Fotograf Magazine

Josef Sudek

Josef Sudek once said: “The charm of all things lies in their mystery.” Of the many clues to his work, this may well be the principal one. When ruminating on the reception of Sudek’s work by audiences in Buenos Aires, I realized that it is in fact the very moment of mystery which is a common trait of the works of two Argentine writers: Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar. I think that both would agree with Sudek. The relationship of Sudek and Borges to the periphery could provide material for an essay in its own right.

 However, one may also find in Sudek’s oeuvre separate motifs which could be related to the work of both writers. For instance, we may attempt to identify the figure of the architect Otto Rothmayer in one of the photographs of Sudek’s enchanted garden. It is half hidden there, much like the body in Cortázar’s and Antonioni’s Blow Up. In another photograph, the figure of the architect is transparent, which may be read as a Borgesian use of mystery. Yet in Sudek’s oeuvre such gimmicks are inessential.

 Sudek was the discoverer of a far greater magic. He managed to photograph things brought to life by light, living their quite life thanks to light. Things captured at the very verge of visibility, transubstantiating themselves into memories and dreams. This does not hold for all of Sudek’s oeuvre, but these are the photographs that have won him most fame worldwide, and I believe that the case in Argentina is no different in this respect.

 I would, however, like to point out just one more thing. During the First World War, Josef Sudek lost his right hand, yet managed to turn this loss into a gain. If it were not for this loss, he would most likely not have become a photographer, and neither would he have developed so detached a relationship to the society which had sent him to the carnage of such a war. This set him on the path towards build his own system of values, in which he found the courage to not depend on anything. Only this enabled him to detach himself from the main trends in European photography and to return to 19th century techniques, to cease to enlarge and in reevaluating the past, to cross the threshold into the post-modern era.


 Josef Sudek. Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernandez Blanco, Buenos Aires 7. 10.–7. 12. 2008. Stejnojmenná publikace ISBN 978-987-9395-49-3.

Antonín Dufek