Towards the end of the Cold War, a Czech photographer came to London, and his photos are now on display in the V&A museum.

Ivan Kyncl was the son of the Czech dissident journalist, Karel Kyncl and studied photography after being prevented to enter higher education because of his father’s political background.

While living in Prague, Kyncl photographed politically sensitive plays performed in the secret ‘living room theatre’ of blacklisted actress Vlasta Chramostová. He also documented the activities of Czechoslovakia’s Charta 77 anti-communist opposition. Following his move to the UK in the 1980s, he went on to capture more than 500 of the greatest plays, operas and musicals of the 20th century.

He is considered to be one of the greatest of theatre photographers, and his lack of formal education gave his photography a freshness that was new to the London theatre scene.

Today, the photos look almost conventional, the sort of thing that theatres use to show off their plays, but in the 1980s, they were radically different from the stiff set pieces often used.

Earlier this year, the V&A Museum acquired Ivan Kyncl’s theatre photography archive of 100,000 negatives directly from his family, and have now put some of that archive on display in this exhibition.

It’s an austere display — famous faces in black and white in a white room. It captures moments that were fleeting, for the theatre play is something rarely recorded on film for posterity.

It’s a slightly nostalgic look back either at actors we grew up with and we see them young again, or actors no longer with us.

The exhibition, Ivan Kyncl: In The Minute is open until 7th July 2019 and is free to visit.

It’s next to the theatre galleries on the upper floors of the V&A Museum.


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