Vilém Heckel a Legend of Czech Photography

The Vilém Heckel Photographic Archive
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

If there ever was a individual whose work has irrevocably made a historical, unique and irrevocable contribution not only to Czech but world photography, the man is Vïlém Heckel.His fundamental passionate love of nature, sport and especially the high mountains provided the lifetime passion of mountaineering photography. Ironically, his love for photographing mountains, especially monumental mountain ranges unfortunately also became his destiny.

Vilém Heckel Kavkaz  Photo Photographic Archive

Vilém Heckel Kavkaz 1958
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

Vilém Heckel was born in 1918 in Pilsen into the family of Adolf Heckel , a crane operator for Skoda Plzen, who himself was a devout tourists and passionate photographer who had no idea that he would predestine the career of his son.In 1936, Wilhelm Heckel studied in Pilsen as a trade photographer, specializing in portraits and began working in small photography studios. After that he became the trade photographer in Zbrojovka Brno and the Czechoslovak Chamber of Commerce in Prague.

He also devoted his time to commercial photography in his work, concentrating on cars, motorcycles, electronics, etc., yet this body of his work is largely unknown and unrecognized.In 1949 he was admitted to the photographic section of the Association of Czechoslovak Creative Artists. .

Vilém Heckel Commercial Photography
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

In the fifties, he began to actively commit himself to mountain climbing. He successfully completes his first major ascents and along with his cameras discovers and captures the instrumentality of primordial nature, the magical majesty of the mountains and discovers his personal gift that gives these photographs a story and humanist relevance In 1956, he eaves his regular day job and fully devotes himself to his freelance photography. Finally, he can now fully and freely devote himself to his beloved mountains and travel, local and world wide expeditions and trips.He publishes first publication, “Our mountains” .In 1960 he has his first public exhibition in Prague of a collection of his photographs from the Caucasus. 

The Vilém Heckel Photographic Archive

Vilém Heckel Linhof
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

In the sixties, he publishes a series of monograms with the following titles- Journeys to the High Peaks, Kingdom of the Sun and Ice Expedition Caucasus, Hindu Kush, The Stairs of the Universe and others.On 23rd April 1970, he departs on an expedition to Peru to climb the mountain range surrounding Huascaran. Tragically, on May 31st, he and his friends and expedition climbing partners died in mountaineering camp avalanche of mud and rocks during an earthquake under the mountain of Huascaran.

Vilém Heckel HINDÚKUŠ 1965
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

The focus and themes of Wilhelm Heckel’s work does not only mountains. He created a monumental body of work encompassing excellent portraits, unparalleled architecture, urban atmosphere, winding streets, intimate moments and those magical yet sometimes fleeting moments that landscape provides.In Trento, in the competition of Vitorio Sella, he won the top award for mountaineering photography..During his lifetime he published 10 books, many of which have been translated in numerous languages.The photographs of Wilhelm Heckel continue to be posthumously published in a memorial book as well as other publications, which confirm his constant relevance, importance and actuality.He and his wife Milada and daughters Eva and Helena lived in Cernosice near Prague.

Among his close friends were the writers Ota Pavel, Arnost Lustig, Arnost Černík; the world renowned athlete Emil Zatopek, Frantisek Stastny, the screenwriter and director Francis Pojdl; and world class mountaineers Radan Kuchař, Bohumil Svatos, Jan Červinka.

His artistic and human sensitivity, technical excellence, diligence, hard work, courage and exclusivity, have ranked Wilhelm Heckel among the leading Czech and international photographers for generations to come.

Vilém Heckel with the the renowned Czech Photographer Josef Sudek 1960
© Vilém Heckel, Helena Heckelová

For Sales Inquiries, Gallery Representation or Co-operation, Exhibits, please contact The Vilém Heckel Photographic Archive Director: Helena Heckelová

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