The Photographs of Josef
Very few Czech
photographers have enjoyed such explicit admiration by those interested in a
good photograph as Josef Sudek. However, his popularity both at home and abroad
was only the logical result of the honesty and artistic sincerity of his work.
Josef Sudek always had his own individual apprcach regardless of contemporary
changes in the creative concept of photography. He always wciked solely
according to his own unerring sentiment. Josef Sudek entered the sphere of Czech
photography in the twenties, i. e. at (he time when, under the influence of the
example of Drahomir J. Ruzicka, the then young generation began to incline away
from the "noble prints" by means of which their predecessors had endeavoured to
approach painted models. And Josef Sudek also soon adopted the opinion that a
negative should not be subjected to manual interventions and began to use
bromcsilver paper of standard production for his positives. After this return to
the "photographic appearance" of shots, his work began to be marked with the
influences of the "New Objectivity", manifested particularly in the emphasizing
of cutting sharpness and in a great wealth of details in the depiction of the
structure of surfaces.
In the thirties and forties a certain part of Josef Sudek's work showed a leaning towards the trend of avantgarde artists of that time to discover fantastic shapes among different, notmally overlooked articles which practically bordered on a metaphorical interpretation of reality. However, even this relativization of the original significance of a given subject led mainly to emphasis of the poetic elements of all ordinary things. Josef Sudek showed on numerous occasions that, on the basis of the photographer's personal experience and approach, the creative eye can interpret its view of the world with remarkable lyricism even in those cases in which the themes themselves would obviously not attract the attention of the ordinary viewer.
The selected collection of Josef Sudek's photographs concentrates samples of his works which originated after World War II. Represented in it are the most important genres which characterized the work of this photographer. The feature common to all of them lies in the fact that in spite of the obvious emphasizing of poetic elements and emotive atmosphere, the original model from the world of reality loses nothing of its identity in the photographs. Josef Sudek loved soft, diffused lighting with which he knew how to work in a really masterly way. In his ohotographs of dew-covered windows his mature art came into play in all its extensive range, since he allowed the viewer to surmise the whole space both in front of and behind the glass pane. An equally pronounced sense for the achievement of really enchanting lighting effects can be perceived in his larger wholes in gardens where he exploited equally sensitively the fine mist formed by drops of water from a lawn sprayer to disperse light on the leaves of trees. When photographing landscapes, he deliberately chose the seasons of the vear in which light softly surrounded the individual formations from which his motifs were composed. However, it was with feeiing and not rational speculation that Josef Sudek achieved his effects. The main criterion of his work was that the should "see his future photograph" in the real world, the point in question not being merely a complex of shapes, but an integral impression which included all weather and light influences.
In the case of Josef Sudek sensitive photographic vision was harmoniously supplemented with respect for a good craft.
It was an interesting fact that he worked mainly with old cameras producing large negatives since he stubbornly preferred contact copies to enlargements. This was connected wilh his endeavours to depict the largest number of details which were manifested in his photographs right from his youth. For similar reasons he also used the high apertures of the lenses of his camera in order to achieve surprisingly great depths of sharpness. He was never put off by the fact that under such conditions he was sometimes obliged (especially in the case of interior still-life photographs) to expose his shots for whole tens of minutes, Indeed, it was just composure and patience, whether in seeking a motif, or in preparing its concrete interpretation, that were the typical manifestations of Josef Sudek's human wisdom. It was obviously also this approach to his work that lent his photographs that special charm which placed them outside any time sphere and powerfully affected the modern viewer living in precipitate haste.
In 1976, the year in which Josef Sudek celebrated his eightieth birthday, relatively great attention was paid to his work. The Moravian Gallery in Brno and the Arts and Crafts Museum in Prague marked the occasion by jointly preparing a monographic exhibition of his photographs and another retrospective collection from the property of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic began its successful series of showings abroad in the ancient town of Aachen. Unfortunately, Josef Sudek did not survive his eightieth birthday for very long. At the end of July 1976 he autographed the first edition of this publication for the public at the "Ceskoslcvensky Spisovatel" (Czechoslovak Writer) bookshop in Prague, the organizer of this event being the Pressfoto Publishing House in Prague. Later, at the beginning of September, he attended a seminar on the photography of his friend Jaromir Funk at Kolin nad Labem and thus by a stroke of chance Josef Sudek came into contact with the public for the last time just in the town in which he was born. Death put an end to great and emotionally rich work representing one of (he most significant contributions to the development of Czechoslovak photography of the twentieth century. This key position results not only from its individuality, but also from its close ties with the home tradition and its originator's cultured vision. Very few photographers have been so intrinsically linked with the spirit of their homeland as Josef Sudek. And just by honestly basing his whole work on foundations directly connected with the environment in which he matured emotionally and grew into a great artist he became a photographer of world import. Today it is difficult to imagine the modern history of photography without mention of his name which ranks in a dignified way among the names of the most outstanding photographers of our time.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL AND
Josef Sudek was born in Kolin on 17 March, 1896. He learned the bookbinder's craft. During World War I he was wounded by a grenade splinter and in 1917 his arm was amputated. Unable to continue in his original profession, he became a professional photographer. In 1922 he began to study at the State School of Graphic Art in Prague under Professor Karel Novak. As an independent photographer with his own studio he cooperated closely with the "Druz-stevni prace" (Co-operative Work) Publishing House. In 1961 he was awarded, as the first photographer to receive this distinction, the title of "Artist of Merit" and in 1966 the "Order of Work". He died in Prague on 15 September, 1976. Especially outstanding among Josef Sudek's book publications are the illustrated monographies published in 1956 by SNKLU (State Publishing House of Belles Lettres) in Prague (with accompanying text by Professor Lubomir Linhart) and by Artia in Prague in 1964.