Bernard Plossu: On Sudek

Josef Sudek
Introduction of the catalog of the exhibition Una ventana en Praga (A window on Prague), Madrid 2009.

Few things are needed to make a great photo… And nevertheless it is not easy, for in fact there is a great difficulty behind its apparent simplicity. The ship of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, the water drop on Shoji Ueda’s umbrella, the New England farm house of Paul Strand, the snow-covered crossroad of Izis, the New York subway escalator of Duane Michals, or the cluttered studio of Josef Sudek from 1951.

None of these photos are spectacular, there’s no virtuosity, only a kind of, how should I say, magic evidence! close to the exactitude of Balzac or Mizoguchi, as if it were a product of nature.

All the works of Sudek are like this. He observes himself, his surroundings, his city. He lives through the stations, he breathes while watching. He comprehends the mystery of things and moments.

When a young student asks me “What is photography?”, I reply: “Look at Sudek or at Diane Arbus, there is everything there!” Or nowadays Luis Baylón or Eric Dessert…

One feels tempted to say: Sudek is THE photography! Streets, gardens, windows, objects, wide landscapes, his city, his house. That’s all. It is not about beauty. It is not about modernity.

And not about pleasure, either. I think of Corot’s saying: “It’s not about searching but about waiting.” I also think of Morandi. And the last landscapes of Braque in Varengeville. I do not know the Czech Republic, neither Prague. But with the photos of Sudek I have impressed in my mind the memory of a place where I have never been.

The same thing passes to me with Ueda and Japan. Would it bee too bold to say “it is not worth to go any more”?

Back to photography: to see is an evidence, but the language which translates the vision can be very simple… or full of traps. (For example when the clichés turn into “clichés”, and sorry for the tautology.)

The tramways on a street of Prague: we can hear all the noise surrounding them in this photo of Sudek from 1924. His steamed-up window onto the street expires humidity.

If I already dare to write on a master, I want to say what I think. But I think that every photographer will agree with me: Josef Sudek is THE photography.

And we admire him with mouth wide open, don’t we?

Josef Sudek