Josef Sudek was born in 1896 in Kolin on the Labe in Bohemia. As a boy he learned the trade of bookbinding. He was drafted into the Hungarian Army in 1915 and served on the Italian Front until he was wounded in the right arm. Infection set in and eventually surgeons removed his arm at the shoulder. During his convalescence in an Army Hospital, he began photographing his fellow inmates. After his discharge, Sudek studied photography for two years in a school for graphic art in Prague. Between a disability pension and intermitment work as a commercial photographer, Sudek made a living. In 1933, he held his first one-man show in the Krasnajizba salon. Since 1947, he has published eight books. In the early 1950’s, Sudek acquired an 1894 Kodak Panorama camera whose spring-drive sweeping lens makes a negative 10 cm x 30 cm. He employed this exotic format to make a stunning series of cityscapes of Prague, published in 1959.
Sudek’s work first appeared in America in 1974 when the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, gave him a retrospective exhibition. The same year Light Gallery in New York City showed an exhibition of his photographs. On his 80th birthday in April, 1976, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague inaugurated a comprehensive retrospective exhibition of Sudek’s work which later appeared at the Photographer’s Gallery, London.
In spite of his disability, Sudek always used large format cameras and from the 1940’s on he made only contact prints. He worked without assistants in the open air in city and countryside. His hunched figure supporting a huge wooden tripod was a familiar sight in Prague. Although he never married and was rather shy, he was not a recluse and was renowned for his weekly soirees for listening to classical music from his vast record collection. Sudek died quietly and without suffering or illness in mid-September 1976 in Prague.
Josef Sudek (17 March 1896, Kolín, Bohemia – 15 September 1976, Prague) was a Czech photographer, best known for his photographs of Prague.