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Josef Sudek

Prague At Night

Josef Sudek. Prague at Night, 1930. Harriott A. Fox Endowment.

Date of birth
Date of death

Josef Sudek was a Czech photographer best known for his poetic black-and-white images of Prague and intimate still lifes taken in and around his studio. Born in 1896 in Kolín, Czech Republic, Sudek apprenticed as a bookbinder, but after being drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I he was severely wounded and lost his right arm. Discharged from the army with a disability pension, he decided to pursue photography.

Sudek studied photography at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague from 1922 to 1924, and in 1924 he founded the progressive Czech Photographic Society, along with Jaromír Funke and Adolf Schneeberger. In 1928 he gained recognition for a portfolio of photographs depicting the renovation of Prague’s Saint Vitus Cathedral. With this series Sudek demonstrated his great attachment to the Czech capital and especially its older and historic structures. At the same time, however, his training at the State Graphic Arts school brought him in contact with modernist designers such as Ladislav Sutnar. Sutnar and Sudek collaborated for nearly a decade to produce innovative brochures and magazines marketing modernist design for household goods and books.

With the start of World War II, Sudek looked for subject matter in his studio. Between 1940 and 1954, he developed a series called My Studio Window, studying the play of moisture on the glass and the delicate effects it created on an apple tree just outside. Although he completed an extensive body of work around Prague using a panoramic (360-degree) camera, Sudek in his later years became best known for images made close to home: studio still lifes, a handful of portraits and nudes, and dream-like garden scenes. 

Sudek’s first solo exhibition in the United States was held at the George Eastman House in 1974, the same year as his large retrospective exhibitions in Prague and Brno. The Art Institute presented his work in 1988 in the exhibition The Magic Garden of Josef Sudek.

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