Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Prague Panoramas -- Josef Sudek Sausages, 242 and counting
Josef Sudek was a master photographer, a genius with the lens and his use of light. Two areas of his photography have intrigued me -- his panoramic series made in the 1950's and his portraits. Many who are familiar with his work are unaware that he used his genius to take portraits of his family and friends. Those photographs will have to wait for another day.
For today, praha panoramaticka (Prague Panoramas) take the spotlight. In the early 1950's, Sudek acquired an 1894 Kodak Panorama camera. This camera had a spring-drive sweeping lens that made a negative 10 cm x 30 cm (4"x12"). Sudek used this camera on his daily journeys through Prague and the surrounding countryside. One admirer wrote... "The unusual format with its extreme proportions of 1 x 3 and the special distortions caused by the sweeping lens are extremely demanding, like the constraints of a sonnet. Yet like any set of artistic constraints, the peculiar requirements of the panoramic photo offer opportunities not found elsewhere. Sudek never tired of exploring the possibilities of the photographic sonnets he could make with his antique mechanism whose shutter speeds were marked simply "fast" and "slow". With it he gave us a geodesic feeling for the country-side which far surpasses anything we get from isolated views, and in Prague itself he showed how the River Vltava is an integral part of the city and how the labyrinthian quality of the city is offset by its broad open spaces. He was never short of resourceful ways of using the panoramic format. Before the horizontal panorama had yieided all its secrets, Sudek turned the camera on its side and gave us vertical panoramas!"
Prague Panoramas was published in 1956 and is one of the most sought after books in European antiquarian book shops. There are reprints available, but they too are quite pricey. On-line images of these photographs are limited to a few horizontals, but no verticals (ah, change the google search ever so slightly and voila, there's the vertical, see upper right). As you enjoy the composition and light in the following images, think of Sudek and his remarkable sense of humor... On February 26, 1956, Sudek jokingly remarked about his Praha Panoramaticka which was about to go to press: "made 242 sausages of Prague so far; at least 60 more left to make".
And last but not least, the European Commission has Sudek panoramas in one of their conference room. The overall effect is gallery-like until the people have arrived. Perhaps this was why Sudek preferred his photos without people unless he was taking an actual portrait. To be continued...