Josef Sudek’s Prague Landscapes

Josef Sudek was born on 17 March, 1896 in Kolín, Bohemia, in Prague. He served in the Austro-Hungarian army from 1915 to 1916, during which he injured his arm, eventually leading to an amputation. After this, he studied photography in Prague for two years. Following his success as a photographer, he founded the Czech Photographic Society in 1924.

Despite having only one arm, Sudek used very heavy and cumbersome equipment. His love for still life compositions and detailed landscapes meant that he needed the image quality that large-format cameras offered. Despite the movement from Pictorialism to Modernism throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Sudek stayed true to his original vision. He preferred to shoot dream-like scenes, with soft light, diffused through a foggy window or an overcast day. He was drawn to desolate, gloomy landscapes, simple, solitary objects and the quiet, unpopulated street scenes of Prague – a city to which he dedicated his whole life.

In 1949, Sudek started experimenting with a Kodak panoramic camera, capturing Prague and the surrounding landscapes. The camera would produce 3 1/2 x 12 inch negatives and would capture an angle of 142 degrees. Over a ten-year period, he produced 284 of these panoramic landscape photographs, eventually publishing them in a book called Praha Panoramaticka. John Banville’s biography of Josef Sudek, Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City focuses on the photographer’s fascination with Prague, noting that within such an environment occupied by the Nazis, photography was a form of defense.

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