Josef Sudek - contorted trees

Josef Sudek – contorted trees

May 17, 2011  |  Art, Blog

I’ve loved the work of Josef Sudek ever since I accidentally stumbled upon a large book of his prints in my university’s library. In school, I’d often wander the aisles of the photography section, searching for divine inspiration through the works of old masters. In my discovery of the “Poet of Prague” I found a highly significant influence on my work thereafter. The book was Anna Farova’s “Josef Sudek” and I’ve cherished the copy I bought several years after that day in the library.

Josef Sudek fought three years in the trenches of  World War I, and was hit by artillery from his own side, which caused the amputation of his full right arm. From the time he spent in the military hospital, his work shows a new awareness to light around him. Without the use of his right arm, he gave up his training as a bookbinder and decided to pursue photography. From then on, he fully realized his gifting of visual poetry. He had a great sense to see the poetry in all things: the revealing light of the hospital, the confinement and isolation by the Soviet occupation in the 1940s, and seeing himself in his photographing of trees.

In his photographs of these gnarled and contorted trees, many of them seem as if they are self-portraits. He photographs them with an intimacy, love and passion, which we see throughout the years of his work, including a series entitled Vanished Statues. Farova in her book writes, “Sudek loved trees, especially old and damaged ones who seemed to share his own fate. He knew where they grew and would always go back to visit them…. It was nature like this in all its crudity, full of untamed ferocity and elemental vitality that was to become the new focus of his artistic interest.”

I’ve recently been thinking of this recurring motive in his work. As I’ve been trying to find myself in my own work, I’ve naturally come back to the Czech master that’s taught me so much about mood and shadows, lightness and intimacy, and a sort of spirituality that falls in light over us. His work shows an exquisite attentiveness to life. In the subtle beauty of banal objects, Sudek defines himself.


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