‘Mythos 6’ By Barbora Bakalarova

Picturing a Myth

Barbora Bakalarova’s dark manipulated photography has begun to find an audience

One of the most interesting but least known photographers around town is showing her unusual work during February at two local arts venues: The New Zone Gallery in Eugene and Emerald Art Center in Springfield.

Barbora Bakalarova manipulates her photos of nature, wildlife and the human form to the point they might be taken for fine art prints, with images drawn by hand, rather than any version of photography. Her pictures start their lives in her digital camera, but once they’re printed they fall prey to her insistent (she calls it “experimental”) sense of visual play, in which they are layered, colored, teased, torn and often rephotographed as she seeks to create a final image.

“I’m not afraid of trying to combine things that were not combined before, or to try some alchemy that I just cook up,” she says during a visit to her small show Mythos at Emerald Art Center. “I’m not afraid of something not turning out the way that I wanted it.”

The name “Mythos” came to her only after she sat down and sifted a group of about a dozen prints from the hundreds of images she has worked on since taking up — or, more accurately, returning to — photography five years ago. It was the images themselves that suggested the title.

“In past shows, I would want to show everything from every corner of my experimentation, from five different techniques that I’ve developed, from many different subject matters, including nature,” she says. “But in this show, I thought, ‘OK, this one I will do differently. I will hone it down to this theme.’”

Born in Prague in 1968 — the year of Prague Spring, the progressive political and cultural revolution that brightened Czechoslovakia but quickly collapsed under Russian invasion — to parents she describes as “creative people who supported thinking out of the box and playing with things,” Bakalarova came to Oregon in 1990 after marrying an American man, whom she later divorced. A tall woman with dark hair and a European elegance of manner, Bakalarova can come across as a character in a movie about Jungian psychology — and then dissolve that image as she talks with American gusto about hiking on the Oregon coast.

She’s been around photography and cameras since she was a girl.

“My father had an old-fashioned — it was actually a Russian — camera and a drawer full of black-and-white photos,” she says. “Ah, and I loved just running through those photos and looking at faces and places from the past. And we had a makeshift darkroom in our apartment.”

Mythos contains manipulated photos of a variety of subjects, from straightforward classical nudes to starker, more dramatic images such as a photo she took during a visit home to Prague of her father holding two human skulls, shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, or another of a sculpture of a Zeus-like figure carved out of salt in a Czech salt mine. 

After working for several years in relative obscurity, Bakalarova has seen her career begin to take off over the past year. Last fall she had a large show of her work, The Beautiful, The Strange and The Imagined, in the art gallery at the Bandon Public Library, which was also showing steampunk art by fellow artist Steve LaRiccia. Looking ahead, she will have a solo show in the Klausmeier Room at New Zone in April and will have work in the Photography at Oregon exhibition in May.

Meanwhile, she’s doing what she can to ride the wave of success — setting up a website, planning a book, looking for even more exhibition opportunities. “I definitely want to continue my experiments,” she says, “and I want to get a little bit more equipment, too, like a laptop. So I’m mobile. So I’m independent.”

Mythos continues at Emerald Art Center, 500 Main Street, Springfield, through March 1. Hours are 11 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday; admission is free. Bakalarova also has work for sale at New Zone Gallery, 110 East 11th Avenue. Hours are noon to 6 pm Tuesday through Sunday. Free.