Happy Birthday, Josef Sudek

Laurie says:

March 17th was Czech photographer Josef Sudek’s birthday. I particularly admire his work. I blogged about him quite a while ago, about the way his work brings up a sense of “time and memory” for me.

Construction in St Vitus' Cathedral
Construction in St Vitus' Cathedral

“I saw Josef Sudek’s work for the first time at MOMA in San Francisco in the 80s. It was an exhibition of about 20 small black and white photos in a hall space and they knocked me out. Aside from their exquisite composition, the quality of the light in his outside work was both marvelous and individual. They literally sent me to Prague to see if his “Prague light” was real.”

I spent a week walking about the city taking pictures in that amazing light. It was hypnotic, all I did for my week in Prague was shoot. (This was before the Berlin wall came down, so Prague was quite different then it is now.)

Penny L. Richards blogged about him on his birthday in the Temple University’s Disability Studies blog. Sudek lost his arm in WWI.

“We traveled down the Italian boot until we came to that place–I had to disappear in the middle of the concert; in the dark I got lost, but I had to search. Far outside the city towards dawn, in the fields bathed by the morning dew, finally I found the place. But my arm wasn’t there–only the poor peasant farmhouse was still standing in my place. They had brought me into it the day when I was shot in the right arm. They could never put it together again, and for years I was going from hospital to hospital…” Josef Sudek 1926

After he lost the arm he was given a camera in the hospital. He initially studied photography while on a disability pension.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait

I knew this was part of his story but it’s not something I usually remember when I think about him. I think about his intense lifetime determination in his work, about his difficult nature, about the incredibly layered environment he lived and worked in.


He photographed it often.

So, when I read Penny L. Richards’ blog, it brought me up short. I need to think about how he worked. He liked working and developing his equipment but now I need to think about how that related to his disability and how this all does and doesn’t relate to his work.

One thought on “Happy Birthday, Josef Sudek

  1. I couldn’t find much about that relationship, between his work and his disability. My first thought is that, like many disabled people, he probably became accustomed to planning more, and more creatively, in many aspects of life. So perhaps his work reflects those ingrained habits of planning and attention and problem-solving?

    How wonderful that his work took you to Prague! I missed your earlier post about him. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of him before this week, I just had him on a list of disabled artists’ birthdays that I would write up on DS,TU when chance allowed.

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