Josef Sudek’s young life took place against a backdrop of uncertainty and political turmoil. He was born in 1896 in Bohemia, the largest region of the Czech lands which now form part of the Czech Republic. After being called to fight on the side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the First World War at age 20, Sudek lost his right arm in battle. Returning to Prague in 1916, he began to study photography under Jaromír Funke, one of the most prominent Czech photographers of the era. Two years later, the war concluded in the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia, with Prague as its capital.
Sudek’s work is often described as enigmatic, invoking more questions than it offers answers. According to the Douglas Hyde Gallery, his photographs – which span pictorialist, modernist and neo-romantic styles – present ‘an otherworldly, serene, and singular vision of a turbulent era.’ His body of work includes many nightscapes and panoramas of Prague during and after the Second World War, and his meditations on changing light in buildings like St. Vitus Cathedral are inspiring examples of how to find beauty amidst upheaval – a message that takes on a new resonance in light of current geopolitical events.
Like so many artistic endeavours, the arrangement of a Dublin exhibition of Josef Sudek’s photographs has been a collaborative process. Co-organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic to Ireland, it makes a reality of a dream of current Douglas Hyde Gallery director and curator of this exhibition, John Hutchinson – a dedicated fan of Mr. Sudek’s. The show will feature images handpicked from PPF Art’s expansive collection of Czech photographs.
Speaking about the exhibition, PPF have expressed their happiness at sharing the works, saying that ‘the purpose of collectorship is not only to amass works of art but also to share their beauty with broader audiences.’ Their hope is that the multicultural workforce from Ireland’s many tech companies will turn out in droves to experience them, as well as the Irish art community and the general public.
The arrival of Sudek’s atmospheric work in Dublin will also no doubt be welcome news to another longtime Irish admirer of his, the celebrated author John Banville. Banville explored the city of Prague through the photographer’s work in his 2003 non-fiction book, Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City.
📅 The Josef Sudek exhibition opens at Douglas Hyde Gallery on November 17th at 6pm, and runs until February 1, 2017. Admission is free.