City Portrait:

P O R T R É T   P R A H A

“Portrét Praha” is the most extensive cultural project I have ever undertaken. From the beginning, I knew that a project would develop during my time in Prague but felt it to be too limiting to set a theme early on. I had 4 short months to dedicate to this project as that was the duration of my study abroad program at the Anglo American University. So I just tried to engage with the city as much as I could hoping that I would find an affinity for something. 

I found myself walking or using public transportation everyday which helped develop my first affinity, movement. I saw all different types of people in the widely-used and public setting of a metro or tram, which starkly contrasted with the driving culture in Southern California. It was accessible and engaging so it was natural to photograph it. What I like about Prague, and modern cities in general, is how alive the city feels as people move about its infrastructure. 

As I learned more about the history and culture of Prague, I became aware of an intense transition from the fall of Communism to the rise of capitalism. A generation that spent much or all of its life during the Communist Era would be thrown into a new, rapidly changing world. I wanted to shed light on this group that receives less and less attention. This was my second affinity, coexistence. What is life like when you spend 40 years in an unstable communist society that collapses and the ideologies and technologies of the rest of the world rush in? “Portret Praha” is a conversation on this topic. 

I don't believe there is a right way of going about photography as such philosophies often limit the potential for creativity. As a result, I used a multitude of methods to create these photos. Sometimes chasing, other times waiting. Sometimes I was a photographer — seeing and composing, other times I was an anthropologist — observing and studying. More than 5000 photos were distilled down to 15 humble black and white photos that I hope would stimulate a conversation about culture in Prague. 

There’s a certain allure about Prague that gripped me on first impression. It’s dynamic, visually beautiful, and full of juxtapositions. Prague, like most big cities in the world, had finally sold its soul to capitalism. iPhones, Starbucks, vegan meals, hipster coffee shops… pretty much anything you would want in a modern city can be found in Prague. There are obvious reasons to applaud the fall of Communism, but there is something sad about the rise of capitalism in this romantically archaic city. Liberal drug laws, loose sexual attitudes, and materialism are some of the ripples of rapid industrialization. Prague is looking more modern all the while a fading generation struggles to keep up. 

It's odd how change happens faster as time moves forward. Those who experienced life in Prague from 1948-1989 assimilated to the dark days of the Communist Era. When the communist curtain fell, these people had to adapt to a new type of society. There were many benefits for the people of the Czech Republic when Communism fell: elevated living standards, expanded freedoms, and the opening of international trade just to name a few. This allowed foreign companies along with their ideas and technologies to enter. Prague was stepping into the modern technological age which would challenge a once blindfolded population to keep up with the coming changes. 

While some would rise to the challenge of a new society, for others it was an intense struggle. Under Communism, securities such as jobs and shelters were granted, and laborious jobs such as mining were glorified, while any sort of self expression was banned. Young people were not given the opportunity to study in secondary school or explore passions. Capitalism would flip this standard. Unemployment and homelessness emerged as new phenomena, management positions and the service sector grew rapidly, most youngsters studied at secondary schools, and alternative arts and culture flourished. Many who were once labor workers, a class that was previously idealized, became lost low class citizens, while those who were able to score management positions were able to partake in the life of the middle class elite.

I like Prague. My time there was eye opening as any trip to the unfamiliar should be. I can't say if the cultural changes happening in Prague are good or bad, but many locals I had met felt they knew how things ought to be. I will say, however, that I believe we as a people will make more changes for better than for worse... whatever that means. The more conversations we have the better we can understand these changes.