Toomas Kalve’s Retrospective



Toomas Kalve’s retrospective exhibition included all of his work so far, from his experiments as a schoolboy to his most important series: “The Life of Dead Birds”, “Back in Paris”, “Views of Supilinn”, “Tartu Botanical Garden and Toomemägi”, “Anatomikum 91”, “Kalvetarium”, “Coloured Nature” and others.

The birth of an image is inexplicable. Internal. Spontaneous. Toomas Kalve describes the state from which creation begins, what it is all about, as intuitive cognition. He does not analyse his works in the typical terms that unravel the concepts of contemporary art projects, such as narrative and discourse. The tangle of complicated words annoys him, makes his blood pressure rise visibly, but does not make him angry. These concepts are not just his domain because the aesthetics of light and shadow, with all the possibilities of photographic expression that pass between them, make the viewer feel and react. Each in their own way. 

Few people know who they are and what they want to become as a child. Toomas Kalve wanted to become an art photographer in the sixth grade, and that is what he has become. The art world is largely characterized by the ambition to be constantly original. Against this background, the art of remaining yourself is a remarkable achievement. Through 45 years of creativity, using and holding his own line — taking pictures with a plate camera, using old technologies and crafting a refined image — has been a natural progression for Kalve, not a stagnation. His images and motifs have changed over time.

On a metaphysical level, the outcome of Kalve’s creative journey has been viewed as a parody or epitaph to the whole modern culture, the beginning of which is symbolised by the birth of photography. Regardless of the retrospectivity and parallels with the works of the Czech legend of photography, Josef Sudek (1896-1976), Kalve is distinctive and recognizable by his example. Kalve does not imitate anyone or anything.

Peeter Laurits has given his own explanation to Kalve’s photos: “There is always one thing in Kalve’s pictures that causes shivers: often the light, but sometimes some detail is supported in such a way that when we see it, our sense of security in this world collapses. The picture is on its own and does not resemble anything. It is profound.”

Curator of the exhibition: Annika Haas


Toomas Kalve (1965) is an Estonian artist and photography lecturer from Tartu. He started working with photography in 1978 at the Tartu cultural building. Member of the Tartu Photo Club since 1982 and its president since 1988. Kalve is a founding member of the photography groups Eternally Yours (1990) and Kütioru Open Studio (1996). In 1999, he started working as a photography lecturer at the Tartu Art College. Kalve has had dozens of solo exhibitions and he has participated in dozens of group exhibitions both in Estonia and abroad. Kalve’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Photography, the Art Museum of Estonia, the Tartu Art Museum and the Tartu City Museum, as well as in private collections. In 1988, he received the Estonian Photo annual award. His work is characterized by the use of a plate camera of the 19th and 20th century, toning of photographs, retro nostalgia and mannerism.

More information: Annika Haas