ForestJitka Hanzlová

(Steidl, 2006)

Czech-born Jitka Hanzlová left her native Rokytník in Eastern Bohemia, and claimed asylum in Germany at the age of 24. She settled and later studied photography in Essen, however much of her early work is preoccupied with the memory and recollections of her early childhood home.

In Forest (2000-2005), Hanzlová engages in the place of childhood memory, the wooded realm of the looming Carpatarian Mountain forest. Jitka Hanzlová played amongst these ancient trees as a child, but in revisiting them she offers no safe place of refuge or mythical charm; this forest is an untamed sanctuary, an excursion far within the bowels of the unknown. As John Berger describes in the accompanying essay, “In Jitka’s pictures there is no welcome. They have been taken from the inside. The deep inside of a forest, perceived like the inside of a glove by a hand within it.”

Jitka Hanzlová’s portrait of the forest is void of civilization; the seasons are muted and offer nothing more dramatic than a dusting of snow or the occasional summer bloom. A flower teetering over a menacing woodland pool appears like a warning from an enchanted fairytale, and in the background there’s the lurking omnipresence of darkness, of the unknown. Berger writes, “In a space without gravity there is no weight, and these pictures of hers are, as it were, weightless in terms of time. It is if they have been taken between times, where there is none.”

While shooting Forest, Hanzlová noted in her sketchbook, “In the forest there was nobody looking at me, communicating with me directly, so I had to look more and more into myself.” It is the intangible quality of these intriguing images that give them their affecting power, and like Jitka Hanzlová, the more we look into the Forest, the deeper we look at ourselves.

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