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By Linda McCartney

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Photo by Tacita Dean

“I was a student at the Slade in London when I took these photographs. I was never much good at single images, so I was a bad painter. That’s how I ended up doing what I do. It’s not just photography, not just film – it has always been a mixture.

I went to Prague for two weeks in February or March 1991, right after the Velvet Revolution. I had just got a camera, my first of any quality – a Minolta, a 35mm SLR – and I bought a lot of Russian film, which cost about 20p a roll. Because I had so much, I wasn’t precious about it, so I took hundreds of photographs: of posters, photographs, photographs of photographs, photocopies of handbills by Václav Havel with handwritten decoration that were still on the walls (above, top right). I was allowing myself to play with photography for the first time. God knows what was going on unconsciously, but it was just a pictorial thing for me at the time.

I left the films in Prague to be developed. They took months. Eventually, a friend picked them up and sent them on. The photographs were tiny, with a white border, and they arrived wrapped in sugar paper. It was only much later that I looked at them again. They sat in my room in a box labelled “Czech photos”. Because of the way I’d taken them, I couldn’t remember what I’d photographed.

I’m not really a photographer who has Cartier-Bresson moments. But these photographs are like relics of a Prague that doesn’t exist any more, a sort of timepiece – almost as if they were taken a generation before me.

In 2002, I started working on a show in Düsseldorf. I ended up doing a lot of work inspired by the surrealist Marcel Broodthaers and his studio. Because there was a lot of “retrieval” in the exhibition, I started retrieving things from my own past. That’s when I rediscovered the Czech photos. I made contact with a man from East Germany who did black and white printing; he was able to reprint the photographs from the negatives at exactly the same scale as the originals, just as cheaply. He did six prints of each.

When I show these photographs, I put them in a box, like a library card index. In the first show, the box sat on a desk in the corner and people could leaf through. There are 326 photos in there and, of course, they get nicked. I’ve shown them in a lot of places now – Paris, London, New York – and far more were stolen in New York than anywhere else. The stairwell one always gets stolen.” The Guardian

A new record was set at Sotheby’s in London when a set of 15-18 photographs was sold for £50,000. Mostly, the photos were taken by Mikki, a chimp and very popular perfomer at the Moscow Circus, trained by artists Vitaliy Komar and Alexander Melamid. However, the set includes as well photos of Mikki at work, captured by the duo.

Entitle “Our Russia Through The Eyes of Mikki”, the collection, created in the ’90s, was part of a wider project, “Collaboration with Animals”, launched in 1978, challenging the position of man as sole creator of art.

The buyer, Russian art collector Kira Flanzaich, stated that the photos were a fine example of conceptual art: “Sometimes you think that animals can maybe photograph or do other things better than a human being. […] So we could see it in this particular piece, because Mikki took the photographs that are quite good of Red Square” (according to Daily Mail).

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