that the US are the most photogenic, mostly the South-Western part of the US, it is just so beautiful and exotic looking. But I really don’t do landscape that much and that is because I don’t know how to make it look better (or different) than what the other photographers did with it already. I think that I can really find my niche anywhere so I find the most photogenic places right where I happen to be at any particular time (or, at least, I try to do that). Photography is an ability to see things anywhere, not just visiting exotic places in order to compensate for the fact that one does not know what to take pictures of otherwise. For example, just this Christmas I went to Mexico (Yukatan) where I took few pictures of the classic Mexican stuff but my other pictures captured details which could be found anywhere, even in Zizkov.

3/ I know that the American strip mall architecture bugs you as much as me or any other European. Why do you think  that  Amercians do not invest more money into something more eye-pleasing?

Yes, the American suburbian architecture is really something terrible but unfortunately it is cheap and practical (if you leave out the suffering estheticians in the background). People shop there a lot so it really is up to the consumer to change this. If they went to the mom-n-pap shops instead, these awful boxes would close down. But it  is easier said than done, right? In a lot of these places there aren’t any such family owned shops. And if there are some they are half dead and more expensive. It is much easier to bulldozer all of this junk (I am sorry, ‘things’), without which people cannot live (or they think), into these impersonal warehouses and bring it in huge amounts and for much cheaper prices. But I don’t think that it is only America’s problem, the same thing happens now in Czech and all over Europe. I am one of those ‘sinners’ too as I shop on-line a lot. Although I cannot say how Amazon warehouses look like but I am guessing they are more on the practical side than on the aesthetic one.

Michael Borek photography4/ You have moved to the States in 1992. What led you t0 leave the Czech Republic? Would you ever want to move back? Why or why not?

That’s a boring story. I used to work as a freelance translator and one company offered me a job in the US. At first it was a 2-week project, then the time expanded into months and years and now I am a complete American. I got used to this country. The American society seems to be quite functional (except for the current economical situation), people do not complain or envy each other as much  so I don’t plan on moving back to the Czech Republic. But I am in a contact with many Czechs, I read the Czech press and I also visit the Czech Republic quite often (at least once a year) so I don’t feel like I have estranged this country.

5/ What do you miss the most about the Czech Republic?

When I moved to America, I really missed a good beer; but now there are good breweries almost anywhere so finding a good beer is not a problem. I also missed the Czech humor but then I discovered the creator of comics, Garry Larson and other few American comedians that I liked (like the recently diseased George Carlin) and I realized that even here you can find people who can show  society a mirror – sometimes in the most smooth and most clever way. Also, thanks to Skype and the internet, one can be with anyone he wants to (although only virtually), so I really don’t miss anything. I hope I don’t sound like some sick optimist.

7/ Would you say that you get more recognition from the Americans or from the Czechs?

For sure I get more recoginition from Americans. But that has a simple explanation: I have not even had any exhibition in the Czech Republic yet. Although my last art show was held at the Czech Consulate in Washington (Czech territory) only about 1/2 of the visitors were Czech.  What is paradoxical is that Americans tell me how typically depressing and Eastern-European my art is (I stopped explaining that it really should be Central European), while my Czech friends and my other fans say that my photos totally portray the fact that I live in America. People find in my photos whatever they want to. If you are interested, here are couple of the critiques that I received for the show in the Czech consulate: http://www.washingtondiplomat.com/December%202008/b3_12_08.html http://www.expressnightout.com/content/2008/12/night_for_day_for_night_michael_borek.php

8/ Anything else you would like to ad?

I am going to have an art show at the Photoworks galery in Glen Echo (Maryland; suburbs of Washington) in the beginning of June. So if you are interested and live close by, you should come. The exact information will be on-line at http://www.glenechophotoworks.org/about.htm

Michael Borek image CZ: 1/ Where you into photography even during your childhood? Were your parents supportive?

Fotil jsem, fotil v dětství, ale ne moc systematicky. Když jsem chtěl vyvolávat fotky a dělat zvětšeniny, byla to poměrně náročná operace: vysadit dveře ze skříně, dát je na vanu, na to misky s vývojkou, přerušovačem a ustalovačem, červené mámivé světýlko do objímky a zvětšovák na pračku a to vše v klasické socialistické koupelně-buňce, takže prostoru málo, pramálo. A ráno potom lovit fotky jako kapříky z vany. Ten pocit, když se fotka ve vývojce začne objevovat byl fantastickej, ale neměnil bych; digitální fotografie dává člověku mnohem lepší kontrolu. Rodiče mi fandili, i když nebyli nadšeni skvrnami od vývojky na dveřích. Ale byl jsem se svými koníčky motýl přelétavý a fotografie nebyla mojí jedinou láskou a opravdu naplno a se vším všudy (tím mám na mysli, že když ji nedělám, trpím abstinenčními příznaky) se jí věnuji tak posledních 5-6 let.

2/ Which country do you think is more photogenic? The US or the Czech Republic? Or is it some completely different country?

Kdybych fotil krajiny, asi bych vám odpověděl, že Spojené státy; zvláště jejich západní část, a ještě konkrétněji jihozápadní část, mi přijde hodně fotogenická a exotická. Ale já krajiny skoro nefotím, protože nevím, jak to udělat lépe či jinak než mnozí přede mnou, a nemám rád, když se věci příliš opakují a nevidím důvod, proč rozmělňovat to, co dělali jiní. Mám pocit, že si tu svoji „parketu” dokážu najít skoro kdekoli a tak mi fotogenické připadá vždy to místo, na kterém jsem.
Nebo se o to aspoň snažím; fotografování je umět se koukat a ne vyrážením do exotických lokalit kompenzovat to, že člověk neví co fotit. Třeba na Vánoce jsem byl v Mexiku na Yukatánu a pár fotek, co jsem tam udělal, bylo typicky mexických, mnoho dalších zase byly drobnosti, co mě zaujaly a mohly být skoro kdekoli, třeba i na Žižkově.

3/ I know that the American strip mall architecture bugs you as much as me or any other European. Why do you think  that  Amercians do not invest more money into something more eye-pleasing?

Ta architektura předměstských škatulí je opravdu příšerná, ale bohužel je levná a praktická (pokud neberete v potaz trpící estéty) a lidi v nich nakupují, takže si myslím, že je to na spotřebitelích; kdyby chodili do osobitějších obchůdku či butiků, ty škatule by zkrachovaly. Ale ono se to snáze řekne než udělá; v řadě míst ta volba není a rodinné obchůdky, nebo jak se tady říká obchody mámy a táty, jsou na vymření a navíc jsou dražší. Ono je mnohem jednodušší navozit všechen ten odpad (pardón zboží), bez kterého lidi nemůžou být (nebo si to aspoň myslí) do těch neosobních škatulí a dělat to ve velkém, takže za nižší cenu.  Ale nemyslím si, že je to problém jenom Ameriky i v Česku a Evropě jich je hodně. A viníkem jsem asi i já – hodně nakupuji přes internet a i když nevím, jak skladiště třeba Amazonu vypadají, tuším že asi více prakticky než esteticky.

4/ You have moved to the States in 1992. What lead you t0 leave the Czech Republic? Would you ever want to move back? Why or why not?

To je nudná historka. Pracoval jsem jako tlumočník a překladatel na volné noze a jedna firma mi nabídla práci v Americe. Napřed to byl projekt na pár týdnů, z pár týdnů se stalo pár měsíců, z pár měsíců pár let, no a teď jsem už úplný Amerikánec. Zvykl jsem si tady; zdejší společnost celkem funguje (i když teď se zrovna moc nedaří ekonomicky) a lidi si tolik nezávidí a trošku míň nadávají a tak se vracet nechystám. Ale jsem v kontaktu s mnoha lidmi, čtu český tisk a často do Česka jezdím (aspoň jednou ročně), takže nostalgie a pocit odcizení si na mě nepřijdou.

5/ What do you miss the most about the Czech Republic?
Když jsem přicestoval do Ameriky, tak mi chybělo slušný pivo, ale teď jsou místní drobné pivovary skoro všude a tak dobré pivo není problém. Taky mi chyběl český smysl pro humor, ale objevil jsem kreslíře vtipů Garry Larsona a pár komiků (třeba nedávno zesnulého George Carlina) a zjistil jsem, že i tady jsou lidi, kteří „nastavujou zrcadla” a někdy naprosto fantastickým a mile vyšinutým způsobem. A navíc díky Skypu a Internetu člověk může být skoro všude a s kým chce, aspoň teda virtuálně, takže mi vlastně nic nechybí. Doufám, že nezním jako patologický optimista.

6/ Would you say that you get more recognition from the Americans or from the Czechs?
Určitě od Američanů, ale to má jednoduché vysvětlení; já jsem v Česku zatím nevystavoval. I když moje poslední výstava byla na Českém velvyslanectví ve Washingtonu, takže to vlastně bylo na české půdě a bylo tam asi tak půl napůl Čechů a Američanů. Je to někdy paradoxní; Američané mi říkají, jaká je ta moje fotografie typicky pochmurně východoevropská (už jsem přestal vysvětlovat, že správně se říká středoevropská), zatímco moji čeští přátelé či lidi z Česka, co mi fandí, mi zase říkají, jak je na mé fotografii vidět, že žiji v Americe. Každý si tam asi najde, co chce; proč ne. Pokud vás to zajímá, tady jsou dva odkazy na recenze té výstavy na velvyslanectví:   http://www.washingtondiplomat.com/December%202008/b3_12_08.html http://www.expressnightout.com/content/2008/12/night_for_day_for_night_michael_borek.php

7/ Anything else you would like to ad?
Budu mít výstavu v galerii Photoworks v Glen Echo v Marylandu (předměstí Washingtonu) začátkem června, tak koho to zajímá a zvládne to časoprostorově, ať přijde. Až budou doladěný data, informace by měly být online na adrese http://www.glenechophotoworks.org/about.htm

If you liked this post buy me a coffee! (Suggested:$3 a latte $8 for a pound) Thanks!

6 comments… add one
  • Karen March 16, 2009, 6:37 am

    Tanya, I appreciate you asking him how we can get Americans to build beautiful buildings. As an American, I want to know that answer! Thanks for bringing someone new to our attention.

  • Vlastimil March 16, 2009, 8:14 am

    Karen,
    Lately, I am observing, it is “in” to build shopping areas or even appartments which are “European looking” but still, it feels as a fake. A marble is actually a painted plywood, bricks is a thin siding etc… and sometime, behind a nice looking wall, where I suspect would be nice appartments, there are simply piles of garbage, because it is already “on the other side”….
    Even if there is a new movement in American architecture (cities should be built to make it easy to live in, to socialize and work without any need to commute long distances etc…), there are always some “unimportant” touches missing : small cozy squares, passages through buildings, small restaurants in gardens which are actually inside “backyards” of some house, areas where no cars are allowed and neighborhood cozy “hospody” from where angry wifes pull out their beloved husbands after closing hours ….

    Furthermore, we should blame cars for the architectonical (??) disaster. It made it possible to
    to move to uggly suburbs and perfect them 🙂 and now when we have 3-4 cars in each family, we can afford to commute over 100 miles a day.. becuase we don’t want to live in uggly or deserted cities… It is a devil’s circle….

    It took me 3 years to find a house which is NOT build in a development area and which does NOT look like roman building and where I don’t need to look into neighbors kitchen… ( I live in forest 🙂

    I agree with the Michael Borek, that USA is the most photogenic country ( I have not been in Antarctis though:), One has really plenty things to take pictures of… beautiful, happy , awful , scary ….

  • Tanja March 16, 2009, 9:52 am

    Thanks Karen! I think he answered it very well, don’t you think? It just makes sense…the people drive the economy; if they keep going to Starbucks, for example, then Strabucks will keep growing and the family owned coffee shops will die off. The problem with those mom-n-pop’s (spelling?) places is that they don’t serve a very good coffee:(

    It just is kind of a difficult situation…

  • Vlastimil March 16, 2009, 10:06 am

    Tanja,
    you are right…People drive the economy, which
    is the cause behind Starbucks store closures all over America…
    Old goo’ neighorhood coffe shops are making a big comeback and this time, they do serve a good coffe..
    because the economy drives the people to improve in what they are doing … I didn’t like Starbucks anyway…
    the best coffe is made by me….using my french press…

    I really like the pictures by Michael Brok , thanks for the article about him

  • Tanja March 16, 2009, 3:43 pm

    Really? Starbucks are closing in your area? Our Starbucks are doing pretty good here; I asked my old manager and she said they are down to only 13%.

  • Vlastimil March 16, 2009, 4:39 pm

    Tanja, I don’t know where they are clsoing, but read their business report (I am a curious guy 😉 )

Leave a Comment