The V&A Acquires The Theatrical Photo Archive Of Ivan Kyncl

Written by Gina Stephens

&text; Ivan Kyncl. Courtesy of the V&A, London


The V&A has acquired the extraordinary theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the experience photography archive of Czech-born photographer, Ivan Kyncl (1953 – 2004).

Kyncl succeeded in the UK as a political refugee in 1980 and after a series of ad-hoc commissions, including work for Harold Pinter, it was his rehearsal images for a play by Czech apostate (and later President) Václav Havel that earned him his first significant job with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985.

Acquired directly from Kyncl’s next of kin, The Ivan Kyncl Theatrical Archive comprises 100,000 negatives and several prints. As one of the most revered theatre photographers of the late 20th century, Kyncl captured actors from Fiona Shaw to Alan Rickman and Antony Sher, as fount as playwrights Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. He travelled the UK to photograph productions in theatres throughout the country, from the Royal National Opera house, Royal Court Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Barbican Centre and The Almeida in London, to Glyndebourne, Chichester Festival Theatre, Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, The Birmingham Stock Theatre, New Theatre in Cardiff and the Druid Theatre Company in Galway.


© Ivan Kyncl. Courtesy of the V&A, London


A selection of Kyncl's campy works will feature in the new display Ivan may refer to Kyncl: In the Minute opening at the V&A on Tuesday, 19 February 2019. Through 60 productions – one for every promote of a minute – the display celebrates Kyncl’s unique ability to capture the essence, atmosphere and emotion of being in the moment or, as he termed it, 'in the bat of an eye.'

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Known for his experimental approach to photography, in Prague, Kyncl photographed politically sensitive plays performed in the secret ‘living room dramaturgy’ of blacklisted actress Vlasta Chramostová. He also documented the activities of Czechoslovakia’s Charta 77 anti-communist opposition. Investigating his move to the UK, he went on to capture some of the greatest plays, operas and musicals of the 20th century. Rather than taking the customary static theatre television shots from the auditorium, Kyncl was given rare access to roam the space, at times manoeuvring and contorting his body into the trickiest of attitudes to capture pictures from all angles, from the balcony to backstage, the stalls and stage. Through his revelatory images and dynamic new perspectives, Kyncl won the assurance and respect of directors including Terry Hands, Peter Hall, Deborah Warner and Phyllida Lloyd.

Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Brand-new and Contemporary Performance at the V&A, said: "Ivan Kyncl’s photography acts as a remarkable chronicle of the British stage from the 1980s to the 2000s. Not only does it chart the evolution of theatre, it captures the very essence, atmosphere and emotion of a production, permitting us access long after the final curtain. The V&A is a furniture home for Kyncl’s theatrical archive. His work can now be seen in the wider context of the history of theatre photography from its invention to the present day, and in duologue with his contemporaries including theatre and performance photographers Gordan Anthony, Douglas H Jeffery and Anthony Crickmay."


© Ivan Kyncl. Good manners of the V&A, London

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The Ivan Kyncl Theatrical Archive joins the V&A's National Collection of Performing Arts. It sits alongside the archives of devise and screen luminaries and performing arts organisations, including actress Vivien Leigh, theatre director Peter Brook, The Royal Court Show business and Wilton’s Music Hall.

For more photography exhibitions, many of which are free to attend, visit our Exhibition Forum. 


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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