2018 Photo Exhibition in Bielsko-Biała

Underground world of Primož Jakopin

The Story

1. Introduction

          Cave photography differs considerably from usual tasks of documenting family life, portraiture, sport events, animals, mountains, weddings, funerals and the like. The main difference is the illumination, or the lack of it - the only light source is provided by the photographer and his team. It dictates considerable advance preparation for every picture, camera must be positioned on a tripod for everything but close ups. To guess what will be in the frame and what not, how to position light sources to avoid flat or overburned results requires practice and imagination. It all makes cave photography a real challenge but at the same time opens the room for creativity not possible in other abovementioned photo branches. Though replacement of the film by electronic sensors, with instant check-up of what has been done and doubling down with successive ever better iterations of the same picture, simplified things by an order of magnitude, the most important ingredient is still there - the magic enchantment of recording a myriad of otherwise invisible details, shapes and filigree forms, produced over the millenia by dripping water, snapping them out of virtually complete darkness in a single brilliant moment, in a blinding explosion of light.

2. Early years

Figure 1: View of the Bottom of the Big Hall from the Eastern Tunnel, Mačkovica cave, Matjaž, Martin, Rajko and Boža, illuminated by Vanja; Graflex Crown Graphic Special 4 x 5 inch camera, Schneider Xenar f 4.7 / 135 mm wide angle lens; 50 g of flash powder (KMnO4 and Al, 2:1, approx. equivalent in power to a flash with a guide number 1500 (meters) at ISO 100) on top of the calcite pillar at the left, f 11, time T, Kodak Vericolor II type L sheet film, ISO 80; 1982. A 105 x 130 cm enlargement is on display in the Laze inn, Slovenia.

          Jakopin began his cave photography in the sixties when flash powder was still the name of the game, digital photography was decades away and electronic flash units were both very weak for film sensitivity (ISO 50 was standard) and prohibitively expensive. His early pictures, with humble means and camera, could be described as reflections of light in the darkness, and only after 1981 his cave photography evolved into more illuminated scenes auch as the one depicted above. If earlier work sought to document visits of the cave following his own aesthetics, probably best achieved in portraits of people he met there, also in action such as climbing or negotiating passages, he later pursued the idea of depicting cave beauty with addition of a less intrusive human presence.

3. The Exhibition

          This exhibition of 25 works gives an insight into his heyday time after 2002. 13 exhibited pictures were taken in 2003, 8 in 2004. Though darkness is an essential element of cave photography, even more so in modern times, for more dramatic effect, here the main accent is on high key photography to show as much as possible, and on a more gentle relationship between nature and man. He should not occupy the center stage but be there just to give a human perspective, and, also, for measure. Caving suits, helmets and gloves are more often than not of bright artificial colours, such as red which contrast sharply with cave spectrum of white to all shades of brown and grey, including yellow, ochre and rust (terra rossa). Such outfits immediately draw the attention of the picture viewer and any idea of a harmony between the man and nature can to be forgotten right from the start. So Jakopin devised caving suits and helmet covers of cave colours, from a cotton fabric made by a now long defunct factory Textilindus of Kranj, intended for use in furniture upholstery (sofas, chairs).
          The main part of the exhibition is comprised of the first 20 exhibited works. Pictures 17, 18, 19 and especially 20 depict a male visitor in cave environment, a relaxed observer of the scene in front of him, to make his appearance even less eye-catching his face is usually not visible, he is, sort of, companion of the picture viewer, both are looking at the same motif. Pictures were taken in the second most Dante-esque (the hell part) Slovenian cave, Planinska jama, in the most exquisite Classical Karst cave, Lp2, and in the forma viva garden of Najdena jama cave. He found the described outfit suitable for males but not quite for cave visitors of the more beautiful gender. Underground terrain is unfriendly, muddy, wet and cold, so today all cavers are dressed alike, in protective caving suits, with their hair hidden in the under-helmet-cap, so in the group pictures they are just equal, gender neutral. Which certainly makes perfect sense. But when overall beauty, not only of the cave, is of utmost importance it would be a great waste, a missed opportunity not to exploit the difference, omnipresent in ordinary, above-ground life. The author took inspiration from one of the old drawings from Postojna cave, where a lady was depicted dressed in a short havelock overcoat, equally wide, midi long skirt, and a wide hat (similar, not quite the same depiction). Yet he had an impression that the whole outfit made the lady look like a spruce tree, and that it is also a bit too strict, too buttoned-up, that it does not do justice to the gentle, roundly flowing female shape. So he adapted it, kept the havelock overcoat, made the hat less wide and more in style with the overcoat, discarded the skirt. This attempt at harmony of a cave and its lady visitor can be seen in the pictures from 1 to 11. The picture locations are more dispersed here and begin with Gorjanska jama, austere as most Upper Carniola caves are (it is not so far from Mt. Triglav), followed by Zelške jame cave, a system with easy and lovely water part behind which hides the treasure-laden dry Southern tunnel with its Hall of Stone Vaults, where aspiring cave photographers used to put their skills to a test, to see if he/she was on a par with the best masters of the craft. Next in turn are Orlovača, a cave above Sarajevo in Bosnia, not large in volume but full of impressive stalactite- and curtain-laden corners, and Predjama system, where the brook in the Eastern tunnel, which flows into the cave from non-karst, flysch land, and its pebbles give the scenery a touch of cozy, countryside above ground look. Two motives follow suit, from Planinska jama and Mačkovica caves. Planinska jama is really a dark, one could say devilish caves but also has, in places like the Janko Katerna tunnel high above the Rak and Pivka rivers, to get there fells like ascending to the theater's upper side gallery, some hidden perfect cave scenography. On the other side of the field the Big Hall with its large, never ending slope of rocks with luxurious calcite, pastry like dressing justly gives Mačkovica the title: Princess of Planinsko polje caves (exhibit 10). The last of this series of pictures is placed in the pearl of Inner Carniola, Križna jama cave. The main attraction of the cave is the river with 23 lakes where pictures 12 to 16 were taken. Here moving around the cave on foot is not an option so the update of cave suits was required. Girls' outfit was upped with caving overalls below the havelocks, the inflatable boat received a cover of the same fabric and the paddles have shafts of light colour wood and white blades, all to be a match for the top attraction the cave has to offer.

4. The Other Side

          The main body of the exhibition is rounded off by two motifs from more exotic locations, 21 and 22. The first was taken at the soutwestern cape of the top Polynesian island, top in the sense of cave lovers. A volcanic cone protruded out of the ocean, settled down to make an atoll and a calcareous coral reef formed around it. But unlike other atolls destiny played a bit more with this one. Volcanic forces lifted the island in the air once more, rainwater carved caves out of the calcareous layer and filled them with calcite concretions, stalagmites and stalactites. Later the elements broke away parts of the more exposed caves what made a unique cave scene, depicted in the picture 21. The girl is dressed in a ubiquitous island dress, a red and white pareo.
          Sooner or later in life of every artist, naïve artist or even wanna be artist, the theme of one of the eldest art topics pops up, and an example of it is the image 22. There are people who dislike even thinking about the subject, but at least it is not boring, it leaves nobody indifferent, it is taught in every art school, is in many ways connected to the essence of life and ... to something increasingly rare in nowaday's world, to joi de vivre (joy of life). The topic is probably the most divisive in art, there are artworks which most viewers are at ease with and other works, for instance representatives of the new aesthetics where previous statement does not hold. In photography the line between acceptable and unacceptably offensive is even much thinner. The author made a reasonable effort in this subject, devoted a paper to it, and was hopefully successful in his attempt to stay on the acceptable side. From the slope of the now extinct volcano Monte Corona (609 m above sea level) on the Lanzarote island a tunnel formed after an underground lava stream emptied itself into the sea 7 km away to the east. Elements slowly eroded the volcanic crust of its ceiling and it broke down in several places near the surface. This collapses opened access to the tunnel, often in both directions - uphill and downhill. It is the setting of the image 22.
          What follows are two pictures from the less distant author's experiments in the field of computer graphics, images 23 and 24. The first was produced using the Fractal Explorer application for generation and rendering of fractals while the latter was programmed by the author in HTML 5 markup language, exploiting its canvas element and the random number generator. The main program and its two functions are 84 lines long (36 + 32 + 16). Exhibition concludes with picture 25. It depicts the author accompanied by two friends from Bielsko-Biała in Planinska jama cave, after Jakub and Bartek finished their exploratory visit of two caves at the northern rim of Planinsko polje valley.

5. Acknowledgments

          If outdoor nature photography can be a solitary pursuit, a cave visit already, regarding all the hardships and potential dangers, let alone any serious cave photography, is the accomplishment of a team. The author would like to thank all the participants to the exhibited pictures, mostly of his home caving team DZRJL, Ljubljana Cave Exploration Society (Bojana Fajdiga, Lucija Ramšak - Tika, Marjeta Smrdel, Barbara Šatej, Marjan Baričič, Matic Di Batista, Blaž Bezek, Andrej Drevenšek, Matija Perne and Janez Pucihar), of ŠD Tornado caving (Jožek Košir - Cox, Luka Bernetič, ...), of Društvo ljubiteljev Križne jame (Alojz Troha) but also to Krzysiek Handzlik who ignited this Polish-Slovenian connection and to Jakub Pysz, the organizer and spiritus agens of the exhibition. From DZRJL the most valuable were the co In the end credit should be given to all who showed, in many obvious and less obvious ways, that the idea is worth the effort and trouble, that something delightful can come out in the end, and made all this fun happen.

This page and its text by Primož Jakopin; send inquiries and comments to primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate). Page initiated on September 9, 2018; date of the last change: September 25, 2018.

URL: https://www.jakopin.net/exhibitions/2018BielskoBiala/the_story.php