When he first visited the Czech Republic in the 1990s, Matthew Monteith was taken with the details of ordinary life in this country in transition. Captivated by the ineffable — a mood, a sense of place — he made repeated visits and in 2001—2003 traveled throughout the country photographing with the hope of creating a contemporary allegory that reflected ideals found in old postcards and Czech photography from the 1920s and ’30s. With their restraint, brilliant color, and thoughtful attention to the uncanny within the everyday, Monteith’s photographs parallel a venerable tradition staked out by masters such as Joel Sternfeld and embodied in contemporary work by practitioners such as Alec Soth.
Though at times foreboding, Monteith’s work is pervaded by an energetic optimism and humor. Meticulously composed and beautifully produced images focus on individuals, landscapes, oddly stilled cityscapes, and the worn traces of the country’s long and complex history. Czech Eden is not a literal description or documentation, but rather a parable in which the viewer encounters individuals and environments that are cohesive yet contradictory, beautiful but unsettling.