KAREL HÁJEK                               

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Karel Hájek (1900–1978) – Biography   /  completed by Blanka Chocholová, 1998

Founder and pioneer of Czech reportage photography

1900 Born January 22 in Lásenice (No. 11), district of Jindřichův Hradec
Father: Ondřej (publican, game warden, head of hunting association)
Mother: Kateřina, née Beránková, 7 brothers and sister

1907 Begins compulsory school education in a small neighboring town where he has to walk 4 kilometers daily through a forest.

1914 Ends his apprenticeship as a smith in Nová Bystřice in the Czech-Moravian Highlands, commuting 10 kilometers on a bicycle.

1914-1918 As smith and locksmith journeyman conscripted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s army, first stationed at České Budějovice, then relocated in Vienna and Tirol; returns from Italian front on October 25, 1918, three days before the proclamation of an independent Czechoslovak Republic.

1918 On Independence Day (October 28) leaves for Prague, settling there permanently.

1918-1926 Employed as metal worker in the Ringhoffer Company at Prague’s Smíchov, later as tram conductor and driver (No. 36) with Prague Transit Authority; active in the Sokol Association in Malá Strana district.

1920 Takes up photography using a Special Aplanat 9x12 cm plate camera; enchanted by the medium he takes pictures of his friends, parents, brothers and sister and his future wife Vlasta; brings the camera even to work and captures events in Prague streets from the viewpoint of a tram driver.

1925 Photographs famous singer Ema Destinová (Emmy Destinn) for the Pestrý týden magazine, his story is printed also in the magazine’s foreign edition (LIchtbild); as member of the Malá Strana District Sokol Chapter participates in an athletic championship of the Bílá Hora Area Chapter, winning first prizes in several competitions.
Marries his first wife, Vlasta Havlíčková who gives birth of their son, Miloš.

1926 During summer vacations in his native Lásenice takes pictures using a special filter, exhibiting them later under his name.

1928 Invests a sum of 100 crowns in photographic material and enters his pictures in a contest ran by the Pestrý týden magazine, winning first recognition including a prize from Lichtbild, the Berlin edition of the Pestrý týden which prints practically all of his pictures, giving him even covers.
The acclaim opens new opportunities and he buys a 6x9 cm reflex camera of an unknown make. He joins the Czech Amateur Photography Club in Nekázanka Street, enjoying the position of a respected elite member. After several months he is asked to sit on the Club’s panel judging pictures submitted by membership, his work attracts notice at various exhibitions and finds its way into newspapers and magazines. He buys a Rolleiflex. It is a year of acclaim and personal rise.

1929 He remains an employee of the Prague Transit Authority and together with Otakar Wunsch, editor of the transport workers’ monthly Jednota (Unity), he participates in the strike of Prague tram crews. He photographs danceuse J. Nikolská and actress Leopolda Dostálová and collaborates with V. Jírů and J. Krupka.

1930 Divorces his first wife.
Together with his friend and assistant, „Sailor“ Škába lives „in the tower“ on Prague’s Charles Square.

1931 His photographs receive prizes at the Club’s exhibition in Paris; Hájek contributes to various periodicals and publishes short stories and photographs in STOP, the humor section of the Jednota, the Prague Municipal Transit Authority magazine for which he also writes about his trip to Paris.

1932 Becomes the first card-carrying member of the Czechoslovak Reporters’ Union (Press Card No. 1); due to his growing success and popularity receives an offer to work as photoreporter for newspapers and magazines of the Melantrich Publishing Group; signs a contract to work exclusively for Melantrich but continues contributing to the Pestrý týden magazine whose editor-in-chief. dr. Bohumil Markalous solves the potential problems of breach of exclusivity by publishing his work under a pseudonym „Lesík“; his unsigned work is also published by the Tvorba  magazine to whose editor-in-chief, Julius Fučík, he hands over photographs at secret meetings in the Daliborka Café; more anonymous work is published in the Letem světem magazine and posing as an unknown amateur named Kubík he even wins a purse of 1 000 crowns in a photographic contest held by the Národní politika daily. He buys his first Rolleiflex camera.
As a photographer he covers major news ranging from industry, agriculture and sports to social events and politics, portrays actors, painters, writers, musicians and statesmen including President T. G. Masaryk.

1933 Covering a major mine disaster, he creates one of his best-known pictures titled Nelson Mine Disaster Survivor; falling from a rooftop by accident he smashes both his Rolleiflex and his elbow.

1935 His first one man show in Prague with a catalog designed by Jiří Trnka is seen by 30 000 people.
Travels to Turkey, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Rumania and Austria.

1936-1939 Produces as much as 10 stories a day; his unique sense for composition and gradation makes him grow from a self-taught amateur into the founding father of the Czech reportage photography; hires Zdeněk Tmej, a novice photographer, to work as his assistant and lab technician.

1937-1938 Meeting Pavel Barchan, agent for the U.S. Life magazine and owner of Paris-based picture agency, results in an offer of a contract to . become a stringer for Life (receiving a regular Life press card in April 1939) for a fixed monthly retainer advance of 23 pounds sterling to produce stories on request by cable including 1938 All-Sokol Rally , The Great Pardubice Steeplechase, State Funeral of T. G. Masaryk, The Ruthenian Vološin Government, The First Session of the Slovak Parliament.

1939 On March 15 in the morning he photographs his Ugly Day, the fateful snow-bound arrival to Prague of German occupation forces. Positioning himself in the traffic policeman’s „barrel“ right in the middle of the crossroads at the bottom of the Wenceslas Square, he takes unique pictures in the very midst of the events and quickly sends the negatives by air to Life. As a result, period papers and magazines carry entire series of his pictures, some of which are even used by the domestic ČTK agency which publishes them without giving the author’s name (e.g. The Angry Crowd capturing the people of Prague shaking clenched fists at German soldiers riding their motorcycles with sidecars through the streets of the capital). He is fired from Melantrich.

1940 Holds a permanent job as picture editor of the Národní souručenství, the only political body permitted by the Nazis; the German magazine Fotofreud (Joys of Photography) devotes an entire issue to his photographic illustrations supplemented with a detailed biography. Hájek continues to work for the Pestrý týden and a number of other magazines, using a Rolleiflex, a Superikonta, a Primarflex with a 40 cm Telemegor lens. This superior quality piece of optics was also used by a number of other photographers who got it from him on loan. During this period he mostly works on the AGFA Isopan ISS film, using it even to produce some advertising material.
Marries his second wife, National Theater opera singer Slávka Procházková.

1939-1945 Works for the Pestrý týden magazine, renamed Svět v obrazech  (World in Pictures) after the war.

1944 His brother Jan is arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in České Budějovice, Tábor and Terezín.

1945 On May 4 starts photographing the Prague Revolt, processing the pictures in the studio apartment of a colleague named Mráz located on the first floor of a corner house facing the Old Town Square which he makes his observation post. When taking pictures in Hybernská Street he is arrested and taken to Gestapo Headquarters but using his Life card he manages to talk himself out of the quandary and is finally released, only to continue taking more pictures at Pankrác and then during the fighting for the radio building at Vinohrady.
Becomes member of the SČSVU (Czechoslovak Fine Arts Union)

1945-1963 Works as photoreporter of the Svět v obrazech for which he produces stories and also larger unfinished cycles illustrating various human traits, emotions and conditions (Laugh, Cry, Hands, Sleepers).
Following a validation of the Journalists’ Union membership, his union card is confirmed.

1946 Photographs the Nuremberg Trials where he is the only Czechoslovak photographer permitted to take pictures in the courtroom alongside his colleagues from the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union and France, capturing the faces of Göring, Goebbels and other prominent German war criminals and documenting the conditions of Germany devastated by the war.

1948 On January 1 he is issued a permission to carry an automatic pistol.

1950 Heads the Photoreporters’ Section of the Czechoslovak Journalists’ Union.

1953 -1960 Once again captures photographically all major news ranging from industry, agriculture and sports to culture, society and politics, this time according to the aesthetics of the Communist ideology, producing stories with topics such as the farming cooperatives congress, the regional fire brigade competition, the industries (meat, dairy, edible fats, canning, egg production, abattoirs, breweries, sugar mills, etc.), traveling all over the country and also abroad.

1953 On June 13, agents of the Interior Ministry search his apartment without a warrant, confiscate and take away by a truck his photographic archive amounting to some 80 000 negatives. Only Hájek’s wife Slávka Procházková is present during the search. Hájek is ordered to keep silent about the search and promised that once the police check some of the political materials, his archive will be returned.

1955 The President of the Republic bestows the Meritorious Labor Award on him.

1958 Interventions with the Interior Ministry for the return of the archive are unsuccessful and Hájek is told that a part of the archive had been lost. Visits the Photokina Exhibition in Cologne, Germany.

1959 His picture The Black Madonna is awarded the Farrington Gold Medal at a photographic salon in Chicago.

1960 Hájek repeatedly appeals to the then Interior Minister R. Barák to have his archive returned.

1959-1961 Second and last retrospective one man show in Prague, later exhibited also in Brno, Ostrava, Karlovy Vary, Martin as well as Bulgaria, Germany and other foreign countries; begins work on his publication  Krásy myslivosti (The Beautiful World of Wild Game).

1962 The Czechoslovak Army Film Studio produces a film about Hájek titled Reporter and directed by Pavel Háša.

1963 The State Belles Lettres, Music and Art Publishers (SNKLHU) publishes his profile monograph as volume 19 of its Art Photography Series. Retires from his regular job as reporter of the Svět v obrazech magazine; fall ill, spends the summer months at his cottage near Týnec nad Sázavou.

1964 Lectures at the Charles University School of Journalism, receives invitation to lecture at a school of photography in Vienna. On February 24 once again appeals in writing to the Interior Ministry, this time to Minister Lubomír Štrougal, that his confiscated archive be returned.
Collaborates with the Czechoslovak Television studios in Prague and Ostrava.

1965 Illness complicates any systematic publication, exhibition and lecture activities. Visits Vienna as guest lecturer at a school of photography, takes part in a group show in Brazil, travels in South America.
The Interior Ministry finally returns a part of the confiscated archive amounting to some 16 000 negatives.

1966 Created Artist of Merit, collaborates with the Czechoslovak Television on a profile of the famous actor Zdeněk Štěpánek.

1968 Works on a publication titled Byl jsem při tom (I Was There), collaborates with the Czechoslovak Television studio in Ostrava and appears in a series titled A Year of Karel Hájek, Artist of Merit, aired from October 21. Due to the subsequent political developments, the publication as well as the continuation of the series are shelved. Photographs political events.

1970 Czech Photographers’ Union names him its honorary member with union card No. 1 and the right to wear a golden union badge bestowed on him at his 70th birthday. Congratulatory letters include a personal message from the President of the Republic, General Ludvík Svoboda. Hájek continues to collaborate with the Ostrava studio of the Czechoslovak Television on the Ostravské vteřiny (Ostrava Moments) feature and with Sláva Štochl on a series titled Lovy beze zbraní (Hunting Without a Gun).
Produces a 16 page color advertising calendar for the Technoexport Foreign Trade Corporation.

1973 In March sells to the National Museum his unsorted archive including some 65 000 negatives and positives as well as various documentation, correspondence, manuscripts, books and magazines related to his lifetime activities. The contract signed with the National Museum Director, Dr. Vladimír Zázvorka, and its Archives Director, Dr. A. Chalupa, presumes the utilization and gradual inventory and classification of his archive.

1978 Dies on March 31 in Prague.
As Hájek said at the close of his lecture series to his students and connoisseurs of photography: „Let me end with the toast of Lord Dačický of Heslov: ‘To the health of all people of goodwill who have the well-being of the Czech land at their heart.’ Your health!“

Blanka Chocholová
October 1999

While using the text mention the source!!
HÁJEK, Karel; CHOCHOLOVÁ, Blanka - author of the text, 1999.

Publishing of content, photographs or other segments come under  copyright law and is restricted without authors agreement

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Karel Hájek bibliogrphy

Books :
1938 – Masaryk ve fotografii,Orbis Praha
1942 – Jihočech Emil Hácha, Jihočeské vydav. družstvo, Č. Budějovice
1946 – Beneš ve fotografii, Orbis Praha
1966 Voláme všichni / z bojů o rozhlas / Krásy myslivosti,Leningradská symfonie, Jak fotografovat město, /Artia / Norimberk-Zločin a soud, 1946

Periodical Press:
1946 – Svět v obrazech č. 2 – (Německo), 7– (Norimberský proces),11,12,15,
1947 – Svět v obrazech č. , Klub 47 č.3
1948 – Svět v obrazech č. 37 /věnované E. Benešovi /, Klub 48 č.7
Čtenář 8/1968,

Yearbooks and series:
Československá fotografie 1931-1949, Fotografický obzor Praha,ročník XL. – LV.1932–37
Fotorok 1958, Orbis Praha 1959
Fotografie 1928-58, SNKLHU, Praha 1959 (20 originálních fotografií zhotovil Orbis)
Licht und sshatten, Artia ,Praha 1960
Profily: Karel Hájek, Orbis Praha 1962 ( soubor 12 fotografií )
Akt v české fotografii, Orbis Praha 1967 ( soubor 15 fotografií )

Norimberk – zločin a soud,1946,Svět v obrazech, vydavatelství Ministerstva informací,
Dějiny Prahy, Nakladatelství politické literatury,1964 , Terezín, Naše vojsko,1952,1964?
V. Rýpar K. H.,Umělecká fotografie sv.19,SNKLU,Praha1963
V. Rýpar : Profily – K. H. úvodní text k souboru 12 pohlednic, Orbis Praha, 1962
J. Jiránková: Reportér, který musel u všeho být, Lidová demokracie, 30.9.1967
M. Jetel: Hovoříme s K. H., Politika č. 9,1968
D. Mrázková, V. Remeš – Cesty čs. fotografie, Mladá fronta, Praha 1989
K. Dvořák: Několik poznámek k osobnosti K.H.,Čs. fotografie č.6,12 /1971
Čs. fotografie č.1 /1961, č. 5 /1966, č.1 /1970, č.12 /1971,
Novinář č. 3/1970, č. 1,2,4,/1989
Encyklopedie českých a slovenských fotografů ASCO str. 96-97
Hořká léta 1939-1947, Evropa očima českých fotografů, katalog ITF, Opava 1995
Karel Hájek – archiv 1925 – 1978; CHOCHOLOVÁ, Blanka. Praha : Asociace fotografů, 1999.
ISBN 80-902629-4-5
ITF Opava, 1998

Honorary titles and awards:
Artist of Merit; Labor Order of Merit, 1956; Honorary medal for Contribution to Socialist Development; honorary member of Union of Czechoslovak Photoreporters, with union card No. 1 and the right to wear its Golden Badge; Prague Municipal Authority Award, 1964, 1965; honorary member of Hunters’ Association, with 1st degree medal; member, EFIAP (International Association of Photographers); full member, St. Hubert’s Order of Hunters; honorary member, The Božena Němcová Order; honorary member, Yugoslav Union of Photographers, Soviet Reporters’ Union and Hungarian Reporters’ Union; in England named among world’s top 7 photographers; bearer of the Farrington Gold Medal awarded by the 1958 Chicago Salon of Photography for his picture The Black Madonna; honorary member of the board of the Soviet magazine Folografiya; bearer of silver medal awarded by Vienna’s First School of Photography; many awards bestowed on him by foreign dignitaries and statesmen; exhibition medal and awards from all former Communist bloc countries, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Greece.

Personal exhibitions:

1936 – leden – Souborná výstava,Ústřední knihovna hlavního města Prahy,katalog a instalace- Jiří Trnka, text v katalogu V. Vančura, Dr. B. Markalous,K. Hájek
1960 – Karel Hájek 1900-1960, katalog: text - V.Rýpar,Staroměstská radnice, Galerie hl. m. Prahy, úvodní slovo národní umělec Zdeněk Štěpánek, /Ústřední dům osvěty, hl. m. Prahy
1961 – repríza Brno,Ostrava, Karlovy Vary,Martin,Varna,Berlín a další naše i zahr. města.
1967 – S kamerou za zvěří našich lesů a polí,Výstavní síň B.Němcové
1964 – 100 fotografií K.Hájka , Městské muzeum v Benátkách nad Jizerou
1965 –
1968 – Lovecká fotografie K. H., Rakousko-čs. společnost, Vídeň, Beograd
1971 – Karel Hájek,souborná výstava, Fotosalónek, výstavní síň Vlastivědného muzea Šumperk,text Karel Hájek
1995 Praha ,Opava, Ostrava, Edinburg, Londýn, Hořká léta 1939-1947
1996 Retrospect, Biennale of International Photography, Skopelos
1998 Karel Hájek – archiv 1925 – 1978, Ostrava

TV Spots, Interviews:

1965 – K. Hájek a Jar. Spousta – současný ved.redaktor Čs. Fotografie- Beseda o fotografii s K. H. - kult. dům SEPAP Jílové u Děčína

1968 – Čs. Televize Ostrava – seriál : „Rok zasloužilého umělce K.Hájka
1970 – Čs. Televize Ostrava – vysílání-Ostravské vteřiny – Besedy „Lovy beze zbraní“
1971 – Beseda, promítání diapozitivů,součást výstavy, Vlastivědný ústav Šumperk


Publishing of content, photographs or other segments come under  copyright law and is restricted without authors agreement

http://www.vaclavchochola.cz, Author © Archiv B&M Chochola