29. 6.—28. 8. 2011
Sudek remains the most popular Czech photographer of the twentieth century. He is also, however, an extraordinarily important figure in the arts in Europe. That is why his works are so frequently exhibited, particularly in the replica of his former studio, which was opened as a gallery on 14 September 2000.
Sudek was born in Kolín (not far east of Prague) on 17 March 1896 and died in Prague on 15 September 1976. He started with other amateur photographers and became a professional only after the First World War. Initially, he worked mainly in advertising, but he also took photographs of architecture and fine art for illustrations. From the 1940s onward, the works that he made strictly for himself went against the trends of the times. After the Communist takeover of 1948 he refused to let the State-imposed standards of Socialist Realism affect his own aims in art. Surprisingly, he even returned to the Pictorialism he had started out with.
As a mature artist he was able to use striking contrasts of light and shadow in order not to distract the viewer with details. Rudolf Janda, a photographer of primeval forests, generously took Sudek to the Mionší National Park in Moravia Silesia. He later explained how Sudek made his harmonic visual compositions. This is recorded in Ludvík Baran’s preface to a still unpublished book about Janda’s work. Sudek ‘aimed his camera at the sought-out subject in the summer between 6 and 7 p.m. Since he knew that Sudek’s exposures took about ten minutes, Janda went to pick blueberries instead of hanging around waiting. When he returned thirty minutes later, Sudek and his assistant Petr Helbich were discussing modern painters like Emil Filla and Josef Šíma. Janda listened to them for a moment, and then remarked that it was time to go back home. Sudek, however, lying on some moss, replied: “We’re exposing.” The picture of the ancient forest in Silesia, which Sudek later showed to Janda, has ghostly soft light, which gently washes over the roots, trunks, and grasses like a magical semidarkness, difficult to imitate with any other method. That was made possible by an exposure time of more than thirty minutes using an old-style lens with the smallest possible aperture setting. Sudek divided the exposure time into several phases and thus changed the atmosphere of the subject matter into a marvel of light.’
In 1940 Sudek stopped accepting orders for work. In addition to the monumental series The Window of My Studio (1940–54), which was added to even later, he created still lifes. He made due with the simplest objects, which he turned into positive images by making contact prints of the negatives. He gave his walks through Prague gardens and parks during the war unexpected photographic expression with an almost dreamy effect. This marks the highpoint of his creativity, resulting in classic works, which are open to postmodern interpretation.
CV — Josef Sudek
The world-renowned Czech photographer Josef Sudek was born in Kolín in 1896 and died in Prague in 1976.
Respected both home and abroad, Josef Sudek became one of the legendary figures of the Czech art scene. Born the son of a painter and decorator in Kolín, he received all of his general education at the village school in Nové Dvory near Kutná Hora. Trained as a bookbinder, he was mostly self-taught as a photographer, though he also studied at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague. He was a member of the Club of Amateur Photographers in Prague’s Žižkov and the Mánes Society of Fine Artists.
Josef Sudek served as a soldier in the First World War and returned from the Italian front without his right arm. For a while he lived in the Invalidovna veterans’ hospital in Prague’s Karlín. It was there that he made his first major series, The Invalidovna, between 1922 and 1927. He turned down an office job and pursued his life’s calling.
His work since the early 20th century reflects all the developmental trends in modern photography. Beginning with the 1920s he was inspired by Prague. His popular series include the Autumn in Stromovka Park, The Embankments of the Vltava, and Interiors (made just before the completion of St. Vitus’ Cathedral). He also found inspiration in nature, as reflected in his series such as the Slovak Landscape, Landscape near Žebrák, Landscapes of South Bohemia, and Landscapes along the Elbe. Until the Second World War, Sudek also devoted his time to advertising, art reproduction, and portrait photography.
Beginning in 1940, Sudek developed his unique style of contact prints, which he used to work on his personal themes, organised in extensive series that spanned long periods of time. That was the time when his individual contribution to global art was reaching its prime. His other major series include Glass Labyrinths, Labyrinths, and Memories.
Josef Sudek took part in countless exhibitions at home and abroad. He published several books of photographs on Prague and the Prague Castle. His first monograph was published in Prague in 1956. Since his death, a vast amount of books on his life and work have been published both home and abroad.