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  • Tošo Dabac, Life & Photographs, 1907 – 1970

Tošo Dabac, Life & Photographs, 1907 – 1970

DjetinjstvoTošo Dabac, one of the most important and versatile Croatian photographers, winner of many awards and member of prestigious Croatian and international photographic associations, has had a huge influence on the development of Croatian photography. He spent most of his life in Zagreb, in an environment acknowledging the importance of the photographic image at a very early stage, in a city that organised the first international exhibition of art photography in 1910*.

His first achievements were recorded in the early 1930s, when Tošo Dabac started exhibiting intensively in Croatia and abroad. Thus, in 1933, he appeared in a jurored selection at the anthological exhibition Second Philadelphia International Salon of Photography, where he exhibited in the company of great photographers such as Margaret Bourke - White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Laszlo Moholy - Nagy and Paul Outerbridge. At that time, he was also a foreign correspondent for the Berlin, Paris and London news agencies, and attracted attention with his cycle of photographs, later called People on the Street, which brought him fame and remembrance.

In 1940 Dabac moved his studio to the historic place in 17 Ilica Street, which was soon to become a favourite venue among the artists and intellectuals of Zagreb in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the time of the Music Biennial, artistic group EXAT ‘51, the Zagreb Fair, and similar events, which made Zagreb an innovative and dynamic cultural spot in Europe.

Filozof zivotaDabac continued to work here until his death in 1970, where the complete legacy of this great artist
is still kept today. What is characteristic of the work of Dabac, and what makes him different from most photographers of the same generation, is that in his work he was very much attached to his country, and apart from taking photos on his first big journey along the Mediterranean in 1932, he did not take photographs abroad. Love towards his country was reflected in all his work.

The Tošo Dabac Archive is currently an in situ art collection with almost 200 000 negatives, some 2000 vintage masterprints, valuable photographic equipment, library and hemerotecha. It represents one of the most complete collections of that kind in the world because it contains the complete works of Tošo Dabac. In addition to its artistic importance, the photographic collection of Tošo Dabac also has a huge documentary value because it bears witness to the history of Zagreb and Croatia. It includes various motifs, from portraits, art works and monuments, images of urban life to landscapes and folklore.

After Tošo’s death in 1970, the studio was renamed the Tošo Dabac Archive, and was maintained by his nephew and heir, Petar Dabac, a renowned photographer himself, who in 1980 established a gallery where he organised exhibitions and workshops of famous international artists. The collection has been open to experts both domestic and international, in different fields, who have often used the photographs of Tošo Dabac, recognising their artistic and historical value.

NatIn March 2006 the Archive was acquired by the City of Zagreb and passed on to the Museum of Contemporary Art for management. Since then an expertise has been taking place of this huge comprehensive collection, which yet needs to be given its rightful place in the history of world photography.

* “The 1st International Photographic Exhibition of the Croatian Art Society, opened February 10th 1910 in the Art Pavilion”, Marija Tonkovic, Outline of the History of Photography in Croatia, in The History of Photography in Croatia 1848-1951, MUO (Museum of Arts and Crafts), Zagreb, 1994.

1907 born on 18th May in Nova Raca, near Bjelovar, Croatia;

1917 moves with his family to Samobor,a small town near Zagreb; enroles in the Royal Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb;

1924 his first encounter with photography in the home of his schoolmate Ivica Sudnik in Samobor;

1925 Tošo’s oldest surviving photograph: a panorama of Samobor; starts reading law at Zagreb University;

1927 leaves the University; starts working at the Fanamet film distribution company in Zagreb as press agent and translator;


1928 when Fanamet closes down he transfers to the Zagreb Metro Goldwyn Mayer office on May 8. He works there until 1937; Edits the magazine Metro-Megafon;

1932 first participation at amateur photographic show in Ivanec, a small town in Croatian Zagorje; in 1933 and 1934 the Ivanec Photo gallery publishes a Croatian edition of Die Galerie, an international art photography review which at that time has editions in German, English, Danish and Italian;

1933 Exhibitions: Prague, Second International Photography Salon (also participating were Frantisek Drtikol and László Moholy-Nagy); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Second International Salon of Photography (also participating were Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Outerbridge etc.); Beaumont Newhall wrote the foreword for the catalogue; Leicester, The Tenth Midland Salon of Photography; Lucerne, II internationale Kunstphotographische Ausstellung;


1934-1936 exhibitions in Vienna, Ljubljana, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Boston, Zagreb; publishes photographic articles in newspapers;

1937 passes the practical and the theoretical part of his matriculation; the municipal authorities issue Dabac the permit to open his own studio; AFI (Assoziazione Fotografica Italiana), Turin, invites Tošo to become their member; marries Julia Grill, an operetta singer; Exhibitions: New York, Fourth International Salon, diploma for the photograph Road to the Guillotine (also participating Edward Weston, Margaret Bourke-White etc.); San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco Invitational Salon of International Photography (also participating Edward Steichen, Brassaï, Man Ray, Alexandar M. Rodchenko and Ansel Adams); Boston, Sixth International Salon, award for Life Philosopher;

1938 recipient of two awards given by Camera Craft / Monthly Photographic Competition; travels in Italy; takes part in international exhibitions in Zagreb, Vienna, Antwerp, Lisbon etc.; reportage for the newspaper Vecer on People in the Street;

1939 Camera Craft award; Exhibitions: New York, American Museum of Natural History, Sixth International Salon of Photography, Centennial Exhibition (also participating Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Man Ray, Edward Weston etc.);

1940 Dr Van de Wyer proposes Dabac for corresponding member of CREPSA (Cercle Royal d’Etudes Photographique et Scientifique d’Anvers); rents studio premises in Ilica 17, where his archives are now kept;

1941 his photograph published on the cover of Die Fotografische Rundschau, Berlin, which also includes a series of photographs from Croatia;

1943 becomes member of the People’s Liberation Front and sends photographic material to the Partisans;

1946 CREPSA invites him to renew his honorary membership; spends one month working in Istria writing an interesting diary;

1947 becomes a member of ULUH (Association of Croatian Artists);

1948 Boston, First Prize, American Photography;

1950 takes part in international exhibitions (Bern, Rio de Janeiro, etc.); gives lectures for amateurs at Fotoklub Zagreb;

1951 recipient of four Popular Photography awards in New York; Camera magazine diploma, Lucerne; Yugoslav Photo-Union elects him Master of Photography; phototographic trip throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina;

1952 Exhibitions: Lucerne, Welt-Ausstellung der Photographie (also participating were Magnum Photographers, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, André Kertész etc.); takes part in international exhibitions in Luxembourg, London, Amsterdam, Belgrade etc.;

1953 Exhibitions: Zagreb, Architect’s Society, one-man show to celebrate 25 years of professional activity; Pula, one-man show; First prize in Popular Photography competition, New York; elected active member of Photographic Society of America;

1954-1955 Photographs the sights of Zagreb, Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Montenegro, Macedonia;

1956 nominated member of artistic commission of FIAP (Commission Artistique);

1959 works for Albert Müller Verlag, Zürich and Hanns Reich Verlag, Munich;

1960 works for Encyclopaedia Britannica, New York/London; Exhibitions: Munich, International Salon of Photography Das menschliche Antlitz Europas (also participating Edward Steichen, Robert Capa, Werner Bischof, Brassaï, Edouard Boubat, Ernst Haas, David Seymour etc.);

1961 recipient of the City of Zagreb Award; nominated by FIAP for Honoraire Excellence FIAP;

1962 Belgrade, one-man show;

1963 Karel Pawek invites Dabac to contribute photographs to the World Exhibition of Photography organized by Stern magazine in 1964;

1964 Sofia, one- man show;

1967 receives the annual Vladimir Nazor Award given by the Republic of Croatia for his photographs of Bogumil Tombstones; Annual photography award and Life Achievement Diploma given by Yugoslav Photography Union; photographs of recent post-war architecture;

1968 Zagreb, Arts and Crafts Museum, Retrospective Exhibition (over 300 exhibits); works for Thames & Hudson, Atlantis Verlag etc.;

1969 one-man shows in: Zagreb, Art Pavilion, Umjetnost stecaka (The Art of Bogumil Thombstones), Split, Trogir and Ingelheim;

1970 dies, May 9 in Zagreb.

Monographs (Selection)

Oto Bihalji- Merin: Tošo Dabac, Fotosavez Jugoslavije, Belgrade, 1967

Radoslav Putar: Tošo Dabac fotograf (Tošo Dabac Photographer), Grafički zavod Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1980

Peter Knapp, Želimir Koščević: Tošo Dabac, Zagreb tridesetih godina (Tošo Dabac, Zagreb in the Thirties), ATD, Zagreb, 1994

Metropola Hrvata (The Croat Metropolis) Edition A. Velzek, Zagreb, 1943

Augustinčić, Kultura, Zagreb, 1954

Bakić, Naprijed, Zagreb, 1958

Trogir, Jugoslavija, Belgrade, 1959

Zagreb, Matica Hrvatska, Zagreb,1961

Ivan Meštrović, Matica Hrvatska, Zagreb, 1961

Bogumilska skulptura (Bogumil Sculpture), Jugoslavija, Belgrade, 1962

Augustinčić, Republika, Zagreb, 1968

Krsto Hegedušić, Grafički zavod Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1974

Biographical Data partly excerpted from Tošo Dabac, Zagreb tridesetih, ATD, Zagreb, 1994.
Edited by: Marina Benažić, Iva Prosoli
Archive Tošo Dabac, Ilica 17, Zagreb
E-mail: arhiv.toso.dabac@msu.hr

(c) All rights reserved for all countries Archive Tošo Dabac, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb - www.msu.hr


(D.H., 09.01.2009)