Josef Sudek, the Poet of Prague

“Photographs should not attempt to say everything; rather they should indicate where to look for meaning.”– Joseph Sudek


Josef Sudek (March 17, 1896 – September 15, 1976) was a renowned Czech photographer.
Born when Bohemia was a kingdom in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he learned bookbinding, but after his 1916 World War I injury, which led to the amputation of his right arm, he took up photography. His inability to accept the norm and prescribed limits of an artistic style and form accompanied him throughout his life.
The amputation of his arm was a traumatic experience for him, and it seemed that photography was a form of redemption, as it allowed him to peek beyond the life of loneliness into the lives of fellow humans and their environment. Few people appear in his photographs, and melancholy is the signature on all. He worked hard to make up for his physical limitations and was very patient, driven by his pursuit of perfection.
His style exhibits traits of Impressionism, Surrealism, Magic Realism, Neo-Romanticism, Avant-Garde, and Czech Poetism Movement, but central to it is a diversity of light values in the low end of the tonal scale, and the representation of light as a substance occupying its own space. Sudek’s work first appeared in America in 1974.
Toward the end of his life he was branded a loner and eccentric; classical music and his famous painter and poet friends kept him company. He experienced several political regimes, yet he always maintained his own perspective of art, oblivious to whims and fashions of the time. He never sought the limelight and largely busied himself with what captured his interest. He published 16 books during his life and left behind over 20,000 photographs and twice as many negatives, most of which have not been published.
Josef Sudek never married. He died in 1976, at the age of 80.

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