Josef Sudek was born March 17, 1896 in Kolín, Bohemia and died September 15, 1976 in Prague.
Photographer Josef Sudek is called “The Poet of Prague” because in tens of thousands of luminous images he captured the timeless soul of this city that is known as “The Jewel of Europe.” Sudek ceaselessly photographed the city’s streets, its forests and its atmosphere. But unlike Eugene Atget’s photographs of Paris, Sudek’s images transcend place and time and are meditative visions of light itself.
Originally, Josef was a bookbinder. He was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI (around 1915) and served until he was wounded in the right arm in 1916. He had no experience with photography and was one-handed due to his amputation, and yet he given a camera.
After the war he studied photography for two years in Prague under Jaromir Funke. His Army disability pension gave him leeway to make art, and he worked during the 1920s in the romantic Pictorialist style.
Always pushing at the boundaries, a local camera club expelled him for arguing about the need to move forwards from ‘painterly’ photography.
Sudek founded the progressive Czech Photographic Society in 1924. Despite only having one arm, he used large, bulky cameras with the aid of assistants.
Sudek’s photography is sometimes said to be modernist. But this is only true of a couple of years in the 1930s, during which he undertook commercial photography and thus worked “in the style of the times”.
Primarily, his personal photography is neo-romantic.
His early work included many series of light falling in the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral.
During and after World War II Sudek created haunting night-scapes and panoramas of Prague, photographed the wooded landscape of Bohemia, and the window-glass that led to his garden (the famous The Window of My Atelier series).
He went on to photograph the crowded interior of his studio which came to be known as the Labyrinths series.
His first Western show was at George Eastman House in 1974 and he published 16 books during his lifetime.
Known as the “Poet of Prague”, Sudek never married, and was a shy, retiring person.
He never appeared at his exhibit openings and few people appear in his photographs.
Despite the privations of the war and Communism, he kept a renowned record collection of classical music.
A wonderful biographic piece on The Art of Photography, we highly recommend the following video:
(The image shows a video that does not work, but click it – it does work.)
We shared many of his photographs here today. To read his biography, we suggest Josef Sudek: How a One-Armed Advertising Photographer Became the Legendary Poet of Prague by Steve Meltzer.
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