When I was a teenager growing up in Prague, I used to see a one-armed man in a shabby coat schlepping a tripod and a large-view camera. A friend told me that it was Josef Sudek, a famous Czech photographer. I—a young and fledgling photographer—bought a book of his pictures and immediately fell in love. I was smitten with the photographs Sudek had taken through the windows of his studio. They were simple and beautiful.
I wished I were able to take such pictures. But I felt that Sudek had a competitive advantage. While I lived with my parents in an anonymous, uninspiring, Communist-built housing project, Sudek’s surroundings were clearly poetic. He had only to point his camera and release the shutter to create his beautiful art. Many years later, when I finally visited Sudek’s studio, I realized how wrong I was. This place was not at all poetic. No photographer would be inspired to take pictures there. At least, not before Sudek did it so masterfully. Sudek had an unmatched ability to notice sublime details, to include what is important, and to eliminate what is not. He created his own world in which the surroundings are only supporting actors.
Now, many photographers imitate his style. Even though I borrowed his name for the title of this project, and as a Czech photographer I may have a little of Sudek in my DNA, I hope that I am not one of them. Rather, this is an attempt to inspire viewers to reflect on the beauty that can be found in the places they see every day and to which they no longer even pay attention. Or, to borrow from Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” So whenever I end up in seemingly uninspiring places that feel visually dull, I think of the old maestro’s dilapidated studio, open my eyes a bit wider, and ask myself: What Would Sudek Do?