Jitka Hanzlová was born in 1958 in Nachod, (Bohemia, Czechoslovakia; now the Czech Republic). She abandoned the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1982 and obtained refugee status in the Federal Republic of Germany one year later. She studied communications technology at Essen University from 1987 to 1994. In November 1989 she traveled to Berlin to witness the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall; she found out there that this movement was also expanding to her native Czechoslovakia. In a number of weeks, a movement referred to as the Velvet Revolution enabled her to return home and gave her the opportunity to take photographs of Rokytnik, the Bohemian village where she grew up.
In 1993, while still working on this series, she received the Otto Steinert Prize from Germany. The following year she gained her university degree and began the Bewohner series, which she would carry out until 1996. From the mid-1990s her name began to become internationally recognizable: she received the European Photography Award and a scholarship from the DG Bank in Frankfurt in 1995. In 1996 she took part in the Manifesta 1 in Rotterdam and held the Bewohner exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt. From 1997 to 2000 she worked on female portraiture, with the majority of these photographs only including the model’s first name and the place the photograph was taken: the result of this was the series entitled Female, in which she explores the differing status of women in diverse parts of the world. A new series called Forest would lead to five years of almost full time dedication to this endeavor, while at the same time she also worked on Vielsalm (1999), a short series comprising twenty images from the Belgian city of the same name. In 2000 she was shortlisted for the prestigious Citibank Prize for her Rokytnik series, and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam staged the first retrospective of her work (1990-2000). In 2002 she exhibited her new Brixton series, carried out at the invitation of the Photographers’ Gallery, which gathers together portraits of several generations of Afro-Caribbean women living in Brixton, the area known as “the black heart of London”, populated since the 1950s by migrants from the Caribbean.
In 2003 she received the Grand Prix Award in the form of a project grant at the prestigious Rencontres d’Arles for Forest and was again shortlisted for the Citibank prize for Brixton. In 2004 Hanzlová began the Cotton Rose series in Japan, which was an attempt to offer a new European perspective on the Asian country. One of the images from the series earned her the BMW – Paris Photo Prize for Contemporary Photography. In 2005 the Museum Folkwang in Essen staged Forest with its accompanying monograph featuring an essay by John Berger. She began a long-lasting series in that same year which would continue until 2010: Hier, which was exhibited at the Kicken Gallery in Berlin. In 2013 Fundación MAPFRE held an extensive retrospective of her work. In the last few years she has been working on two series at the same time: There Is Something I Do Not Know and Horses.
Hanzlová is also a visiting professor at the Academies of Fine Arts in Hamburg and Zurich. Her work continues to feature in a wide variety of solo and joint exhibitions in galleries throughout Europe and North America as well as in centers and institutions such as the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and the Fotomuseum Winterthur. Her work is currently found in photography and other visual arts collections in centers such as the MoMA in New York, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Fotomuseum Winterthur, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and Fundación MAPFRE.