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The V&A acquires theatrical archive of Ivan Kyncl
An Inspector Calls, 1992, Royal National Theatre, London © Ivan Kyncl. Courtesy of the V&A, London.

LONDON.- Today the V&A announces that it has acquired the extraordinary theatre photography archive of Czech-born photographer, Ivan Kyncl (1953 – 2004). Kyncl arrived in the UK as a political refugee in 1980. After a series of ad-hoc commissions, including work for Harold Pinter, it was his rehearsal images for a play by Czech dissident (and later President) Václav Havel that earned him his first significant job with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985.

Acquired directly from Kyncl’s family, 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 well 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 Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Barbican Centre and The Almeida in London, to Glyndebourne, Chichester Festival Theatre, Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, New Theatre in Cardiff and the Druid Theatre Company in Galway.

A selection of Kyncl’s theatrical works will feature in the new display Ivan Kyncl: In the Minute opening at the V&A on Tuesday 19 February 2019. Through 60 productions – one for every second 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 minute.’

Known for his experimental approach to photography, in Prague, Kyncl photographed politically sensitive plays performed in the secret ‘living room theatre’ of blacklisted actress Vlasta Chramostová. He also documented the activities of Czechoslovakia’s Charta 77 anti-communist opposition. Following 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 press shots from the auditorium, Kyncl was given rare access to roam the space, at times manoeuvring and contorting his body into the trickiest of positions 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 trust and respect of directors including Terry Hands, Peter Hall, Deborah Warner and Phyllida Lloyd.

Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern 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 fitting 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 dialogue with his contemporaries including theatre and performance photographers Gordan Anthony, Douglas H Jeffery and Anthony Crickmay.”

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

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