Friday, March 31, 2006

Ten "Epiphanous" Photographs: #10

The tenth (and last) "epiphanous photograph" - in a hand-picked series of photographs as defined in an earlier Blog entry - is...

Epiphanous Photograph #10: Josef Sudek's At the Janaceks (1948)


Josef Sudek (1896-1976) was one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and perhaps the best-known Czechoslovakian photographer. Sudek was already an accomplished amateur photographer when he was called up for combat in WWI, and continued to photograph during his military service. Having lost an arm in the war, Sudek was able to get a free scholarhip for a photography course, from which point his life's course was essentially set.

Like Andre Kertesz, Sudek's photography is subtle, and intensely poetic. Though the works of both artists reflect a deep inner meloncholy, where Kertesz focuses (though not exclusively) on daylight scenes and subject matter than spans his travels, Sudek's images are confined mostly to Prague (indeed, to his own studio!) and are often dark and charged with a palpable mystery; few, if any, of Sudek's images would appear out of place as "illustrations" of a Kafka novel!

Consider my tenth, and final, selection as an "Epiphanous Photograph," Sudek's At the Janaceks. Using the simplest of aesthetic primitives - a chair, a window, light and shadow, and diffused light - it simultaneously evokes mystery (of undefined, hidden, meaning) and intensity (in the tangibly psychological presence of the "life" that pervades this room); a seeming paradox of clarity and ambiguity!

It is precisely because of the ambiguity of visual cues and delicate nature of the image - the hint of a yard and fence outside the window, the subtle suggestion of either a candle or small light bulb as an additional source of room light, the small, but otherwise distinctive "peeks" of furniture and a picture (?) in the corners - that the image is able (as so many of Sudek's photographs are!) to strike such powerful emotional chords in the viewer. In Sudek's hands, the camera (with help from Sudek's artistic eye!), becomes a magical tool to capture, probe, and ask what are ultimately unanswerable questions of the meaning and purpose of everyday life.

Sudek once said of his own work, that...

"...everything around us, dead or alive, in the eyes of a crazy photographer mysteriously takes on many variations, so that a seemingly dead object comes to life through light or by its surroundings....To capture some of this - I suppose that's lyricism."

To which I can only add that - if one spends even one afternoon gently immersed in Sudek's work - one can only conclude that in the eyes of a crazy but preturnaturally gifted artist, no part of the world is ever devoid of life and inner radiance. Although this is surely a basic lesson that all photographers, to one degree or another, teach, an examination of any of Sudek's best works makes this "lesson" almost obvious. I am humbled to know that on those rare days on which I dare call myself a "photographer" I at least share a common vision (if not divine gift of expression) with a true genius by the name of Josef Sudek. There is no question that in the right hands, photography is art.

Indeed, perhaps the shortest answer I can give to the original question that led to my soul-searching selection of ten personally "Epiphanous Photographs" - rephrased to read "How can you demonstrate to a non-photographer the nature of fine art photography and why you are so passionate about it?" - just look at any of the photographs by Josef Sudek! (More of Sudek's work can be seen here (#1) and here (#2).)

4 comments:

Meredith said...

I am so happy to stumble across your blog. I love the musings in this last entry. Inspiring stuff.

A.V. Michaels said...

Thanks for your post on my blog; I so enjoy yours, it's interesting, intelligent and new to me!! I added it to my list of favorites so others can enjoy it too. Thanks!

David S. Mazel said...

Others are taking notice! This is great and congratulations.

Photography Collection said...

Interesting post.