Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inspirations #13: Josef Sudek

Unor meho atelieru (February from the window in my studio), 1948 by Josef Sudek

Josef Sudek was born in Czechoslovakia in 1896, the same year as my grandfather. He began photographing in 1913. He was originally trained as a bookbinder and, ironically, his younger sister went into photography, but he had a become a keen amateur photographer before being called into military service in the First World War in 1915. He was wounded in the years that followed, requiring that his right arm be amputated. Despite this handicap, he continued to photograph for more than 50 years with mostly large format cameras. I don't ever want to hear another large format photographer complain about the weight of their cameras!

Mé okno, 1952 by Josef Sudek

Sudek's photographs are often dark and mysterious, bordering on mystical, yet they contain beautiful tones despite the limited tonal scale. As he had only one arm he preferred contact prints, and his images are prized for their delicate beauty. His work was often very personal with subject matter that was close at hand, such as the window from his studio, or still lifes composed of common kitchen and household objects, although he also made beautiful landscape and cityscapes of his native Czechoslovakia. He became known as the Poet of Prague. Josef Sudek died in 1976.

In 1985, we had a nice snow storm in January. My parents' house, built in the late 1950s, did not have the windows we are used to today – energy efficient, double (or more) paned – just plain ol' plate window glass. When it snowed, or was humid there was often condensation on the insides of the windows. I became entranced by the mystical quality of the background imagery through the sweating glass.

I made these two images with my 4x5 camera in my bedroom. I have printed them at 11x14, but much prefer the 4x5 contact prints.

Window #1, Pompton Lakes, NJ, 1985 by Richard M. Coda

Window #2, Pompton Lakes, NJ, 1985 by Richard M. Coda

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