Miroslav Tichý studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in the early 1940s. After the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, students at the Academy were required to work in the Socialist mode, drawing workers in overalls rather than female models. Tichý refused, stopping working and quitting the Academy. He was then required to perform his compulsory military service. When he returned to Kyjov in the 1960s he began to wander around town with an intentionally imperfect homemade camera, taking clandestine photographs of local women. Homemade telephoto lenses allowed him to work unnoticed at a distance from his subjects, where he captured them in the streets, at the bus station, in the main square or at the swimming pool.
A typical camera might be constructed from plywood, sealed from the light with road asphalt, with a plywood shutter with a window cut through, operated by a pulley system of thread spools and dressmaker’s elastic. A homemade telephoto lens might be constructed from cardboard tubes or plastic pipes. Tichý also made his own lenses, cutting them out of Plexiglas, sanding them with sandpaper and then polishing them with a mix of toothpaste and cigarette ashes. His enlarger combined sheet metal, two fence slats, a light bulb and a tin can. Once a picture was printed, Tichý might scissor off unwanted parts to improve the composition. Particularly successful images were pasted onto cardboard or backed with other paper to prevent curling. He often drew lines with a pen or pencil to reinforce the subject’s contours or to heighten an image’s expressiveness. He might decorate the margins with hand-drawn designs.
All his works, from the 1960s to 1985, were unnumbered, untitled and undated. Consequently, Tichý’s work was largely unknown until shown at the 2004 Biennial of Contemporary Art in Seville. In 2005, he had a major retrospective at the Kunsthaus in Zurich and another at the Pompidou Centre in 2008. In February 2010, Tichý had a solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York City, a year before he died in Kyjov.