For assignments 4 & 5 I’d looked at the list of suggested photographers such as Godwin, Adams and Weston and could relate to all of them but I wanted to choose somebody different and that person was Josef Sudek. My reasons for choosing him were varied. Firstly I came across him in a book that I’d bought as background on an earlier course “50 Photographers You Should Know” and was struck by the way he was referenced as a “poet” and also by the fact that the book made such a big issue of the fact that he used light. Subsequently I kept coming across his name, often in the same sentence as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Bill Brandt etc but, unlike the others, there was no other detail on him. In fact there was far less on the web about him than the others despite the fact that all references to him classified him as a “great” of photography (whatever that is !).
It was this absence of information that interested me to begin with, largely because it meant that it would be impossible to just regurgitate information from the web, something that I thought my tutor and assessors would be delighted with :-), but also it represented a challenge to understand him and his work. As I look into him and his work I was struck by how many photographers cited him as an influence and especially commented on his use of light.
For example Martin Parr said “His feeling for light, weather, and space in combination has never been surpassed.” and his friend, the poet Jaroslav Seifert recalled “He wrestled with light like Jacob with the angel.”
Given that light was something I really wanted to get to grips with on this course it seemed an ideal choice of subject for me.
His portfolio was interesting in that, like Adams, Weston etc, he started off with more studio work where developed his use of light. Also he gradually became more adept at inviting the viewer to share his view . Furthermore it was the consistency throughout his career that gave me something to focus on in the review and meant that I could almost develop a story almost in the same way that he developed his images.
His most famous landscapes came towards the end of his career in two renowned portfolios. Praha Panoramaticka (Panoramas of Prague) is probably the most famous and beautifully shows his grasp of composition and light as he explores his home city. Interestingly many if not most of the panoramas are composed against a gentle arc which focuses the viewers perception into the key areas. This subtle steering of the viewer’s perception is a characteristic of much of Sudek’s work.
However, whilst the panoramas would have suited my main criteria for this exercise it was his other major landscape work, Mionší Forest, that interested me more. I’d wanted my whole portfolio for this course to be based around Windsor Great Park, both for consistency and the story that I wanted to tell. (Assignment 3 was a major blip in this concept !!) For that reason a series on the forest areas of the park appealed to me.
In these sample images can be sen what Mari-Mari Sutnik, curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario said
“Sudek was a continuously innovative photographer, whose explorations of various techniques and materials set him apart from his contemporaries. The key to appreciating Sudek’s work is to take note of his insightful use of light and dark illuminations, which add a distinctly moody and poetic tone to his subjects.”
As well as the quality of the individual images what appealed to me was the way Sudek had explored the forest and the portfolio was to reflect his love for the area that he came to regard as his own patch.
I tried to do the same for a part of Windsor Great Park that contains some of the original woodland that the kings used to hunt deer in, exploring it and trying to capture the play of light and the weird shapes that could be found.
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The full gallery can be seen at my website in the gallery “Windsor Forest”.
One of the most difficult decisions was in deciding what Sudek’s style really was. I knew that I wanted to capture his use of light and of shapes but his style also included the way he tried to get across his love and fascination for the area. Also, I decided that his style didn’t include his use of black and white, that was a necessity born of his time. besides using colour would allow me to use more complex light ans tones to emphasise some of the shapes and patterns.