Tom Drahos

Fundació La Caixa

Although he considers himself a photographer, Tom Drahos uses almost any medium in his work: sculpture, photography, video, painting, and film. He has been one of many artists to liberate photography from the conventions that limit it to representation, and he has tried to replace and substitute the familiar representation with a conceptual significance. Originally from Czechoslovakia, Drahos left Prague after the 1968 revolution. He then moved to Paris, and after a 22-year absence returned to his native city to photograph everything he saw, every route he followed, and everyone he met, stubbornly following a scenario he had invented. He then developed, one by one, each of the thousand images he had taken during the trip, grouped them into panels of eight to ten images, and tinted them. In one of the two installations here, Praga (Prague, 1991), Drahos built a bridge, reminiscent of an old metal one that unites two churches in Prague. He then placed a video monitor at each end of the simulated bridge. Each monitor was enclosed in a floor plan of the church at the respective end of the bridge; on the bridge there were crystal pots containing Drahos’ photographs from his trip. On the walls, the panels of grouped, tinted photographs had been removed at the last minute, leaving the newly created “architecture” by itself.

L’Estaque, 1989, not specifically done for this exhibition, was also shown. The French Ministry of Culture invited several artists to work in the area of L’Estaque, a town almost destroyed by industry since the time when Cezanne, Renoir, Derain, Dufy, and Braque worked there. Arriving at L’Estaque, Drahos was impressed by the famous rock, which, he believed, had surely witnessed the transformation of the area calmly, remaining unaltered, unaffected. He then photographed it, altered the photographs, and placed them within the figure of an Indian bird, symbolizing the uncertain future of the area. He also installed different images of the same stone, painted and tinted, cut, turned, ground, and transformed into a different substance to show the development of the town.

Drahos’ installations are really an excuse for photography, and for exposing photography. He submits the medium to the most violent experiments that question photographic images. His work has evolved from an almost journalistic, reportorial form to a “plastic happening in five dimensions.” He tries to transform photography, just as most 20th-century painters have tried to transform their medium. Interested in the different processes, transformation, mutilation, modification and metamorphosis of matter, he plays with the intangible energy of photographic material, paper, chemistry, and image, rather than just the end result. For him a photograph reduced to ashes holds as much of the substance of the picture as the original, intact image. Time modifies different substances, and Drahos’ work echoes the big bang. He shows the metamorphosis of a work of art, here a photograph, from beginning to end, following the path of the mind, and ultimately crystalizing a dream.

Anatxu Zabalbeascoa