Moravian hunters posing next to a white Lamborghini, sidewalk sweepers in Brno, firemen from South Moravian Naloučany. Roman France’s group photographs, typical of their subtle humor, have attracted a lot of attention recently and have been chosen by the US Library of Congress for their prestigious collection. Now they can be seen at an exhibition in Prague’s Leica Gallery in an exhibition called Groups.
Roman Franc follows on from his previous works, in which portrait, documentary and staged photography are distinctively interwoven, for example the extensive cycle Sokolová: věrna garda or the series of absurdly arranged scenes My Little Miracles.
“He does not deny inspiration from a number of older works, from amateur pictures of family reunions to old photographs of thousands of American soldiers assembled into various inscriptions and paintings, to group portraits by Richard Avedon or Annie Leibovitz,” said Grupa exhibition curator Vladimír Birgus. “However, his greatest inspiration is the work of the American Neal Slavin, who in his colorful group portraits stages people in front of a large-format camera, sometimes in grotesque situations. Franc has established personal contact with Slavin, is participating in the filming of a film about him, and is trying to organize his exhibition in the Czech Republic .”
Firefighters in Naloučany (last farewell to the fire engine) | Photo: Roman Franc
As you can read in the interview with Roman Franco, which Aktuálně.cz published in March, he considers the portrait of several hundred participants of the commemorative March of Reconciliation from Pohořice to Brno in May 2015 to be his first picture from the Group series, even though it could be included in this collection and some older works. After that, the group portrait found itself at the center of Franco’s interest. “The author is not only intensively expanding the number of his own photographs with this theme, but he is also writing a dissertation on the development of the group portrait as part of his doctoral studies at the Institute of Creative Photography of the University of Silesia in Opava,” states Vladimír Birgus.
Pictures that have recently gained a lot of attention not only among photography lovers and the professional public, but also on various social networks would not have been created if their author could not gain the trust of the photographed, who willingly cooperate in posing according to his instructions.
“Sometimes he has the concept of the images thought out to the last detail, other times he spontaneously reacts to the environment, the lighting or the mood of the people in front of the lens,” says Birgus. “However, he always plays the role of the director, who authoritatively and yet amicably lets everyone involved know that he has assigned each of them an important role in an artistically and historically significant photograph. And they feel that they are participating in something special, something that connects to the past and what will remain for the future.”
Future saunars and current river swimmers, river Svratka, Brno | Photo: Roman Franc
Roman Franc can convince footballers from the island of Tanna, saunars and nudists by the river Svratka, and perhaps dozens of pensioners who once worked in Zbrojovka in Brno to cooperate. “Not only does respect for the slow and cumbersome but dignified large-format film camera play a role in this, but also inventive image composition and technical precision,” explains the curator of the exhibition.
Roman Franc repeatedly returns to the portraiture of some groups. Many times, for example, he photographed firefighters, hunters and other residents of the South Moravian village of Naloučany, who gradually accepted him among themselves and, thanks to the fact that their portraits reached the US Library of Congress, named him an honorary citizen and member of the fire department. This not only creates great photos, but often friendships as well.
About the exhibition
Roman Franc: Groups. Leica Gallery Prague, from 27 April to 11 June 2023. The curator of the exhibition is Vladimír Birgus. The gallery is open during the week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., on weekends and holidays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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