Photographer Josef Sudek Exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Josef Sudek (1896-1976) was one of the more well-known photographers working in Czechoslovakia in the 20th Century. A person who particularly contributed to Sudek’s recognition, especially in America, was Sonja Bullaty, his studio assistant in Prague for two years before she emigrated to the U.S. in 1946. Settling in New York, Bullaty stayed in touch with Sudek and, together with her husband, promoted the photographer’s works. The Sonja Bullaty & Angelo Lomeo Collection of Josef Sudek is now being presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the exhibition Josef Sudek: Poet with a Camera, through January 17, 2005.

The exhibit acknowledges Sudek as a photographer of Prague—the city in which he lived most of his life. The images record the city’s panoramas and street scenes, as well as its sculptural and architectural details. Many of the photographs show Prague in the context of nature. The trees or bushes that frequently occupy the foreground of these cityscapes frame the distant architecture and sometimes, when particularly abundant, distinctly dominate the buildings’ silhouettes. Many have said that this immersion of Prague in nature makes the city look a bit unapproachable, which contributes to the dreamy, mysterious quality of the images.

The exhibition also comprises Sudek’s still lifes. Humble objects such as eggs, eggshells, and ordinary household glasses reappear in these compositions. The series From the Window of My Studio consists of photographs that were taken by Sudek through the glass windows of his studio, resulting in the interplay between the characteristics of the glass and those of the world behind and in front of it. The still life Easter Remembrances (1968-70), from this series, shows an egg in a bowl on an interior windowsill against a window glass that displays an obscure image of a garden and a reflection of the bowl. The reflected bowl seems to be suspended in the garden and, in effect, appears to exist outside the studio. The window glass in this series may be interpreted as a metaphor of the camera lens that, like the window, conveys images but also mediates and changes them.

In addition, several images of people are featured, including photographic portraits of Sudek himself, one by the Czech photographer Rudolf Janda. Some photos have a surrealist character. These images often present pieces of sculpture and furniture juxtaposed against a dense garden. Radiating an air of enigma, critics have observed that the works—for example, From the Series, Remembrances (1954-59)—recall paintings by de Chirico, the artist who inspired so many surrealists. Remembrance of Mr. Magician (1959) shows an animal-like old tree trunk and a vanishing human figure, offering a joke that links the artist’s work with the surrealism of René Magritte.