Prague Poet Remembered

I’ve long been a fan of Josef Sudek – and my copy of the first edition of the monograph on him published in the West in 1978, two years after his death, edited by Sonja Bullaty shows considerable signs of use.  Bullaty, a photographer who shared some of his lyrical approach, had been held in Nazi concentration camps (including Auschwitz)  before managing to escape from a death march and return to Prague as the war was ending.  There she found none of her family had survived. She became Sudek’s apprentice until she was able to leave for New York in 1947.

Sudek’s images in the book were finely printed in gravure, and have a quality that often very much echoes the originals. His work very much showed a different sensibility and an alternative photographic printmaking syntax to the bravura zone-based silver prints of American photographers such as Ansel Adams or the glossy bromides of photojournalism. Complex, sometimes brooding, and always with feeling, whether on matte silver or pigment his prints had an interest in surface and depth. It was work in a different register to the prevailing US hegemony.

Later I bought a few more books of his work, and around 1980 organised a small gallery display of Czech photography that included at least one of his prints along with these. I’ve had another gravure of one of his images hanging on my front room wall for many years. And of course I wrote about the man and his work for About Photography.

So I was pleased to see a mention on The Online Photographer  (though I think to call him “one of the fathers of 20th-century photography in the Czech nation” belittles a man who was truly one of the greats of  20th century photography full stop) directing me to a note marking the anniversary of his birth on March 17, 1896 at the Disability Studies site of Temple University.

Sudek fought in Italy in the First World War, losing his right arm, and it was this very disability that brought him into photography, as he was given a camera while convalescing from the amputation, and his disability pension allowed him to study photography. The site also links to an extensive gallery of his work and you can also see some at Iphoto Central  and Luminous Lint.

One aspect of his work that I developed a particular interest in was his use of panoramic photography – something indeed that led me to buy and use a number of panoramic cameras. The internet doesn’t lend itself too well to the  format and not many of his (or mine) appear to be on line.

DLR at Bow Creek, © 1992 Peter Marshall
Definitely not Sudek, but one of my panoramas – some others are on the Urban Landscape web site.
Right Click in sensible browsers and select ‘View image’ to see the picture larger.

One site that has a few (it is poorly written – scroll far to the right to find images) compares some of Sudek’s Praha Panoramaticka images with 1992 images at the same locations by  Peter Sramek. Although it is sometimes interesting to see the differences time has made, Sudek’s work has a quality that sets it at a quite different level to the later work.

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