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Karol Plicka was born on October 14, 1894, in the family of Czech businessman in Vienna, Austria. In 1900 his parents moved to Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later on he continued his studies of violin music. When he was ten years old, he started to be interested in photography and constructed a photographic instrument out of an old cigar box. Later on he purchased a photo camera and after 1919 started his collector's and photographic studies of Slovak folklore.

He was taken by the beauty of the Slovak folklore and in 1924 he starts working for Matica Slovenska in Martin as a collector of Slovak folk songs. Here during his travels and research through the villages and small settlements, he recorded over 25,000 song melodies and more than 40,000 texts of old folk songs, fairy tales and other expressions of folklore of Slovakia. Slowly he mapped Slovak folk songs almost in the whole area of Slovakia. His collection of folk songs continued for 15 years and the archives of Matica Slovenska gained some 20,000 pictures with folklore theme. In 1926 he started to record the folk traditions with the help of a movie camera and in 1928 he made his first movie "After Slovak people," followed by "Through the mountains and valleys" that was in 1929 awarded a Gold medal at the International exposition of photographic art in Florence and an honorable mention at the first film festival in Venice, Italy. The climax of his movie production is a sound film "The Earth is singing." In 1938 he establishes the first Czechoslovakia's film school in Bratislava.

He published numerous books with folklore theme. One of his first books and greatest achievement of his photographic career was book called "Slovensko" published in 1937. He also photographed Prague and published a book in 1940 called "Prague in photographs of Karol Plicka." In 1969 he published "Spis," in 1974 "Czecho-Slovakia" and in 1980 "Levoca"

Plicka's imposing photographic accomplishment is a celebration of earth, respectful admiration of spirit of history, confession of love towards mankind-creator and follower of the spiritual traditions. Dynamics of life, transformation of the country and particularly the traditional life styles of the people give these photographs beside their long lasting aesthetic values also values of treasured documents and time will be multiplying their importance. The vast creations of Karol Plicka-folklore, film and photography that canít be repeated again, in its aesthetic and ethical contents belong to the founding values of a national culture. Before his death on May 6, 1987, as a 92 year old, he agreed with the creation of Karol Plicka's museum in Blatnica, where his lifeís photographic collection together with many artifacts and personal archive would be on display. The museum was opened in 1988 in a manor house at Blatnica a village south of Martin. I visited Blatnica in summer of 1993 and was very happy to learn about the life and creations of this great man. I also visited display of his photographs at last year's festival in Helpa

Looking back at his life this is what Karol Plicka said about his acceptance of work for Matica Slovenska:

"I made one of my life's biggest decisions. When I look back, after so many years, I am not sorry for what I've done, on the contrary I am happy that I decided like this. Who new then, what survived in Slovakia over the centuries. This was a country very poor for the gifts of land and rich in songs, full of mysterious contrasts between the songs and crying."


Vystava Karol Plicka 1894-1994, PhDr. Martin Slivka, CSc.
Karol Plicka 1894-1987, Slovenske Narodne Museum, Martin, 1989

Pictures were reproduced with permission of the Slovak National Museum in Martin

Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 2, No. 4, Winter 1994
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1994 
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.