Josef Sudek was the creator of deeply-felt photographs that made use of the streets he frequented and the everyday sights he encountered in order unearth both moments of great beauty and the potential for great destructiveness. The Czech photographer notably became preoccupied with darkness during the Nazi occupation of Prague, taking pictures from his window using the minimal light available during nights of enforced curfew and blackout. Born in 1896, he was an adept of the Pictorialist and Modernist schools of photography, but by the 1940s had developed his own distinct style, abandoning many of the conventions of these movements in the process.
The seven thematic groupings of his work presented at Jeu de Paume in Paris reflect and respect his own practice of working in series, under titles like The Window Of My Studio and Labyrinths. It will be the first exhibition to include a selection of his colour images, as well as his pigment prints on carbon tissue. Though it acknowledges his technical gifts as a photographer using a range of methodologies, it is the emotional communication and the passionate conviction of his work that is most clearly apparent in the exhibition. The Beginnings strand sees the young Sudek creating images of countryside and city using processes such as gelatin silver and bromoil, carbon and gum bichromate, and observing the ethereal and Romantic conventions of the Pictorialist style.
The World from my Window series finds him developing his own style, with extended visual explorations of the phenomena and scenes he viewed, notably the endlessly varied states of droplets of water streaming down his windowpane, often resembling human tears. Sometimes the melancholy mood is leavened by a rose in a vase on the windowsill or tendrils of leaves announcing the arrival of spring. Night Walks captures the mood of the war years, and despite the title, it is unlikely he actually risked his life venturing out into the streets after curfew, instead photographing minimal blurs of light against the absolute blackness.
The Friends and Artist and The Spirit of Place strands consider the people and places significant to the photographer. He created portraits of the likes of dancer and actress, Milena Vildová and Cubist painter Emil Filla, usually for reasons of personal friendship rather than commerce. Places that shaped his artistic worldview included the landscape along the Elbe River as well as the streets, castle and cathedral of Prague itself.
The Intimate World of Josef Sudek, until 25 September, Jeu de Paume, 1 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris.
For more, visit www. jeudepaume.org.
1. Josef Sudek. Prague pendant la nuit, c.1950–1959. Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Don anonyme, 2010. © Succession de Josef Sudek.