Tereza Zelenkova creates and respect to Victorian aesthetics

Reading through Time: 2 moments

The photographer draws on influences from literature, atmospheric interiors and the mystery of forgotten spaces

Tereza Zelenkova’s project The Essential Solitude started as a commission from the Financial Times in 2017. “ I was asked to make a double-page spread, the subject being ‘My London’, plus it struck me as unusual that even though I love London and consider myself to be a true Londoner, I had never really photographed it before, ” Zelenkova recalls. The musician grew up in a small town within the east of the Czech Republic, moving to the English capital in 2007 to study digital photography. She has lived there ever since.

“For the commission, I wanted to produce a homage to the Victorian good looks that have doubtlessly influenced the work, and I was thinking about various peculiar interiors working in london, ” she says. One such place was Dennis Severs’ House: a landmark and museum at 18 Folgate Street. The property’s dark and eccentric ambience spellbound Zelenkova on her first go to. “I also wanted to use the model I used in these photographs because the girl long hair seemed to match the house, so I placed her within it and completely indulged myself in the hallucinatory atmosphere of fin de siècle interiors and literary works. ”

The Essential Solitude © Tereza Zelenkova.

The Essential Solitude © Tereza Zelenkova.

The first time Zelenkova photographed on the house, she only had limited access, and the shoot lasted just one hour. She kept thinking about the potential of the series. Eight months later, she returned for another program, and it is these pictures that developed into a personal project. Zelenkova did not plan images. Instead, she experimented, letting the place’s mood guide her.

“I mostly photographed within a room that presents itself as being a sort of decaying time tablets. In reality, it’s a carefully staged theatrical set created by Dennis Severs, consisting of both cheap props and precious antiques. Yet everything is certainly left to decay. The particular furniture and fabrics are covered in cobwebs; the particular ceiling is leaky, as well as the walls are peeling, ” she says. “I liked the solitude of this room. How it stands inside sharp contrast to the outdoors world, and that it’s the folly to some extent. Its objective is not the preservation of historical artefacts, but rather a good acknowledgement of the inevitable passing of time and its effects. ” Meanwhile, her model, introduced as a ghostly, genderless shape, appears to move through the photos, accentuating the sense of isolation.

The Essential Solitude © Tereza Zelenkova.

The primary Solitude © Tereza Zelenkova.

The Essential Isolation fits neatly into Zelenkova’s oeuvre, which, like this series, is also entirely photographed within black-and-white. The artist loves the timelessness of the structure. “Colour can be vulgar sometimes; the same as reality, ” she says, “but with black-and-white, everything becomes more about textures and light. Not all items look good in monochrome, but occasionally you can transform something sub-par into a visual feast for your eyes. ” She frequently chooses analogue over electronic too. Indeed, as Zelenkova puts it, she is someone “who’s always been romantically in love with the unattainable past”.  

Zelenkova has now published The Essential Solitude as a photobook with the Athens-based publisher Void (void. photo ) . Limited in green and bespoked with a gold illustration that shimmers on the cover, it includes prose written by the photographer herself.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and manager based in Brighton. She has written on photography and lifestyle for over 40 international publications and journals, and held positions as editor designed for organisations including The Photographers’ Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MOTHER in comparative literature plus criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London

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