A couple of years ago we featured a selection of pictures from Miroslav Tichý in our annual Photo Issue. His were the crude images of scantily clad ladies, sometimes outlined in handmade frames. His pictures were unique not only because of their voyeuristic nature and careful pencil embellishments, but because of the inherent imperfections in photos taken with cameras made of wood and lenses attached with glue and asphalt.
Calling Tichý a recluse would be a drastic understatement. He was a notoriously private man, much to the chagrin of gallery owners in the mid-aughts whom he spurned by not attending his first solo exhibitions. So we were ecstatic when, last November, we made arrangements with his neighbor and caretaker, Mrs. Hebnarova, to stop by for a chat.
Tichý told most visitors who appeared on his doorstep to please fuck off, so when we drove to his hometown of Kyjov in the Czech Republic we were still unsure of whether or not he would speak with us. Luckily, Mrs. Habnarova warmed him up to us, and even sat with us, filling in facts here and there.
What follows is the first of what was supposed to be a two-part interview. Sadly, Tichý died in Kyjov last Tuesday, leaving our conversation unfinished.
Vice: Hi Mr. Tichý. How are you doing?
Tichý: How do you think such a great man like me is doing the evening before a global catastrophe?
Those people over there by the shop told us they remember you snapping pictures of them ages ago...
What do you care about some people in a shop? Just look at them, they’re absolute losers.
We were just asking them how to find you. They said that you’re the man who took their pictures.
See? And what’s the name of that international organization? The... the...
Mrs. Hebnarova: Interpol.
Tichý: That’s right! That’s who got me. Totally fucked!
And where are your photos, Mr. Tichý?
I could have made—what—four thousand pictures during all that time. And that Buxbaum [_A former friend and collector of Tichý's work who Tichý severed ties with in 2009._] he took every one of them.
Mrs. Hebnarova: [_browsing through a book about Tichý that came out abroad_] Well that’s you! Tichý: See? Wouldn’t it be nice if I owned the picture?! Mrs. Hebnarova: And he took it all the way to China!
And what about the rest of your pictures? When are they going to see the world?
Tichý: I don’t have any. He took everything!
But you’re the most famous Czech photographer in the world right now. You can’t just ignore that.
I can do whatever I want.
Well, sure you can... but I don't think you should. Kids studying photography admire you. Maybe it would help them if you said something about how and why you took the pictures you did… explain how you came up with this stuff.
Everyone is as he is born.
But we were wondering how you came up with it.
I never came up with anything. I just did whatever came to my mind. Like Tereza here...
Mrs. Hebnarova: He took photos of whatever amused him.
Tichý: I don’t approve of any form of amusement.
Then tell me why you chose to take pictures of women at the public pool.
Oh come on. They would never let me inside the premises. I took those pictures from behind the fence. I was hiding in the shadows, and from there I could take pictures with ease. But the things that I can do no one else in the whole wide world can. I knew everything during the first couple of days after I was born. What was and will be. Like when I went into that shop to take pictures of the store manager, I didn’t even know what I was seeing—I was working completely automatically.
All these girls in this book, Mr. Tichý, hmm? Look at those legs...
Yeah, yeah. You still have feelings.
And what is your opinion of the world, Mr. Tichý?
I don’t care about the world.
What do you care about?
Oh, I don't care about anything.
So you’re a nihilist or what?
Oh, come on. A person doesn’t have to be A, B, or C.
And what about history? Do you care about that?
The classics, philosophers, I’ve got all that memorized, but it’s way more complicated than you would think. Take Cesar. He spent his whole life building an empire, then they called for him. And he didn’t really have to go, but something told him to go there. That something sees the world. And once they killed Cesar off he rose to the first place in the whole universe. And that’s the way it happens.
Do you still drink?
Not anymore. I only drank for five years. Not even when I was young.
Mrs. Hebnarova: He had this hunch a few years ago and after that he was unstoppable. But now, even if I offer it to him he doesn’t like the way it tastes.
Tichý: Do you know what freedom is? Everybody keeps talking about it. Some say that freedom is communism. Some say that freedom is Havel [_last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic_]. It’s something else for everyone. A person has the ability to be free because he is born. He keeps being told that that is supposed to be right. So let’s say that I’m going to believe in the communists. That way I’m going to limit myself. Mostly to complete bullshit. I don’t want to limit myself, I want to think. Ponder. At least as much as a pig might. The pig ponders the best of all creatures [_Tichý smiles, real cute_].
Her husband [_Mrs. Hebnarova’s_] keeps chasing the cats off the table because cats aren’t supposed to be on the table. But how does he know that? How does he know that cats aren’t supposed to be on the table?
Well, people built walls and then they walk between them. So they could live better.
I don’t need no walls.
I can see that.
If the whole world believed in god there wouldn’t have to be any rules. Everyone needs to have their own ideas.
Mr. Tichý, would you say a few words for us on camera? Your image is rather distorted, and people won’t know the truth until they see it with their own eyes.
You can write whatever you want, but no cameras.
OK. Maybe in the future?
After those rockets take off that will be something different. It only takes one to take a whole Europe off the maps. Because Europe is the closest to China. Russia? That’s just a bunch of dumb assholes who can’t even count to five. There’s nothing left of Russians today. But there’s a lot of the Chinese and they have the money. I wasn’t even 13 when I started talking to the Chinese.
OK, we’ll be going now Mr. Tichý. But what should we bring you next time? What do you like?
I don’t like anything. And I don’t eat pigs on principle. They’re the most intelligent of all creatures. The world has its plan and that’s what it rules by. Whoever I said would come to power did. I was talking about China a long time ago. And what do I say now? What comes after China? Africa!
And after Africa?
After Africa... nothing. You know what I heard on the radio? That today’s negroes like Slavic songs.
I heard the communists used to lock you up in institutions so you couldn’t ruin the parades on the 1st of May, is that true?
Well, they would just put me in a cage for four days. And on the third day I always had a vision of a three meter large Hitler head. Do you know how Czech history works? What’s inside the people no one will ever get out of them.
So you don’t like the Czechs?
Czechs... The Czechs would always degrade other great Czechs. Servants of the powerful. But that’s what the pope was as well. And those who didn’t want to serve they’d burn at the stake.
And what do women mean to you?
I’m no homosexual. I don’t care about women. I made some sketches, that was fun. I think the worst of women. Their heads are hollow. They have no insight and believe everything they’re told. Soups, dresses, haircuts... great. Then they get married and cry. I had other interests. Every being has its purpose here. You bring a baby into this world and so on. But not everyone has the time or interest.
And how did you come to this perspective?
Because I didn’t want to achieve anything. Something just pushed me to think. I know that I know nothing. Get it?
Mrs. Hebnarova: Mr. Tichý, Mr. Tomas here wanted to ask you if I’m helping you with anything.
Tichý: Well, you help and you harm. You keep wanting to dress me up in all this nonsense.
Mrs. Hebnarova: Like clean pants, Mr. Tichý, right?
Tichý: Those pigs are the most intelligent...
We’ll come back later Mr. Tichý.
I’ll be dead by then.
Mrs. Hebnarova: Don’t start with death again! Tichý: Death is my hobby.
We’ll be off then...
Did you steal anything?
I’m just kidding. But I’ll tell you something about photography. You know what I liked to take photos with the most? Cameras I carved out of wood myself. But I don’t really remember much more about it.
INTERVIEW BY T. ZILVAR, P. ČEJKA
PHOTOS OF TICHY BY P. ČEJKA