Jan Saudek  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Jan Saudek (b. 13 May 1935, in Prague, Czechoslovakia) is a Czech art photographer best known for his hand-tinted portrayal of painterly dream worlds, often inhabited by nude or semi-nude figures surrounded by bare plaster walls or painted backdrops.

Biography

Many of his family members died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. Jan and his brother Karel were held in a children's concentration camp near the Polish border. He survived the war and worked for a printer starting in 1950. After completing his military service, he was inspired in 1963 by Steichen's Family of Man to try to become a serious art photographer. In 1969 he traveled to the United States and was encouraged in his work by curator Hugh Edwards.

Returning to Prague, he was forced to work in a clandestine manner in a cellar, to avoid the attentions of the secret police, as his work turned to themes of personal erotic freedom, and used implicitly political symbols of corruption and innocence. From the late 1970s he gradually became recognised in the West as the leading Czech photographer, and also developed a following among photographers in his own country. In 1983 the first book on his work was published in the English-speaking world. Following this, in 1984 the Communist authorities allowed him to cease working in a factory, and gave him permission to apply for a permit to work as an artist. In 1987 the archives of his negatives were seized by the police, but later returned.

Work

His best-known work is noted for its hand-tinted portrayal of painterly dream worlds, often inhabited by nude or semi-nude figures surrounded by bare plaster walls or painted backdrops, frequently re-using identical elements (for instance, a clouded sky or a view of Prague's Charles Bridge). In this they echo the studio and tableaux works of mid nineteenth century erotic photographers, as well as the works of the painter Balthus, and the work of Bernard Faucon. His early art photography is noted for its evocation of childhood. Later his works often portrayed the evolution from child to adult (re-photographing the same composition/pose, and with the same subjects, over many years). Religious motives or the ambiguity between man and woman have also been some of Jan Saudek's recurring themes. His work was the subject of attempts at censorship in the West during the 1990s.

Some of the works of Jan Saudek have entered popular culture in the West, being used as covers for the CD albums of Soul Asylum (Grave Dancers Union), Daniel Lanois (For the Beauty of Wynona), and Beautiful South (Welcome to the Beautiful South).

Saudek currently lives and works in Prague. His brother is also an artist, and is now the best-known Czech graphic novelist.

Films

  • Jan Saudek: Prague Printemps (1990). (26-minute film by Jerome de Missolz about Saudek).




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jan Saudek" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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