September 01, 2003

Note on Sudek

For some time, I've wanted to do a lengthy post on Josef Sudek, a Czech photographer dubbed, not without reason, the Poet of Prague (a city that produced both Gustav Meyrink and Franz Kafka; Rilke too wrote some short pieces on the city). Sudek lost his right arm in the First World War; his photographs of the veteran's home Invalidnovna, taken early in his career as a photographer, from 1922-1927, are among his most moving. But when I saw an exhibition of his works in Philadelphia in 1990, it was the series "A Walk in the Magic Garden" -- particularly one of the photographs labeled "The Departure of Mr. Magician" -- that made the strongest impression on me, although I am not quite prepared to say why. Chesterton (whom I quote via Borges) once wrote that

Man knows that there in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; ... Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.

There is something of this in Sudek's works -- tones and semi-tones, and all the agonies of desire. I wish I could find one such work online, but the posted images I've come across are not those that made such an impression on me (I have several of them, scattered among four separate anthologies of this work, including one I purchased in Prague).

Sudek described his approach to photography this way:

Discovery -- that's important. First comes the discovery. Then follows the work. And then sometimes something from it remains.

It would be a shame to mention Sudek and not recommend a single photograph, so I suggest looking at this one.

Posted by Ideofact at September 1, 2003 11:44 PM