I recently learned about photographer Josef Sudek in Tom Ang’s Photography: the Definitive Visual History. Ang wrote of him:
Sudek found his truest expression in images lovingly teased out of his home—essentially a large garden shed—using the watery light typical of Prague to capture fruit, glassware, and raindrops on the window. He also documented the streets of Prague and the reconstruction of its great cathedral, St. Vitus. His books are full of luminous and quiet studies, half-hinted at melancholy, and deserted spaces. “I love the life of objects,” he explained, “When children go to bed, the objects come to life.”
The images by Sudek in Ang’s book are gorgeous, many rather ethereal, but what I found most appealing was Sudek’s way of finding beauty and nuance in a small space. I’ve become something of a recluse and am not looking to create images of magnificent, soaring spaces, but my little world has been feeling rather photographically small as of late. In an effort to expand my imagination and see what’s possible, I ordered a copy of The Window of My Studio. As expected, the images are beautiful and the little bit of text, in an introduction by Anna Fárová, is just right. Here are a few pieces:
Sudek observed his two window-niches for at least fourteen years. They became a steady source or [sic] reassurance for him during the German occupation and the Second World War, when time seemed to stand still, and also during the difficult 1950s under the Communist regime. They were fixed frames for images painted on glass. …
From 1967 onwards, Sudek and I began to talk increasingly about “mystery,” about something uncommon, hard to communicate, something recondite and non-descriptive in photography, about its magic quality, its going beyond objective reality, about its other kinds of content, about what, according to him, was “around the corner.” Sudek spoke about the window of his studio, which he had contemplated almost fifteen years. During that time it was often no longer an ordinary window, but had become a mystical stained-glass window in the humble church of his own home, a place to concentrate, meditate, and dream. The glass of the window, the world before it and behind it, externalizing and internalizing, the dividing line between two worlds, marked by time, by the seasons, by day and night, permeable and impermeable, affected by the light of inside and outside, was transformed sometimes into an utterly abstract surface, a picture charged with prolonged emotion and attentive observation.
For better or for worse, the windows in my studio—indeed, in my whole house—are designed to be energy efficient, which means that I get none of that lovely condensation that was an essential component in Sudek’s beautiful photos. What if, though—I wondered—I was able to somehow create my own Sudek studio window? It just so happens that the windows we recently took out of the living room during its renovation are languishing beneath the deck. The cool thing about those old Pellas, with a manufacture date of 1975 stamped on them, is that one of the double panes can easily be removed and is framed in lightweight, low-profile metal, which makes it rather easy to transport. Two big skewers, custom manufactured long ago for my uncle, did a perfectly adequate job of holding the window upright out in the garden. All that was needed from there was a spray-bottle of water and my camera. So, I think I’ll add an album for through-the-glass shots and name it “Behind Broad Sheet*.”
*Broad sheet was an early incarnation of glass panel that tended to be riddled with imperfections due to the manufacturing process, which included blowing and flattening. While my pane of glass was certainly not made that way, I am hoping for imperfections in the images shot through the glass.