by Polina Shubkina

© Imrich Veber from the 'BLOCK 62' series 

You have been doing photography for quite a while now. Could you please tell us a bit about your background?

Imrich Veber (IV): I started photographing seriously in 2008 although I always have been fascinated by it. Studying photography was my childhood dream, as a kid, I used to take pictures of flowers, I guess that's how everybody starts... When I studied at the Secondary Forestry School in Hranice I organized a photo competition, pretty amateur one, but still… At that time I was very interested in nature and mountains. I was climbing, hiking, skiing a lot.

I became more involved in art thanks to my girlfriend - Evička; together we started to attend various cultural events, exhibitions, film festivals, etc. At first, I was only a viewer, but then something changed my perception of things, and I decided to express it through photography. Seems like a funny story now... I can not imagine someone telling me ten years ago "You will be an artist" I wouldn't believe it.

Would you say that studying the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava had a significant influence on you and your practice?

IV: I have to say that after five years that I spent there, I am not a fan of this school at all. But I cannot say that it did not give me anything. I managed to keep my way of thinking and way of looking through the program. 

There was (maybe still is) an intense pressure on students in a sense of style and thinking about photography. In my opinion, this institution doesn’t want to find your voice, but it intends to turn you into another trendy stuff. Anyway, it was an important experience for me. I felt as a solitaire somehow and probably my work will never end up being included in significant school exhibitions. I consider myself as a black sheep of the Institute.

© Imrich Veber, 'BLOK 62' as the backrground of the project of 'Something is missing'

© Imrich Veber, sketches from the 'Something is missing' series 

Please tell us about your first photo book, what series does it include? 

IV: My first publication is the catalog of 'Not One Life'. It focuses on people with mental disabilities from one institution in Opava. I was working on this topic until last year and during this fall I am going to publish a photo book which will close my eight years long work on these series.

I started this project when I was only 20, even before pursuing formal photographic education. After approaching two different mental institutions in the Czech Republic, about getting permission to photograph their patients, I got access to one. That was the beginning. At first, I was going there now and then, few times per month. During the summer in 2009, I was doing some volunteer work there. You need to be very close to people you photograph, but still being able to keep a distance to have a clear mind. That was my biggest challenge. 

At the beginning of this project, I was shooting on black and white film, because I thought that it would make it easier to focus on emotions. But later I did some color pictures as well. So there are going to be a combination of the black and white and color pictures in the book. The only problem with the book is that it is quite late. I am not so much focused on this topic now; I feel myself and my work in a different way. But I want to publish it for the people I photographed. I hope that my book will raise awareness among people in the Czech Republic, who were not exposed to this issue before.  

Why you initially decided to photograph at the mental institution and whether your motives changed within the years you spent working on these series? It is a sensitive subject matter. There are thousands of academic papers debating whether it is right to photograph mentally challenged people, as they are not entirely aware of what is going on.

IV: When I was twenty, maybe less, I was playing with the idea of documentary photography. I decided to do a project about Marianum, (a big building which used to be a convent) a mysterious and legendary place for people from Opava. You could meet groups of mentally challenged individuals in the city center from time to time, everyone observed them; everyone knew they live in the Marianum. But almost no one had an idea what is going on inside that building. I wanted to show what their lives are like, to share their experience with the public.

© Imrich Veber from the 'Not One Life' series 

My project started in 2008, at the same time local government passed some reforms concerning the social housing, within a few years all the patients were given smaller houses and flats around the town, the Marianum has emptied. 

There were days when I couldn't talk to anyone after photographing there, I had no energy, the project was overwhelming. I had to be very patient about our communication; it was hard to understand them, some of the patients were not able to talk at all, only expressing themselves with gestures. I had to learn how to communicate without words, but at some point, I started feeling that they accepted me, that's why I continued photographing. I am still in touch with these people; they acknowledge me when we meet on the street, I always stop to chat. 

You produced six books since 2009, how does your photographic approach change from book to book, from project to project?

IV: I would like to say I have published two serious books ('HOMOurban', 'BLOK 62'), two catalogs ('Not One Life', 'TRANSFORMATION'), two books of poems I have illustrated with photography and a folded poster 'NH2O(1)'. Everything was created in collaboration with a graphic Jakub Wdowka.  

© Still of the book 'HOMOurban'. See a preview from here 

© Imrich Veber from the 'HOMOurban' series 

I am a bit scared about this number of books, but when you are getting grants and a chance to publish, it's impossible to say no. If you want to be an artist you have to keep going. 

Usually, I am trying to find out the best way how to present each project. Whether it is about some intimate things or architecture, ideology etc. Everything you have to consider before the final decision.

© Imrich Veber from the 'HOMOurban' series 

Now I am working on two books - 'Not One Life' and the one will focus on the Košice’s district of Ťahanovce, which touches on a theme of the urbanistic ideology. 

Tell us about 'NH2O(1)' project.

IV: 'NH2O(1)' came out in the village of Nové Heřminovy, Czech Republic. The village is going to be partly flooded because of a newdam. It is a very complicated situation, which could be a topic for a very long separate interview. I want to focus on this problem within next few years until it will get resolved. The 'NH2O (1)' publication communicates a surreal and absurd situation in the village. I wanted to capture the strange atmosphere of this place.

© Imrich Veber from the 'NH2O(1)' series 

Is there any contemporary artist, photographer or writer, even if young and emerging who influenced you in some way? 

IV: It will sound like a cliché, but we all are affected by our lives first of all. Everything we have seen, heard, read make a filter through which we see the world. Either it is an artist, writer, architect, urbanist, sociologist, philosopher, musician. I am sorry, but I honestly can not mention just a few names.  

Three books of photography that you recommend?

IV: 'Nature & Politics' by Thomas Struth, 'Cahier' by Martin Kollar, 'A—Z' by Andrzej Tobis. 

Do you have any preferences regarding cameras and format?

IV: I do not care about equipment; less is more…

How in your opinion new digital developments and the Internet affect the medium of photography? 

IV: It is a very complicated question. Democratization and availability of photography bring a lot of advantages but also a lot of problems. The medium of photography is the only international language today; it is even more evident and direct than writing. However, not all the people, who can write, consider themselves writers. But almost everyone who takes pictures considers themselves photographers. 

© Still of the book 'NH2O(1)'. See a preview from here


© Imrich Veber from the 'NH2O(1)' series 

And the most important thing – we learn how to write and read since childhood, and there is no elementary training in photography. We need teaching in a field of aesthetic and art to be able to understand the visual language. Then it will be easier for the broader society to accept, understand and perceive the quality of art, including photography.


Imrich Veber