Renowned Photographer Returns to Brno
After 30 years in the States, award-winning photographer, Walter Novak, has returned to his native land. Photo: Billy Gibbons/Lars Ulrich/Phil Collins. // Credit: Walter Novak.
Brno, Nov 3 (BD) – A bare-bones summary of Walter Novak’s life would state that he was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, grew up there, emigrated to America 2 years after the Prague Spring revolution (“the best time to leave”), did many jobs, became a famous photographer, an American citizen somewhere along the line and has now, 30 years later, returned to live in Brno.
“Before the interview, Walter sent me an incomplete list of the bands and musicians he had photographed professionally, and it made my mind boggle. It was like a “Who’s Who” of the music industry from the 70’s onward…”
The dry facts reveal little about Walter’s fascinating life and passion for his art. In a recent, wide-ranging interview, I got to know more about the man behind the camera.
Before the interview, Walter sent me an incomplete list of the bands and musicians he had photographed professionally, and it made my mind boggle. It was like a “Who’s Who” of the music industry from the 70’s onwards and the photos he sent to accompany it will blow the mind of any music lover.
A selection of Walter’s favourite photos in the beautifully presented photo book entitled “Music Legends” clearly depict the atmosphere and emotion of various performances and I can imagine him desperately gripping his camera to get those shots as he is jostled by the audience, has his eardrums damaged at one concert and is whacked in the head with a beer bottle at another.
One of the things missing from the book, in Walter’s opinion, is his favourite band Led Zepplin whom he regrets never having had the opportunity to photograph.
More than Music
Music is not the love of his life though, photography is, and it has never been limited to musicians. Not being a photography expert, I couldn’t come up with a word to describe his style, other than eclectic, so I asked him to help me out at which point he smiled delightedly and laughed.
“Walter loves doing what he does and describes it as being “an obsession” or “like OCD” and can’t imagine not being a photographer.”
His photos cannot be pinned down to a topic, theme or style. A glance at his Facebook page (Walter Novak Photography) or website reveals the wide range of subjects, settings and styles he employs. From food to the countryside, Vietnam Vets to Native Americans or family members to famous people, his photography covers an extremely wide of themes.
Walter loves doing what he does and describes it as being “an obsession” or “like OCD” and can’t imagine not being a photographer. He says that his “hair stands on end” when he gets that perfect shot and freely admits to “being an asshole” at times when trying to get his subject to relax in front of the camera – particularly with politicians: his least favourite subject.
While politicians may not be his first choice of subject, ordinary people and life are. He loves doing portraits and achieving that perfect moment or doing picture editorials in which he tells a whole story. One of his biggest breakthroughs was when an editor decided to take the photos which were supposed to accompany an article on the West Side Market in Cleveland and turn it into a photo essay instead.
See the photo gallery. Credit: Walter Novak.
“From being a toilet cleaner in a foreign country, where he initially barely spoke the language, to a prolific award-winning photographer…”
From being a toilet cleaner in a foreign country, where he initially barely spoke the language, to a prolific award-winning photographer who has returned to his home country I am curious as to what the man who is so driven by his passion is going to do next.
Walter enjoys being home and feels that the Czech Republic “is in the best shape it’s ever been” although, after 30 years in the States, there are adjustment issues. He loves the peace and quiet in the Czech Republic and says the women really are beautiful. Not to mention affordable beer! Spending time with his family is a priority as is his need to continue with his passion of photography.
Walter is hoping to find a Czech publisher for his book and pick up some regular work. Further, in the future, he has no definite plans. He knows it will involve photography but where that will be, in the Czech Republic, another country or as “a beach bum on a deserted island”, is unknown. He believes in doing the best he can, to make himself feel good and that is where he is at now and hope to continue to be.
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