Josef Sudek Research

(1896-1976)

Sudek was a Czech photography artist born in Kolin in Bohemia, who was most famous for his photographs taken in Prague. Beginning as a bookbinder later being called into the military service in The Hungarian Army 1915 and serving on the Italian Front Line until he was wounded in 1916, resulting in the amputation of his right arm due to unrelenting infection.

During his recovery he spent three years in a variety of army hospitals and veterans home recovering, were I believe he found a channel for his creativity through his pain, taking photographs of his fellow patients and invalids. Around this time he created ‘Z Invalidovny’ series which were portraits of post war existence.

 

This is a set of images of the same scene shot by Sudek during his stay in the veterans hospital. I assume that he wanted to develop, and enhance as his first photo has an immeasurable amount of blur and objects have been rearranged. I am of the opinion that he developed a receptivity to light that he could express his pain through his imagery.

In the 1920’s he was discharged from hospital and in 1921 studied photography at the State School of Graphics Art, in Prague, for two years. Just prior to this time Sodek became friends with Jaromir Funke in 1918. Funke was another photography artist.  They went on to form the Avant Guard Czech Photography Society in 1924 together with Adolf Schneeberger, after all being excluded from the school due to their dislike of painterly photography techniques used by other artist’s. Before Sudeks crisis, created a series of images based on the construction of St Vitus Cathedral which took four years to complete.

This set of image portrays Sudeks use of cascading light through the cathedrals windows, otherwise known as god rays.  I regard these images of the cathedral as mythical and enchanting, due to the manner in which the light radiates through the large windows delivers a sense of being watched over in an ethereal form. The shadow and silhouette gives no narrative perception as to what the people are actually doing.

In 1926 Sudek had a major crisis in his life after accepting an invitation from friends in the Czech Philharmonic tour in Italy. Due to Post traumatic stress of visiting the place that caused his amputation during the war, presumable due to the horrific memories triggered.

I find the contrast, shadows and the styled elegance of the subjects clothing within this image rather moody and emotional. A true perception of the thoughts and feelings that Sudek may have been experiencing during Czech Philharmonic tour is evident in this photograph, formulating a personal and conversational message of contemplation and possible unhappiness.

After this he was put off travelling for good and returned to Prague, although making short trips to the countryside. It was in 1927 when he rented a small studio and began to create numerous images of still life, such as photographs of apple and chestnut trees from his backyard, fruit, flowers and other subjects; moving further away from using people as subjects in his work.

 

During his time spent in his studio Sudek continued to explore and develop his techniques incorporating a sense of escapism via the background of the open garden, and apple tree. This symbolises a possible inner longing to venture outside after his incident which his anxieties caused him to withdraw from. I find his use of basic materials awe-inspiring due to his imaginative use of just simple objects that shows great resourcefulness.  It was in this year that Sudek became a member of the Družstevní Práce a cooperative. Then in 1933 he became the first man to hold a one man show in the Krasnajizba Salon.

Later, in 1939, when Hitler claimed Prague. Sudek relocated, for four decades and immersed himself in personal projects such as black and white city scapes illuminating angular roof tops, cobbled streets, an created ‘My Studio Window’ 1940-1954, which is still stood at this address.

His Cityscapes were taken using a spring driven sweeping lens which allowed the camera to take a larger field of view to take in the whole city in a single exposure. This was an inventive and effective process that created boundless masterpiece’s symbolic of that time. He always made use of large format cameras due to their superior image quality and from the 1940’s only made contact prints presumably as he was contained within his studio due to his reclusiveness and isolation from the world.

It was in 1974 his work first appeared in America in an exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, and also exhibited in the Light Gallery- New York Exhibition of Images. In 1976, a large Sudek Retrospective opened in Roudnice, and the Museum of Decorative Art in Prague, held an exhibition of his work which later appeared at the Photographers Gallery, in London.

 

References:

Harvard.edu

Independent

Obelisk

Sunday Salon

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

PBase

Pinterest Image

Shutterbug

The Real Murphey

Masters of Photography

 

 

 

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