Jan Chlebik

Photography has become a means of note taking, the camera phone a notebook. “This was then, we were here, eating this, celebrating that. This is the plug I need, scratch on my car, weed in my garden.” A thousand mundane notes to self. A storm of attachments tethered to some towering cloud of skyfill.

Well, that’s not the photography of Jan Chlebik. Jan studied Fine Art (at Leeds Polytechnic 1977-1980) learned to use cameras, mechanical and loaded with light-sensitive film, in commercial studios feeding the advertising industry in Eighties Manchester. Largely, he photographed beer. He learned about light and darkroom stuff, enlargers, paper stock & printing inks. Jan is like the solitary and slightly mysterious man in apron and over-sleeves whose baffling alchemy produced subversive images, from counterfeit passports to fairies at the bottom of the garden. Or sparkling pale ale in a glass pearled with condensation.

Decades on Jan is no technology denier. Which is not to say he “moves with the times”. He is slightly more considered. Jan uses digital technology, including camera phones, to extend his view of the world, from churches in Venice to Salford streets. Jan has his own ways of seeing. Not many people can be identified by the pictures they choose to show us. These pictures are Jan’s world.

A decade ago, international art director, graphic designer and Factory records co-founder Peter Saville said this: “As a photographer Jan Chlebik is a genius. As a Mancunian he is a civic treasure.”

I’m not going to argue with that.

Phil Griffin

July 2023