A Short History of Camera Traps is an exhibition focusing on the interaction of human and non-human animals and the role played by photographic (and other) technology. It is founded on the ideas of the English anthropologist Alfred Gell, who drew attention to the internal similarities between camera traps and works of art. In a broadened (rather than figurative) sense, the exhibited works function as camera traps by making visible certain patterns of behavior in various environments. The exhibition itself also has a similar ambition on another level. Its shop-window mutation marks another attempt to adjust to the changing conditions of current exhibition practice. It also asks how art itself, as a form of life, adapts: not only in its forms but also in our needs. Following the example of patient photographic equipment, the exhibition thus sets a trap for the gazes of possible passers-by in order to attempt to extricate itself, along with them, from the trap of the present.
The images of a hyena and a leopard caught in traps and doubly frozen by the camera were made in Sudan by the traveler, hunter and photographer Bedřich Machulka in the early 20th century. In his travel memoirs, Machulka recorded not only numerous descriptions of animal behavior but also a reflection on the technological conditioning of our image of the world: “In recent decades, Africa has become much closer to us due to the invention of the automobile and the airplane. Photography and film have faithfully rendered many images of African life unto us, so he who travels to Africa, being theoretically well prepared by copious reading, photography and film, is often robbed of those first, surprising impressions. He will see his notion of Africa embodied.” (Bedřich Machulka, V Africe na stezkách zvěře: Vzpomínky afrického cestovatele a lovce [Africa on the Trail of Animals: Memoirs of an African Traveler and Hunter], Prague: Orbis, 1955, p. 7.)
The architect and photographer Harry Kilberger, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Australia, stopped off on the Matupi Peninsula in the Bismarck Archipelago during a work trip. In a series of photographic slides, he captured the traditional process of making fish traps, from the preparation of the wicker, through the weaving, up to the laying of the traps near the sea shore.
This three-channel video by the art duo of Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch was filmed in the northern Austrian region of Waldviertel during several days of lockdown in late March and early April 2020. The camera traps were gradually placed in several locations, always for a period of one day, capturing one minute of action with every triggering of the sensor. They thus uncovered not only that which hides in the environment but also the environment itself uncovering its own variability.
In 1997, Pavel Ryška transformed several hunters’ high seats in the environs of Šašovice, his home at the time, into reading rooms of a public library. He thus allowed for their continued use, or, alternatively, improved the time spent by hunters waiting for prey. He then adapted the documentation of this event into postcard form, bringing him at least withing corresponding distance from the established art world.
The relationship of human and non-human animals is a long-term interest of the collective of artists working under the name Neozoon, who are based between Germany and France. In three short videos made between 2014 and 2017, they work with freely available photographs on which hunters pat each other on the back as they stand over their quarry, as well as YouTube videos showing pet owners cuddling with their little darlings. Using a montage of other YouTube videos, on which numerous individuals film themselves producing animal sounds, Neozoon sonify not only audiovisual but also behavioral production.
In 2013, David Přílučík, as if inadvertently, filmed a black cat, who – similarly inadvertently – demonstrated to him that immediacy is impossible.