DPP Home Profiles Antonin Kratochvil: Master Of Conflict

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Antonin Kratochvil: Master Of Conflict

A photographer without borders, Antonin Kratochvil creates gritty images that reveal the essence of human suffering and spirit

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Whether he’s photographing street children in Mongolia or doing a portrait session with George Clooney, Antonin Kratochvil is able to interpret a range of subject matter in a way that’s provocative and unconventional. Above: A shelter in Poland, 1976.

Kratochvil was on assignment for The New York Times Magazine covering the polluted lands of Eastern Europe. He wound up in Romania where he found this man trying to garden the black, polluted soil. This image served as the cover of his book, Broken Dream: 20 Years of War in Eastern Europe.
The life of a photojournalist is a rather fearless one, especially for those drawn to places where uprisings, civil war, famine and other matters of human suffering are rife. Such is the life of Czech photographer Antonin Kratochvil whose 35-plus years in the field have taken him from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and the killing fields of Rwanda to the blood diamond mines of Sierra Leone, the Iraq War zone and Pakistan in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. And that’s a very partial list.

His stark, unconventional black-and-white photography is haunting. At times and in places where most photographers aren’t looking, Kratochvil is, and so his work is filled with revealing images that show intimate, emotional moments like the drudgery and boredom of life in a refugee camp or the intensity inside a Myanmar police interrogation room. In a profession that depends on instinct, his is so refined that he’s able to poignantly capture what he sees unfolding around him, never wasting a frame.

“You can’t go in and look for a shot,” Kratochvil explains. “If you’re busy looking for the shot, you’ll miss the essence. You need to be flexible and look for the feeling, the emotion of a place. Every situation is different, and so you have to be in tune with how it changes. Whatever is there, you try to see it as it is.”

Kratochvil’s empathy for people in pain is deep. He spent his early childhood in a labor camp outside of Prague, growing up behind the so-called Iron Curtain before fleeing Czechoslovakia in 1967, just before the Soviet invasion. The then-19-year-old wandered around Western Europe spending time in refugee camps before ending up in the French Foreign Legion, the infamous army of foreigners and refugees. He escaped the army, making his way to Amsterdam where he attended the Gerrit Rietveld Art Academy, earning a bachelor’s degree in photography.


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