Henner Merle and the photographer Frank Silberbach showed the New York photographer Sylvia Plachy (pronounced : Pla-hee), the “secret star” of documentary photography, for the very first time in Germany.
As Sylvia Plachys first book titled “Unguided Tour” appeared, it instantly won the “ICP’s Infinity Award” for the best publication of the year. “I haven’t experienced a work with so much breadth and such power since Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’” praised the photographer Richard Avedon. Even the legendary André Kertész, whom Sylvia Plachy calls her “soul grandfather”, describes her book as unsurpassable. “It’s as if they are waiting for the right light, that they may find me”, writes Plachy in her preface.
Sylvia Plachy was born in Hungary in 1943. Her father owned a small calculator company that was later taken over and socialized by the communists. After the devastation of their livelihood the Plachys made the very difficult decision to emigrate to the USA. This was a drastic experience for the then 13 year old Sylvia who later went on to say “I lost everything that can be called home.”
Due to an exhausted immigration contingent in the USA, the family had to initially stay in Vienna. Here Sylvia received her first camera, an Agfa Box, with which she could record memories. After two years in Vienna, which she describes as unhappy, the family finally managed to immigrate to the United States.
Sylvia Plachy went on to college after high school and originally wanted to become a painter. Her paintings didn’t appear to be good enough so she registered for a photography course. In 1964 after her graduation she showed John Sarkowski from the Museum of Modern Art some of her works. He in turn bought a tableau with 81 small formatted photos for the humble price of just $50 and put them on display at his “New Purchases” exhibition. Despite this promising start, she initially turned away from photography and went to work in an office. She continued taking photos on the weekends as a hobby.
Once in a while she sold photos for $5 each to a catholic weekly publication. She began to work for the weekly appearing New Yorker city magazine “Village Voice” in 1971. Eleven years later in 1982 she was given her own regular photo column that she titled “Unguided Tour”.
In 1990 the book with the same name as the CD from the musician Tom Waits appeared and made Sylvia Plachy suddenly famous. Numerous exhibitions started lining up including the Photojournalism Festival in the French town of Perpignan. Sylvia Plachys photos were now being published in “Newsweek”, “Life”, “The New York Times”, and the German “Die Zeit”. It didn’t take long for museums to take notice of her and and now her works can be found in prominent collections such as the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In 1996 she released her second book, “Red Light”, in which she focuses on the sex-industry.
Sylvia Plachy lives with her husband in the New York borough Queens.
05.09. – 25.10.1998