Naloučany is a small village on the Oslava River in the Vysočina region. The village has its own photographer, and his portraits of the village locals have found their way to the American Library of Congress and have become part of the largest collection of this medium since its beginnings. This is naturally a source of pride for nearly two hundred of the village’s inhabitants. That’s why they all joined forces to give their native photographer an event that would be remembered not only by them and by the photographer himself, but also by all the other visitors who took the trip through the snowy rolling landscape to the village’s community centre.
This photographer is Brno’s own Roman Franc. It should be added that his photo portraits feature not only Naloučany and Brno residents, but also those from Scotland, Armenia, Horňácko, and even New York. In Brno, for example, his photos are known from the promotional materials of the Tourist Information Centre and the Brno Sokol in the series “The Loyal Guard” (Věrná garda). Roman Franc’s portraits sometimes focus on individuals, but mostly on groups, and thirty of them have been selected for the American collection. The author himself brought them to the institution’s headquarters in Washington DC last October.
The collection already contains the artist’s evocative portraits of Václav Havel that he created shortly before Havel’s death. The acceptance of his other photographs is meaningful primarily because these are free works that do not depict any significant personality. This is how the faces of the inhabitants of a small village in the Vysočina Highlands, among others, found their place in America’s capitol.
The event in Naloučany was entitled “Roman Franc – Our Photographer”. It was an exhibition of photographs of the local citizens as well as a presentation of other photographs from the collection with a commentary by the author. Since the event was organized by local gamekeepers and firefighters, it bore the markings of true village merry-making. Music was provided by the Ocmaňanka brass band from the neighbouring village of Ocmanice with a simple line-up of keyboards, drums, accordion, and a local singer who would have pleased even the favourite Czech singer Petr Muk. There was a delicious goulash with plenty of dumplings, sausages, a generous chunk of boar, beer from a small Brno brewery, and mainly a raffle. The firemen were a bit worried about it, but in the end it stayed safe and in its place. The winners could receive their prizes directly from the hands of the local mayor Mr. Antonín Havlíček. They took away gifts of all kinds, including posters and T-shirts from the event as well as prints of individual photos and gifts donated by local associations and individuals – who wouldn’t appreciate a package of Starobrno beer, a Sokol sculpture, or car lubricant?
The evening had several highlights ranging from the presentation of honorary citizenship in Naloučany and membership in the volunteer fire brigade to a staged firefight in which the photographer was dressed in overalls and taken to an unknown location to the sound of horns. After the photographer was successfully returned to the community centre, the entertainment continued as guests danced and enjoyed the music. The event was attended by locals as well as many personalities from Brno’s cultural and artistic scene.
I personally consider the event a historic moment, a poetic phenomenon, and a moving encounter all in one. It demonstrated how deep and warm the relationship between photographer and photographed, between city and village, and between fireman and artist can be. Everyone did what they do best and everyone worked in harmony, just like the musicians from Ocmaňanka.