Libuše Jarcovjáková

* 1952  

  • “For two or three months I was hanging around and then I decided that I’d go work as a manual laborer into the Svoboda printing house at Arbesovo square. I saw it as a way to ‘invent’ my own working-class origin. But I had no idea whatsoever what I was getting myself into. The printing house was incredibly technologically backwards, full of toluene stench, and as for the people working there it was a peculiar mix of people unwanted by the regime, plenty of alcoholics, and very old women who were working there since sixteen years of age and who were still there in their 70s. We worked in three shifts, and the operation was extremely noisy. We printed Mladý svět, Vlasta and Ahoj. And it was very hard work. People there were drinking a lot, and I just naturally became one of them. For the first three weeks I went to work shifts and when I had a break I read. I came there as a high school graduate so in their eyes I was a weirdo. But then once after the afternoon shift they invited me to drink beer with them and easily I drank up eight shots of rum on the spot. I was fascinated by the factory, always checking my thumb whether it had started flattening, and whether my hands were dirty enough. It is a complete miracle that it hadn’t ended up with me marrying one of those Smíchov men and having five children. That was a real risk – that’s how involved I’d gotten.”

  • “It didn’t take very long before I started taking pictures there. During nightshifts, and using paradoxically the square 6x6 format. It turned out to be a fairly interesting series. In fact, what the night shift was about were exhausted people sleeping somewhere around the rotary presses. In fact, these are contact portraits. I’d been doing it for several months. Of course, people wanted to see the pictures and so I brought them there at some point. That was the beginning of the end because as soon as they started circulating, it got all the way to the Communist Party factory council. That caused a stir because it showed anything but good practice of socialist work. They then strictly banned me from carrying on, claiming it was hurting the reputation of the socialist workers.”

  • “Kreuzberg was really distinct because many young boys from all round the world were moving there in order to avoid military service. All the alternative people moved and lived there. It was cheap, and the mingling with the Turks was very peaceful. I witnessed an assault on an American discotheque because there was a huge military presence there. But what was really strange about Berlin was crossing to the eastern part. There was subway going under East Berlin, just passing through closed stations guarded by armed soldiers. The only place to get out was Friedrichstrasse which was a border crossing and where people regularly went to buy cheap cigarettes. At times, border patrol were checking the passengers. And I’d just somehow push my way through the East German border control – really unpleasant people – to East Berlin. Suffering from a strange nostalgia, time to time I went there to get drunk. I would go there in the afternoon and take a seat in some pub. I did it not for financial reasons, but rather due to some – how to say it – nostalgia for socialism. I can’t even explain what it was that I was missing. So I just sat down somewhere, drank purple gin tonic and usually entered into conversation with someone. The other person would ask me very carefully about how was life in the West, probably fearing that I was an informer. And then – fairly tipsy – I returned to West Berlin. I don’t know exactly what I was searching for during those expeditions because East Berlin was not a pleasant city.”

  • “I remember that a certain coal distributor, Mr. Kratochvíl, used to live on the corner of Opatovická and Ostrovní streets. Opposite to his place was the wine bar Zobor. There was a coal storage there and he would take his wheelbarrow and distribute it in the area. Next to it was a house where a woman called ‘the sheriff’ had lived. She probably used to own the place at some point. I remember a gentleman who lived there, made a living by sweeping around the National Theater, and sang arias. He was a former singer and wherever he came, he sang. I have the impression that I also remember horses – carrying either the postman or the iceman. And of course we had a key on our neck and spent whole days outside. There was the Střelecký island, Žofín, the Jewish island which was in fact fairly wild. Those were not neat parks as we know them today. Nobody checked up on us – we’d get out of the house in the morning and simply return at some given hour – and we really enjoyed the city. To me, the downtown began with Národní třída, behind it was metropolis. But that Ostrovní street was really village-like."

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    Praha, 11.08.2016

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Memory of nations (in co-production with Czech television)
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    Praha , 12.08.2016

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Memory of nations (in co-production with Czech television)
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I like variety and I learned to listen

Libuše Jarcovjáková, 2016
Libuše Jarcovjáková, 2016

Libuše Jarcovjáková was born in 1952 in Prague into an artistic family. Apart from her parents as a teenager she was mostly influenced by her mother‘s friend, the designer Ester Krumbachová. Due to her family background she graduated from a graphic arts school and only following repeated attempts in the mid-1970s was she admitted to Prague‘s Film Academy to study photography. In the meantime she worked for several years as a manual laborer in the Svoboda printing house where she also began experimenting with photography. She built on this experience during her school work which defied the then-mainstream. She photographed minorities such as Prague‘s Roma families, Vietnamese workers and later the homosexual community which also helped her clarify her own sexual identity. In the mid-80s she spent a short time in Japan after which she immigrated to West Berlin where she lived and took photos up until the Velvet Revolution. Then she returned to Czechoslovakia, living and working in Prague ever since.