I’ve been looking at Josef Sudek’s photographs for a year or two now, those collected in Josef Sudek 55, a small book published in 2001 by Phaidon Press; and Mionsi Forest, the fifth volume in the Torst series, Josef Sudek: Works. Sudek was a Czech photographer, born in 1896 in Kolin, best known for his melancholy images of Prague. He photographed its streets, its buildings, and a remarkable series focussed on restoration work at St. Vitus’ Cathedral. There’s one of a wheelbarrow waiting on a pile of sand, the inner structure of the cathedral framing this interior landscape, all of it illuminated by shafts of light. I love the Mionsi Forest photographs because they take me into the ancient forests which shadow the village where my grandmother grew up. The shade, the light, the iconic trees against dark skies — I imagine my grandmother in these spaces, a girl among trees, maybe with the sweetheart who became her first husband.
I’ve just read John Banville’s wonderful Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City, published by Bloomsbury in 2003. His Prague is Sudek’s to some extent (as well as Tycho Brahe’s, Kepler’s, Kafka’s…). In fact, he writes of the moment he first sees Sudek’s photographs, a sheaf he is shown in a private home, prior to helping to smuggle them out of pre-Velvet Revolution Prague: “All day I had been walking about the city without seeing it, and suddenly now Sudek’s photographs, even the private, interior studies, showed it to me, in all its stony, luminous solidity and peculiar, wan, absent-minded beauty. Here, with this sheaf of pictures on my knees, I had finally arrived.”
Josef Sudek’s studio is open to the public (and I hope to visit in the spring):
And for those in Ontario, there’s an exhibit of Sudek’s which opened on October 3, running until April 7, 2013.