3/29/2014

Strange Beauty: Josef Sudek

 Labyrinth at my Table gelatin silver print 1967

Labyrinth at my Table is from the Labyrinths of Paper series by the Czechoslovakian photographer Josef Sudek (1896-1976). Two-thirds of the space is filled by an enormous bloom of wrinkled white papers, upstaging a small vase of white-pedaled flowers and bits of everyday detritus. The soft light on the gathering of papers creates a gentle radiance, transporting the scene into a realm that is anything but ordinary.

Labyrinth at my Table was taken when the photographer was 71 years old, but Sudek's interest in the still life can be traced back to the first years of World War II. Having lost his right arm as a soldier during World War I, the present war and the encroaching Nazi presence had him retreating into his studio, where he could create his own realities.

Sudek lived most of his life with his sister. The two of them hated throwing things away, keeping (for example) all their metro tickets. Sudek began his Labyrinth series as an older man, when his studio and living quarters held the accumulations of a lifetime. What you might consider debris wasn't trash to him, but the stuff of poetry. Photographed evocatively, paper sandwich wrappers piled high could suggest anything, and thus the small confines of his studio space could include the whole world.

Labyrinth gelatin silver print 1965

Labyrinth in my Studio gelatin silver print 

All his life Sudek would eagerly await the arrival of spring, when he was most inspired to photograph the street and gardens of his native Prague, but throughout the year his work would suggest the intricacy, mystery and annual reawakening of the natural world.


Labyrinth gelatin silver print 1969
I believe that photography loves banal objects, and I love the life of objects. I am sure you know the fairy-tales of Anderson; when the children go to bed, the objects come to life, toys for example. I like to tell stories about the life of inanimate objects, to see something mysterious: the seventh side of a dice- Josef Sudek

 1947 portrait of Josef Sudek by Josef EHM
 from the folio 'Profily 2'

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