Back in the picture

A photo fundraiser heralds the return of the esteemed Leica Gallery

The Prague Post

First, it was a pub. Then a secondhand store. And now, a gallery.

The building at Školská 28 has seen a lot of tenants come and go. But surely the best opens its doors in April, when the Leica Gallery moves in. Leica was forced out of its space at Prague Castle in 2004, and gallery director Jana Bömerová is very happy to have found a home again.

“For three years we didn’t have a gallery and have been looking ever since,” she says. “We had the train, but you need fixed space. It is hard to get good photographers if you can only offer them a one-month exhibit.”

The “train” Bömerová refers to is a set of two train cars that Leica used for mobile exhibitions the past three summers. It was a unique idea that served the dual purpose of bringing excellent art to rural towns all over the country, and generating positive PR for the gallery. But it was time- and money-intensive.

In the end, though, the train provided the catalyst for the new space. It was at a farewell party for the 2007 train exhibition that the owner of Školská 28 offered space to Bömerová.

“The sponsor for the last train exhibit hadn’t paid the bills, and so we thought that was the end — after 10 years, the gallery is over,” she explains. “Then, at our goodbye party, we got this building.”

Reconstruction has begun, and Bömerová is now busily looking for operating funds. She’ll get help from a fundraising photo auction scheduled for March 5 offering about 150 photos from Czech photographers.

“It’s exciting, because we’ve gotten many donations,” Bömerová says. “Some of the photographers are not known for giving away their work. But they want to help, because they know the budget situation of the gallery.”

The auction, which will be live, is being held at the Hotel Josef in Prague 1. Prior to that, prospective buyers can get a glimpse of the goods at the gallery’s soon-to-be-opened space. It won’t be finished, but it’s a good opportunity to check out the new digs. And Bömerová wants people to see the building being reconstructed, “so they can see we really do need the money!”

Bömerová has asked the architect to design mock-ups of how the finished gallery will look, so patrons can see where their money will be going. The auction offers not only a good opportunity to help a worthy cause, but a great chance to pick up some excellent photography.

“It’s a good deal, because prices will be low,” Bömerová says. “Starting prices for the photos will be 1,000 Kc; ($58), 5,000 Kc or 10,000 Kc.”

And with a donor list that includes Jan Saudek, Jindřich Štreit and Jiří Turek among a total of nearly 90 photographers, some buyers are going to walk away with a steal.

“It’s very competitive between photographers — they gauge their ability by the price of their work,” Bömerová says. “For example, Jan Saudek never sells a photo for less than 40,000 Kc.”

Once the gallery opens, Bömerová plans a full schedule of shows and other activities.

“We’ll have four exhibitions a year — one Czech photographer, two foreign ones and an exhibit of our own,” she says, noting that those require funding as well. “Exhibits are expensive — about 700,000 to 800,000 Kc each.”

Bömerová is also planning a series of “Projection Days,” where a photographer (most likely Czech) will come in and show his photos, using a projector, and discuss them. A café and bookshop are planned for the front of the gallery, creating a place and atmosphere that Bömerová hopes will foster good relations in the photography community.

“I hope it will be a meeting spot between the older and younger generation of photographers,” she says. “Our first gallery had a café, and when we moved to the castle we really missed it.”

The opening exhibit for the new gallery is not yet set. Bömerová is in negotiations with a British photographer but says her asking price is quite high. The second exhibit is already settled: It will be Czech fashion photographer Jirí Turek.

The final exhibit of the year, Leica Gallery’s own, has also been decided. It will be a multimedia exhibition on ordinary life in the Czech Republic before 1989, titled “Who doesn’t know the past doesn’t have a future.” Bömerová says it will encompass a photo exhibition, discussions with people who lived under communism and workshops for children.

The gallery’s return will fill an important gap, not only on the city’s art and photography scene, but in its role as a community center.

“In Prague, this gallery is very important because there aren’t many photo galleries,” Bömerová notes. “It’s important to make art for the people. You can wake up a lot of emotions with art.”