Fotograf Magazine

The Peculiarity of the Seidel Company

The Seidel photographic studio was formerly a highly distinguished brand, associated with postcards of Český Krumlov and the greater Šumava region. A pair of monographs now present a revelatory selection of the artistic legacy of the Seidels, both father and son. These rank Josef Seidel (1859–1935) in particular among the most eminent photographers of the early 20th century. For this reason, Franz Seidel (1908–1997), was not the executor of his own photographs alone. An heir to his profession, he himself had no successor. He did not manage to reclaim his fiancée from the post-war transfer of ethnic Germans until the late 1950s. By then, it was too late for them to have children, and the reader may only speculate as to whether their fidelity was worth thirteen years of separation.

The Mystery Persists

The negotiations regarding the return of his beloved across the Iron Curtain brought Franz Seidel into far closer contact with the authorities than he would have wished. He would later compare the interrogations he was subjected to by the State Security police in České Budějovice to those he underwent with the Gestapo in Linz during the war. This last mentioned episode may in fact have saved his life. As a politically unreliable ethnic German, he was held in custody for seven months, but on the other hand was not conscripted into the Wehrmacht. His brother Arnold was killed near Kiev.

Fotografická paměť generací (The Photographic Memory of Generations), the slimmer of the two volumes, is essentially a photography album with a brief introduction by Petr Hudičák. It is often stressed how easily photographs can manage to speak without captions. However, it is possible to look differently at the smiling men in uniforms. Portraits of conscripts of various nationalities may raise questions, but they themselves remain inscrutable.

The comprehensive essay in Poodhalené tajemství (A Mystery Half-revealed) is a collaborative effort. (The researchers – Jaroslav Klíma, Miroslav Reitinger, Petr Hudičák, Pavla Křišťanová and Pave Scheufler – are modestly listed only in the credits. Though they strive to be unbiased, nevertheless they cannot deny their Czech perspective. It would hardly occur to a German author to write that once the issue of “who may stay and who will be removed” was sorted out, life returned to normal.

An Itinerant Abode

Seidel senior originally hailed from around Děčín, from the family of a glass-cutter. After arriving in Český Krumlov he took over an ailing photographic studio, and, building a new house, elevated the business to a level which electrifies visitors even today. The preservation of the house at Linecká Street was the subject of a 50-minute television documentary shot over a period of three years by Karel Čtveráček, entitled Včely letěly krásně / The Beautiful Flight of the Bees (2009). This challenging reconstruction was achieved successfully with the help of the European Union and (among others) various institutions in Bavaria, Austria and the Czech Republic. The surprisingly well-preserved business location was certainly worthy of its transformation into the Museum Fotoateliér Seidel: with negatives, files with records of clients, cameras… in short, an entire Art Nouveau photography workshop, preserved in full along with its alchemical equipment.

The work of both Seidel senior and junior won extraordinary recognition, mainly due to their geographically diverse documentation of the Šumava region, as well as its vintage. It represents a message from the days when peat was quarried manually, and the raftsmen of the Vltava risked their lives driving logs down the river. Equally notable is a survey of the metamorphoses of portraiture – whether solo or group portraits. The charm of antiquity is also present in genre pictures of urban settings as well as the private album of the photographers´ family. Both books make equal use of the photographs of father and son alike. This two-generational perspective holds a natural attraction. Only when all the negatives, amounting in total to nearly one hundred and forty thousand images, are digitalized will it be possible to fully grasp the Seidel legacy. The continuous records of their clientele between 1884 and 1953 will certainly be made good use of as well, for they too are unique.

It is true that in the six decades since the archive ceased to be develop, the standard of living has gone up. On the other hand, many crafts have perished, even entire villages. Cities now serve cars at the expense of the daily needs of their inhabitants, children in particular. The bilingual borderlands for centuries were a place where the foothills of the Šumava were cultivated by farmers – the historical cataclysm within the population of this region is thus also illustrated by the spread of forest land. The greater the changes since the Seidels’ time, the more valuable is their testimony.

 

Jaroslav Klíma, Miroslav Reitinger, Petr Hudičák, Pavla Křišťanová, Pavel Scheufler: Fotoateliér Seidel. Poodhalené tajemství. /Seidel Photo-Studio. A Mystery Half-Revealed/ Českokrumlovský rozvojový fond /Český Krumlov Development Foundation, Český Krumlov, 2012, 156 pages.

 

Josef Seidel, Franz Seidel: Fotografická paměť generací /The Photographic Memory of Generations/. Českokrumlovský rozvojový fond / Český Krumlov Development Foundation, Český Krumlov, 2012, 132 pages.

Josef Moucha

#21 On Photography

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