Jan Saudek was born in Prague in 1935 to a Jewish father. In Czechoslovakia he strived through his youth during WWII where Jews were the victims of German’s persecution. Saudek, his brother and his father survived the concentration camp, however several other people from his family died in Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Moving away from his dreadful youth years, Saudek bought his first Baby Brownie camera by Kodak, in 1950. He did his apprenticeship with a photographer and then he began working for a print shop from 1952 until 1983. During his job, in 1959 Saudek gained photography experience through the 6×6 Flexaret camera. After three years, Saudek shot a famous photograph titled Life. It was an image of a grown up man cradling a baby while standing .
In addition to this, he engaged himself in drawing and painting. In 1963, he gained inspiration from a catalog of an exhibition, Steichen’s The Family of Man, in order to become a dedicated art photographer. Six years later, he went to the United States where Hugh Edwards, a curator motivated and encouraged Jan Saudek in his work.
When he returned to Prague, it became crucial for him to work in an underground cellar. This was because he couldn’t afford to take the risk of getting caught by the secret police, as the themes in his work revolved around political corruption, innocence and erotic freedom. It was not until the 1970s that steadily the West began to recognize him as a top photographer from Czechoslovakia.
His first book was published in 1983. Saudek started doing photography as a freelancer since he was stopped by the Czech Communists to work for the print shop and was not allowed to work as an artist. Also in 1987, the negatives of his photographs were detained by the police for some time. Eventually, all the barriers were cleared and he was free to work the way he wanted to.
From 1977, he began using color tints and the technique of hand painting in his work. Saudek’s most popular work is his hand-tinted depiction of worlds of dreams inhabited by nude figures surrounded by walls.
The themes often seen in Jan Saudek’s works are as follows: childhood evocation, child to adult evolution, and the ambiguity involving men and women often caused by religious reasoning. His work was the victim of censorship attempts in west during 1990s.
Saudek’s work collectively has been largely a part of the popular culture. It has been used for music album covers for Grave Dancers Union, Soul Asylum; Welcome to the Beautiful South, Beautiful South; New Obscurantis Order, Anorexia Nervosa; and For the Beauty of Wynona by Daniel Lanois.
Saudek’s work has been recurrently criticized and banned due to its controversial and sensitive subjects. Black Sheep and White Crow was a piece by him that featured a partially naked girl in her puberty. The work was displayed in 2011 at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale but was followed by infant prostitution declaration and was removed immediately.
Two films have been dedicated to Jan Saudek. Jan Saudek: Prague Printemps was produced by Jerome de Missolz in 1990. It was 26 minutes long. The other film was Jan Saudek: Bound by Passion, a feature film by Adolf Zika made in 2008.
Jan Saudek Photos