Head of Tarbosaurus, a dinosaur closely related to Tyrannosaurus ©Werner Forman Archive/ Natural History Museum Ulaan Bataar
Head of Tarbosaurus, a dinosaur closely related to Tyrannosaurus ©Werner Forman Archive/ Natural History Museum Ulaan Bataar

Czech-born art and antiquities photography specialist Werner Forman got his first big publishing break when he photographed Chinese art in Czech collections with a text by the editor of Novy Orient, Lubor Hajek, in 1954.

Barbara Heller, Director, Werner Forman Archive, says, “The book became an international bestseller and it was reissued several times. Forman’s photography impressed the Chinese authorities and in 1956 Werner and his brother, Bedrich, a graphic designer, were invited to spend two months visiting museums and holding seminars for Chinese photographers.”  At this time, visiting China in the aftermath of the Chinese Revolution was difficult to arrange and it put the Forman brothers on the map as intrepid travellers who could get into collections that were off-limits to most non-Chinese.

A trip to Mongolia followed when the brothers met up with the last Master of Ceremonies of one of the very few surviving Mongolian monasteries.  The Tsam dance – a traditional Buddhist dance usually held at the beginning of the year to exorcise evil – was forbidden at that time but, according to Werner, he was able to photograph a special performance which took place in a locked-store room.

Barbara Heller says, “Sadly Werner is no longer with us, but here at his archive we continue to present his collection, which consists of outstanding photography from all corners of the world, including masterpieces which have been lost, or are now in areas that it is no longer possible to visit due to conflict. We are able to supply high-res images for print publication, as well as for commercial applications, video and new media.”

Article by Julian Jackson

First travels by Werner Forman  
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