Showing posts with label Czechia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Czechia. Show all posts

April 13, 2020

A Czech Hunting Photographer in the 1950s

Cameras and lenses used by Karel Hájek. The Irish
setter shows up in a lot of photos, but I am not sure
if it was his dog or someone else's. Likewise the rifle.
At the end of his folio-sized book of hunting and wildife photos, Hunting with Camera and Gun, the Czech photographer Karl Hájek writes,
I have taken many hunting pictures, but I know that I have a lot to learn. New situations arise which create new photographic or aesthetic problems. One keeps coming across something that could improve the pictures, that could improve the pictures, that could make them more interesting or more graphic . . . . For our work we can well take the old tried saying as a motto: "No one knows his job so well, that he could not do it better." As an example from hunting let us take pictures of stags in the rutting season. We are delighted with the first picture if we succeed in photographing the stag when he is "bellowing." A fine picture! The we suceed in catching the stag again in better light. A better picture! And then another one! And then another one, this time with the rutting stag against the light. And finally an even better photograph: on a raw early morning we catch the stag against the light while he is bellowing and one can see the vapour of his breath as it issues from his jaws. We could still take the stag in a dozen other positions—opposite us, to the right of us, to the left, and so on. Each one would be different, new, and perhaps better. . . .

The photographing of game has a charm of its own. One experiences many wonderful moments. Some of the most magical of one's life, for they are the sort of magic that never repeats itself, moments that are always different. First of all, it a wonderful thing to be able to see game in its natural environment, to observe its habits, and to discover how wisely nature conducts life. It is a moment of great experience, giving man, the opportunity of really understanding nature.

Karol Hájek, Hunting with Camera and Gun, trans. Jean Layton (Prague: Artia, 1956).
Beaters and shooters warm themselves during a mid-day break in a "driven" hunt.
Seventy years later, with all the improvements in camera gear, you can see better photos of flying birds, for instance, in any issue of Colorado Outdoors. But what brings me back to the book years after I found it in a secondhand-bookstore in Boulder are Hájek's photos of the hunting experience and his character studies of individual participants.

Although the photos were made in post-World War II Communist-ruled Czechoslovaka, they seem  representative of any time from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. It's quite Central European: so formalized, so organized, so ceremonial — dead deer laid in a neat row in the snow as the hunters fire a ceremonial salute above them and horns are blown. Yet he quotes another Czech writer,
"The old habits have disappeared and in their place there is a state examination, without which no hunter can be taken on. At the same time, other ancient customs and usages have been abolished, for instance the severe penalties demanded for unhuntsman-like behaviour and for failure on the part of the hunters, who, if he trespassed against the huntsman's code or against hunting regulations, had to lie across the carcass of the stag or wild boar and suffer himself to receive three strokes on his back-side from the leader of the hunt. This kind of punishment was a frequent affair and even personages of high birth had to submit to it."

F. and L. Stetka, Lovecké rozkose (The joys of the hunt)




Original caption: Much emphasis is placed on the knowledge of how to use a hunting rifle properly, since a weapon in the hands of an inexperienced person can be a danger to other hunters. For this reason, the older hunters readily share their experiences with the young men and women of all professions who are now taking up hunting.

That  rifle looks like so much like Dad's Mannlicher-stocked Mauser in 7x57 from the gun works in Brno (now in Czechia), except that his lacked the set trigger but had a better scope. It left the Central European world of Loden coats and ceremony and ended up as a forest ranger's saddle gun. A different world with a different tradition of wildlife management.