I have become an admirer of Josef Sudek, perhaps Prague’s best photographer. I’m hoping this post will generate some opinions about Josef Sudek’s greatness and also debate on who really is Prague’s best photographer. The photo below is taken from this wonderful article, “From My Window”: The Late Work of André Kertész and Josef Sudek.
From my readings, he was a very humble man, not one for greatness or acclaim.
But how many one armed photographer’s can you name from the 20th century? I know of only one: Josef Sudek, The Poet of Prague (his nickname).
After reading the wonderful article at “From My Window”: The Late Work of André Kertész and Josef Sudek, I have learned that Josef Sudek lost his right arm and that Andre Kertesz also suffered a horrible arm injury during World War I.
I can only guess at the courage of this WWI amputee who chose photography after his injury and persisted with his artistic vision into a post WWII communist society. Jose Sudek must have been a very special man. (I need to learn more about Andre Kertesz also.)
I grew up in a Photographic Vacuum
Just as a point of interest, I grew up as a child in the 1950’s near Chicago, IL. Singing at our Lutheran church introduced me to the fact I was German-American and that many great composers were German.
But my artistic leanings stopped there. I knew little of great artists and still less of great photographers.
So now, at the age of 60, I find myself studying great photographers and commenting on their work. So I know my artistic limitations, but I also know what I like. And I like Josef Sudek’s photographic work in the context of his life.
The Source of Josef Sudek’s Creativity
At one point in his life, Josef Sudek went to the country farmhouse where he was first taken with his mangled right arm during World War I. A decade or two had passed since his amputation, and he couldn’t find his amputated right arm. He never went out much again in public.
Some of Sudek’s earliest photos were in the hospitals where he recuperated from his amputation.
Perhaps the loss of Josef Sudek’s arm to amputation catalyzed the career of this master photographer: the poet of Prague.
Josef Sudek Photographs on the Internet
As you may come to learn, I am very sensitive to the issues of copyright law. I am torn by my interest in showing you Josef Sudek photographs and the possibility those photographs are copyrighted.
So if you want to see a collection of Josef Sudek photographs, just go to Google Images and do a search for Josef Sudek. You’ll find many photos of the man and his work.
Josef Sudek’s many Photographic Styles
Who am I to judge the style of a photographic master? We all do, whether we are knowledgeable or not.
Some of Sudek’s early photographs were in the hospital wards where he recuperated from his amputation. I’ve also seen some of his early photos of a cathedral under renovation.
I can’t show those photos since I can’t find any that are copyright free.
Simple Closeups of Everyday Utensils
I don’t know what they call this style, but Josef Sudek became very well known for his photos of everyday objects around his house. Here’s an example of a Josef Sudek emulation. It’s a photo on Flickr that was an attempt at a Josef Sudek photograph. It gives you a 2nd hand “taste” of Sudek’s style.
Josef Sudek documented his Prague around 1960 with panoramic photos. Here’s one of those photos from a collection of photos at the Servatius blog. You need to click on the photo below to expand it on your display screen and to enjoy it better. Go ahead, click on the Charles Bridge photo.
I visited Prague in 1975
In 1975 I traveled most of eastern Europe and did visit Prague in the summer, ever so briefly.
There was a beach resort on the river Vltava, hundreds of people. Apparently, the people don’t like swimming much, but I do.
I spent an hour swimming happily in the Vltava, a few of my American friends joined me.
Later I learned the signs at the river had a word I didn’t understand: Polluted.
So I smile a bit, thinking Josef Sudek might have seen a crazy college student swimming in the polluted Vltava River near the end of his life. That’s as close as I came to ever meeting Josef Sudek, not very close.
Josef Sudek’s Influence on my Photography
As amateur photographer’s our courage may be in short supply. Perhaps that’s why so many amateurs photograph landscapes and are satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I photograph landscapes also. But photographing a cricket next to a pond with a telefoto digital lens isn’t the same thing as dragging your mangled body, tripods, and cameras to a panoramic shot in your home town and taking photographs in public in a Commmunist controlled city and country.
Like all amateur photographers, I need to demonstrate more courage in my photography. Whether it’s walking up to a stranger asking to take a photograph or doing portraits of church members. Whatever it is, stretch your courage as a photographer.
I see some of the styles of Josef Sudek. His early photos that seem to be dripping with atmosphere in hospital wards or his street scenes. I don’t think I can photograph everyday objects with anything like his skill.
But I think I can do panoramas. Although I don’t own a wide angle panoramic camera as did Josef Sudek, I do own a flimsy alternative in the form of my Rollei Prego 90 point and shoot camera with a panoramic switch. It’s a nice point and shoot, it’s just not a genuine wide angle panoramic camera. But it will have to do.