Saturday, July 6, 2013

Walking in the Footsteps of Josef Sudek Six Decades Later

While wandering around Prague in May, I kept thinking of Josef Sudek. The apartment Cass and I rented was located on the same street as his studio and I walked underneath this plaque almost daily.

Most of what I know about Sudek revolves around the photographs of his studio windowsill and the glass, either obscuring or accentuating, the landscape behind it. As I looked across the road, I could not help but wonder if I was staring at the same view he saw six decades earlier.

Josef Sudek, Last Roses, 1959

I ordered Josef Sudek: The Legacy of a Deeper Vision on Interlibrary Loan last month and soon realized that many of his images reflect the mood and subject matter I experienced over the course of one week in May 2013.

 Josef Sudek, Prague (Hradcany), Early Evening, 1922-24

Jaroslav Seifert writes in "View from the Charles Bridge" (from John Banville's Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City)

These are days when the Castle
and its Cathedral
are gloomily magnificent,
when it seems
they were built of dismal rock
brought back from the Moon 

One night we saw the castle with lightning illuminating the sky behind it. These days boat tours fill the River Vltava and their radiance competed with that of the spring storm.

Josef Sudek, Prague Castle, Hradcany from Lobkovic Gardens, 1950s

Looking for views of the castle, with or without obstructions, became one of our pastimes (that and finding Czech words that were written in English with a "Y" at the end).

Josef Sudek, Prague, National Theater across the River, 1950-60

I took a photograph very similar to this. On an iPhone. At night. Note it is not present here because Sudek's is far superior.

 Josef Sudek, Prague Street (Tram), 1958

This may have been the same tram line on the street that we shared with Sudek's studio. Thankfully our visit did not feature snow though it wasn't hard to imagine how cold Prague was in the winter.

Josef Sudek, St. Vitus's Cathedral, scaffolding in the transept and choir, 1926-27

When Cass and I visited St. Vitus, it was early afternoon Sunday and it smelled like sweet incense burned at mass. The smoke was still wafting through the nave. We were there with thousands of tourists and all I imagined was a view of the cathedral alone. Sudek provides two of St. Vitus here under construction. Despite the scaffolding, there are no workers, only a one armed man and his camera pressing the exposure button. Aside from the sound of the shutter, it is almost quiet.

Josef Sudek, St. Vitus's Cathedral, light illuminating the central vessel from the south side, 1926-27

Josef Sudek, Sratov Gardens, Springtime, 1960

Pink blossoms and blooming tulips filled the flower beds. Rain. Cool breezes. We missed the flooding that would occur three weeks later with the Vltava rising 12 feet into the city streets.

Josef Sudek, View of Strelecky and Zidovsky (Jewish, later named Children's) Island, from the Legion Bridge, Prague, 1950-55

We stood here at dusk and watched a boat "park" to the right of the photograph above. Back and forth it maneuvered in a narrow space, reminding me of the Locks in Seattle. The water was just as still though a deep brown. No clear water found here. I would travel south to Cesky Krumlov for that.

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