Some Assembly Required: Miroslav Tichý

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

Miroslav Tichý, Kyjov, Czech Republic

Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý believed that, “If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.” And to do this, “First of all, you have to have a bad camera.” Tichý’s cameras were some of the worst. Constructed from cardboard tubes, tin cans, and bits of string, he made thousands of photographs with his homemade cameras from the 1960s until 1985. 

While Tichý made many cameras throughout his career, a typical camera might be made from plywood and made light tight with road asphalt. The shutter would also be made from plywood with a window cut through and operated by a pulley system made from thread spools and dressmakers elastic. His handmade lenses, attached to cardboard tubes, were cut from Plexiglass and polished with toothpaste and cigarette ashes.

Tichý photographed women, often isolating body parts like legs, buttocks, and backs. The voyeuristic quality of his imagery is largely due to his homemade telephoto lenses that allowed him to photograph unnoticed at a distance from his subjects. The limitations of his equipment made for frequent under or overexposure, out of focus imagery, and other imperfections. Equally imprecise in the darkroom, each negative was printed only once and artifacts like the dusty negatives and stained prints add to the uniqueness of Tichý’s work.

Tichý remained mostly unknown until a documentary about his life and work, Miroslav Tichý: Tarzan Retired, was released in 2004. A corresponding exhibition of his photographs was shown at the 2004 Biennial of Contemporary Art in Seville. Tichý passed away in 2011, but the fascination with his homemade cameras has only grown in popularity.

Photo by Miroslav Tichý

View more of Tichý’s work on his website.

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