Prague, Czech Republic – Like other historic metropolises across Europe, Prague is changing rapidly. The demographics, cityscape and social dynamics of the Czech capital have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis over the past 20-30 years, transforming the lives of its inhabitants and changing the experience of short-term visitors.
As any true Praguer has surely noticed, none other than Žižkov in Prague’s 3rd district epitomizes this rapid evolution. Klez Brandar, French-born photographer, avid globetrotter and long-time resident of Prague, set out to capture the ephemeral life of one of Prague’s most famous neighborhoods through a personal and unique series of nearly 100 pictures.
“A few years ago, Žižkov was a hotspot of incredible cultural, social and economic diversity,” Brandar, a former resident of Prague’s 3rd district, told Kafkadesk. “It was a very working-class neighborhood – in the literal sense of the word – where many elderly Roma and Czechs mixed with middle-class foreigners or young expatriates, especially Russians and Ukrainians.”
“When I saw this and experienced firsthand how the neighborhood was slowly losing its multicultural atmosphere, I felt the need to document it through a series of photographs that could serve as a testimony of identity in Žižkov’s way out in 10 or 20 years.”
In a project to “take the pulse” of changing urban identities, Breton-born Klez Brandar took to the streets of Žižkov, a once deemed “dangerous” area of Prague, to capture and record what makes such a special place. : its inhabitants and their untold stories.
“The concept is simple,” he explains. “I walked around the neighborhood with my camera, walked up to strangers on the street and asked if I could take their picture.”
Of course, the whole effort is a bit more complicated than it looks. Choosing potential topics based on “what their face, expressions, posture, or other attributes intuitively said,” Brandar sparked the conversation, created the interaction, and generally took only a single black and white photo of each person with their analog camera from 1978.
Spontaneity, and the sometimes imperfect originality it engenders, are the hallmarks of the entire project, which took four years to build. “The process, the format and the end result all serve a common purpose: to get to the heart of the matter,” he explains, mentioning some of his inspirations, from Vivian Maier and Diane Arbus to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastião Salgado.
“Nothing was planned in advance, and each ‘shoot’ happened in less than 5 minutes between two strangers who have never met and, in most cases, will never see each other again”, recalls he, jokingly adding that the project also served as a great exercise. to improve their Czech language skills.
The fact that Žižkov is the district with the highest concentration of bars per square meter in Europe has perhaps also, we can risk it, contributed to breaking the ice with the most hesitant subjects.
“Yes, I had a few refusals from people who, for various reasons, did not want to be photographed,” he confides. “But the reactions were mostly positive and many of them wanted to keep in touch to receive the photo once developed. My work as a photographer was a bit like that of a filmmaker: I had to put people at ease, find what made them feel comfortable or steer the conversation towards a memory, an emotion or an experience that made them smile or laugh,” he explains. noting that his own experience as an airline steward probably came in handy in doing so.
Creating impromptu street interactions to document declining urban diversity: titled “Bydlíte tady na Žižkově? in a nod to the first thing he said to his subjects (“Do you live in Žižkov?”), the means and end of Brandar’s series support and explain each other.
It is also a very personal business. Having lived for years in highly ghettoized cities in Latin America and having been raised in a socio-economically polarized France, Žižkov’s melting pot identity has been a welcome breath of fresh air for him. Accustomed to the Breton warmth and instantly sociable Latin character, reaching out to strangers and creating a genuine if short-lived connection with passers-by was much appreciated in a not-so-Latin Czech Republic – especially during two years of COVID.
“This project has really helped me grow, both personally and artistically,” he tells us. A self-taught photographer eager to explore a slower lifestyle, more authentic interpersonal relationships, and long-term social dynamics, Klez Brandar’s photography presents aspects of our existence that are easily overlooked in our daily lives. “Of course, in the end, taking pictures may just be an excuse to talk to people. But that’s okay, right?
If you are interested in Klez Brandar’s Žižkov series, stay tuned for his upcoming exhibition or a dedicated photobook in the works. In the meantime, be sure to check out his other ongoing projects on his YouTube channel, including an EP in five languages and a music video with a dancer from the Czech National Theatre.