Josef Sudek: A Testimony to Still Life

Josef Sudek made this still life of a pear, taken close up laying on the edge of a wooden table, for his friend, the painter Andrej Belecvetov, in the 1950s. During this decade Sudek increasingly engaged with the still-life genre. Retreating into his studio, ‘the Poet of Prague’ continued to embrace the Pictorialist style which he had used to photograph the streets and landscapes of the city.

Sudek contrasts the geometric form of the wooden table with the softer organic form of the pear, emphasised by the crinkled form of the tin foil on which the pear rests. Sudek studied photography under the renowned Czech photographer Jaromir Funke, whose clearly focused studies of simple objects had a strong influence on him. Sudek would photograph various items in his studio including flowers, vases and mirrors, experimenting with the play of light as they fell on the objects. He was fascinated by photography’s ability to bring “seemingly dead objects to life through light or by its surroundings.”

Sudek was a deeply reclusive man; born in Czechoslovakia in 1896 he remained in Prague throughout the Second World War and the Soviet era. These factors had a profound effect on his photography, generating one of the principal themes in all of his studio work – that of interior versus exterior life. In this photograph, Sudek blurs the background of the image and keeps the object of study, the pear, in clear focus. By abstracting the background, we are drawn into the quiet, enclosed space of the object, which feels intimate and safe as opposed to the threatening outside world.

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