“They Never Update the Lists”: photographer Michael Borek at the Embassy of the Czech Republic

“I try to appreciate with my camera things that are seemingly obvious yet multilayered, absurd, and surreal,” says Michael Borek, who was certainly the right photographer for the Embassy of the Czech Republic to approach for an exhibition about Franz Kafka. As it turns out, though, Borek was certain that his participation would require travel to Prague—until he realized the show he hadn’t yet shot already existed.

“I began going through the years of photographs I took in the past,” he says. “In the course of editing those photographs, it dawned on me that I didn’t need to go to Prague to take any more pictures. I had more than enough material for this show. Apparently, I have some Kafka in my DNA, at least as I view him.”

The resulting show, “They Never Update the Lists,” opens at the Embassy of the Czech Republic on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (To attend, please RSVP by Tuesday, June 10.) Inspired by and dedicated to Kafka on the 90th anniversary of his death, Borek explores themes Kafka would have appreciated, such as alienation and absurdity, in images that repay scrutiny and invite endless interpretations.

And what about that enigmatic title? Borek says that while living in Prague in the 1980s, he helped a Swedish journalist write a book about the city. To research a chapter about Kafka, they went to the insurance company where the famous author had worked—and Borek decided to have a little fun.

“I asked the watchman on duty where Dr. Franz Kafka’s office was,” Borek explains. “These days, such people are described as receptionists, but the title ‘watchman’ befits the spirit of Kafka much better. The watchman checked one list and then another. He asked me to repeat the name, and checked his lists again. Finally, he told me in exasperation, ‘You’ll need to go upstairs and ask them where he sits. I can’t put up with this place much longer. They never update the lists!’ It’s a story that I think Kafka would have appreciated.” 

“They Never Update the Lists” opens on Thursday, June 12, 2014, with a reception at 6 p.m. (to attend, please RSVP by Tuesday, June 10), and runs through mid-July at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. See more of Michael Borek’s photography at the Torpedo Factory at Multiple Exposures Gallery in studio 312 and at his website, michaelborek.com.

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