Capturing the Ordinary? Irena Blühová and Photographic Modernism in Slovakia 1926-1936

  • Abstract:

    Irena Blühová was one of the first female Slovak photographers who came into prominence in the interwar years with socio-critical images, produced in connection with her activities for the Czechoslovak Communist Party. She also participated in the dissemination of a modernist photographic framework in Slovakia, which today has largely fallen into obscurity. By looking at the different stages in Blühová’s short but prolific photographic career, this paper aims to reassess her work in light of the changes it underwent in the decades preceding the Second World War. Blühová’s training at the Dessau Bauhaus is an important aspect of this, as is her engagement with gendered conventions of the photographic medium, which first emerges in her Bauhaus photographs and reappears in the years thereafter. Another hitherto untreated aspect of her work relates to the fact that Blühová’s socio-political imagery underwent a change after the Bauhaus in what appears to be a slow move away from socio-critical images of manual workers und the disadvantaged towards much gentler depictions of Slovak life. Seeing her work as a document of political agitation within the socialist spectrum, as has tended to be the norm to date, does not cater for these changes. In an attempt to overhaul this, this paper assesses the reasons why Blühová could have taken the step to decrease the socio-political angling of her work in favour of more ethnographic motifs- despite the fact that she remained an important activist for the Communist Party in Slovakia. A consideration of iconophobia within communist circles and an assessment of the photographic currencies in Slovakia at the time provide potential answers for this, highlighting that Blühová was not just a political activist with a camera, but a modern photographer who knew how to critically document interwar Slovak identities.