Feature Image: Model: Laura Beserova Crown: Ivy Design
When Czech photographer Marketa Novak heard that we were devoting an entire issue to Art Nouveau, she staged our sumptuous, golden cover photo as an homage to her countryman—and favorite artist—Alphonse Mucha. She even painted the golden moon in the background herself (recycling a print of one of her elven queen photos), surrounded it with baby’s breath, and hung it in the small home just outside Prague that she shares with her parents. “I wanted to achieve the look of one of Mucha’s posters,” she says, “and I don’t have an atelier of my own!”
The period as a whole fascinates her. “My great love is the Secession,” she says, referring to the Austrian term for Art Nouveau. “I love it for its love of nature and return to manual craftsmanship. Secession interiors are ingenious, harmonious, and every detail is developed to perfection. If elves were builders, I think Secession would resemble their architectural style the most.” Novak brings up elves again when talking about her own deep love of nature. “Nature is my greatest inspiration,” she says. “I love the sun shining through the green leaves whispering in the wind. I am also a big fan of fantasy novels, particularly Tolkien. To me, his elves are the embodiment of angels and of people’s connection with nature.”
One way that Novak illustrates that connection in her own work, aside from shooting the occasional elf, is through animals. “I see them as a link between nature and people,” she says. “I enjoy the silent communication relying on feelings, the understanding between different creatures who still enjoy a pure, undisrupted relationship with nature. With my photographs I try to pass on the love and admiration I feel.” Working with animals is a great joy of hers, as is clear from even a quick perusal of her work. When she first started taking photos, at age twelve, she walked around her grandparents’ farm and village and took pictures of the local dogs, noting their names and stories. Today she collaborates only with animal caretakers who have healthy relationships with their animals and whose animals are used to human contact. With animals, she says, “the entire shoot depends on their needs and moods.”
Novak’s most exciting current project involves working with animal rescuers to educate the public. The photo of actress Nikola Heřmánková Kouklová holding a tiny hedgehog on pages 16 and 17 is one of these images. The hedgehog, named Jeřabinka (“tiny rowan berry”), was brought to the Prague Wildlife Rescue Station last autumn after being found orphaned in broad daylight in the city. She was three months old, unable to eat solid food, and starving. “Her human finders saved her by immediately getting her to the rescue station,” Novak says. (Though she notes to always contact a rescue station and ask for advice before trying to save a wild animal, since many pups are brought in needlessly.) “She fought for her life and won.” Now Jeřabinka (and Novak) educate people about wild hedgehogs through her ultra-glamorous photos and media appearances.
Novak has also been shooting horses, hens, sheep, and other rescued animals in collaboration with rescue organizations around Prague as part of the same project. The kitten on page 14 was saved by firefighters after it spent several days caught in a bus engine. Workers spent weeks fighting for the kitten’s life, and today Shelby is healthy and strong and has a brand-new forever family. The deer in the next photo was another animal in need that was brought to a Czech rescue facility. Eventually, after becoming accustomed to humans, it was adopted by a woman who works there. Novak released a 2019 calendar featuring more rescued animals immortalized by her lens.
“I like connecting a person with animals and with nature in one ornamental image, to show that we are a part of nature,” she says. “With my photographs I also try to create a positive environment in which people can relax and dream. In my opinion, art should bring joy and lift up the mind and the spirit.”
See more of Novak’s work on Instagram @marketnovakphoto.