HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION ŽENA STRAKONICE

 

The younger generation maybe does not even know that in the seventies and eighties of the past century the town of Strakonice organized two cultural events with international participation and of worldwide reputation. Besides the bagpipers festival there was still a photographic exhibition and competition called "ZENA" (THE WOMAN). The latter should return to Strakonice again this year, after a 19 years' break.

 

An exhibition of photographs dedicated to "the woman" as its main theme came into being, paradoxically, as a consequence of the failure of another exhibition which had taken place in 1969 under the name "The Man and the Motorcycle". It was František Zemen who had organized it together with amateurs of photography being employees of an important local industrial enterprise. They were convinced that the then state-owned enterprise would see in such an exhibition another form of advertising their products and that it would attract a lot of visitors. "But that was not true, only two persons came, and one of them, moreover, was only inquiring after a lavatory", František Zemen recalls smilingly the bad succes of the first exhibition.

 

After that desillusion it seemed clear that another theme than photos of motorcycles was required. At that time, Josef Hejtmánek, an official of the District Cultural Center, happened to visit František Zemen. "One fine day, Mr. Hejtmánek called at my house. We took our seats in the kitchen, I offered him a drink, and an idea suddenly emerged from our talk: And what about exhibiting photos of girls? This was the story at the outset, it was in our kitchen where The Woman was born", Mr. Zemen tells us. The first exhibition took place in 1970, with the cooperation of members of the amateur club of photographers existing in the above mentioned industrial enterprise. In addition to František Zemen Josef Šimečka or Jaroslav Rejžek could be named, for example. In the following years, the exhibitions took place mostly bi-yearly. Whilst in 1970 only 84 photographers from Czechoslovakia had sent their works to the exhibition, five years later there were already about one thousand participants from 31 countries. It was not easy to get contacts to foreign photographers and journals – František Zemen managed to get them in Cracow, Poland, under very funny conditions, namely in exchange for a MEOPTA enlarger.

 

Due to the then prevailing political situation in this country, it was not possible to exhibit all high-quality pictures. "The funniest thing was, for example, that it was prohibited to portray gooses on the photos, which probably had some relation to the person of the Czechoslovak President", Mr. Zemen added (Remark of the translator: the President's name was Husak, which means "gander" in Czech). The last exhibition was held in 1992. After a break of nineteen years, Strakonice should organize the 13th exhibition this year.

 

"Since a couple of years, we notice an increasing interest of the public in such an event, in this country and abroad as well. All those who remember the previous exhibition bear it in pleasant remembrance. As far as we hear from leading Czech photographers, there are not many international exhibitions on photography in the Czech Republic. This is why we think that it would be worth a try", Mrs. Eva Dresslerová, director of the Municipal Cultural Centre, said when explaining the reasons conducing to a revival of the exhibition. As an additional asset, due to the recent reconstruction of the Castle, the town of Strakonice has acquired prestigious display facilities and locations suitable for exhibitions of international format. The preliminary estimated costs amount to half a million Czech Crowns. The most expensive item therefrom will be the catalogue.

 

František Zemen recalls that in his time the question of the costs was a little bit more simple: "What really mattered were the postage expenses only. The postage became more expensive merely by the fact that from each consignment received only a part was sorted out for the exhibition, the remaining pictures were returned immediately to the consigner". Hence the returning was done in two stages. The exhibited photos were returned after termination of the exhibition, less or more two years later, because the exhibition was an itinerant one within Czechoslovakia. This should be changed in future. "We would like the exhibition to attract and bring Czech and foreign visitors to Strakonice, therefore we would retain it in Strakonice", Eva Dresslerová remarked.

 

According to the Municipal Cultural Centre, the exhibition should keep its biennial form, thus alternating with the international bagpipers festival. With regard to its time-consuming preparations the 13. Exhibition will take place toward the end of this year.

 

Please replay the video named "Photography Exhibition ŽENA WOMAN is coming back to Strakonice dated 14. 2. 2011.