Who is Ferdinand Valent?
You might lift a few virtual stones to see what scurries out from hiding. You’ll find an image or two that way.
And okay, the index of Roosens’ and Salu’s multivolume bibliography of photography books will tell you that he appears in Slovak Foto, published 1980. ($77.69 on AbeBooks, if you’re interested.)
But don’t bother with Facebook. Abandon Instagram. Flee LinkedIn! None of them will mutter a word as to the whereabouts of our elusive Valent.
That’s pretty much where things stood for me after two of Valent’s extraordinary images tripped into my tumblr feed.
So I checked the library.
There I found one Ferdinand Valent, PhD Electrical Engineering, Slovakia. This Valent co-published an article titled “Basic Problems and Solution of the Encapsulation of a Low-Voltage Spark Gap with Arc Splitter Chamber” in the Journal of Electrical Engineering.
Not the sort of thing you typically find on the art photographer’s CV.
What the hell, I thought, let’s give it a go:
Dear Dr. Valent,
Are you the photographer who made these extraordinary photographs?
My apologies if I have contacted the wrong person.
One wisdom tooth removal and week of recovery later:
Dear Mr. Brown,
I have received your mail, the e-mail address you have is correct.
Yes, I can confirm my authorship of the photographs you have noticed.
I keep photographing the Slovak landscape for almost 50 years. My pictures have been published in several books and magazines. Currently, a monography collecting my most important photographs is in preparation and it is expected to be released at the end of November by the FOART Bratislava company.
Thank you for your interest.
Valent fans will please forgive my ignorance of work that must be well-known in Central Europe. But 50 years and no digital paper trail! Of course, exposure wasn’t exactly forthcoming, Valent told me, given East/West hostilities. And limelight isn’t exactly his thing.
I now hold Valent’s new retrospective in my hands. The title is CESTY DOMOV, which Google Translate tells me means ROADS HOME in Slovak. But I’m not sure I’m any closer to the real Valent than I was when I first encountered the images.
I’m okay with that. I have the photographs. We have the photographs.
In lieu of Valent’s words for this issue of Od Review, I’d like to share a couple free associations. Enjoy!
A simple dirt road. Surely, it leads home for someone. But the photograph has nothing further to say about the two trucks that must have hooked catawampus off course, their tracks scribbling away to some rosier nowhere.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben
He who has no house now will never build again.
He who’s now alone will stay alone a long time.
—from “Herbsttag” Rainer Maria Rilke
Soft grays glance in every direction as if to escape, but in their efforts to survive, they meet only with monstrosities of darkness and light.
“Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy.”—Václav Havel
Craquelure: A Performance by the Oxford English Dictionary in Six Parts