Discover why Sudek was considered the “poet of Prague” in this extraordinary exhibition of photography at the National Gallery of Canada.

About the Exhibition

Known as the “poet of Prague,” Josef Sudek created some of the 20th century’s most evocative images of nature, monuments, objects and streets.

A true “flâneur,” he enjoyed meandering through the streets of the Czech capital, recording intimate and beautiful details of the city he loved. Over many decades, he took thousands of photographs of its architecture and inhabitants.

Organized by the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada, The Intimate World of Josef Sudek features a thoughtful selection of 163 works by the photographer and his artistic circle.

Spanning his career, the exhibition explores how Sudek’s photography reflected his deeply personal relationship with the city of Prague during its artistic heyday and reveals his sensitive understanding of light — and its absence.

On display are works of Sudek’s photographic experiments carried out within the privacy of his studio, images of the garden seen from his window and pictures taken during his walks through the city.

A major exhibition of over 100 works by Josef Sudek is now on view for the first time in North America.

Organized by the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada.

About the Artist

Born in Kolín on the Labe in Bohemia in 1896, Josef Sudek (1896–1976) spent most of his life in Prague. Although he trained as a bookbinder, a war injury forced him to change his career. After being seriously wounded during WW1 when he lost his right arm, he was discharged and returned to the Czech capital in 1920.

While studying photography at the School of Graphic Arts, Sudek helped found the Czech Photographic Society, an avant-garde group dedicated to freeing photography from the painterly tradition.

Often seen wandering the streets with a large, bulky camera, Sudek has been described as “the poet of Prague” because of his artistic devotion to the city. He only stopped taking pictures towards the end of his life, when moving around his beloved town became too difficult. He died in 1976, aged 80.

The Sudek Collection

Numbering almost 1,800 works, the Sudek collection of the Canadian Photography Institute is the largest collection of the artist’s photographs outside the Czech Republic.

Josef Sudek
Window of My Studio, c. 1940–54, gelatin silver print, 16.8 × 11.6 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Gift from an anonymous donor, 2010. © Estate of Josef Sudek. Photo: NGC

Did you Know?

Transforming light and dark

The Nazi occupation of Prague may have marked the beginning of Josef Sudek’s preoccupation with darkness. Exploring the absence of light in his work, he developed a sensitive understanding of the effects of light and dark on the atmosphere and mood of a photograph. He created haunting and sometimes melancholy images with simple yet poetic devices that revealed light by raising dust or using mist from a garden sprinkler.

Sacred spaces

Josef Sudek was particularly interested in places, people and objects that held personal or spiritual significance for him. The landscape along the Elbe River, Invalidovna, St. Vitus Cathedral, portraits of friends, views from his studio and garden, Prague’s streets and squares, the castle and Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, where he spent summers with friends, were all recorded and transformed into intimate and evocative studies.

Puřidla

Working with architect Otto Rothmayer in the 1960s, Sudek came up with a unique way of displaying his prints by mounting the works on a paper, fabric or even a leather background, placing these between two sheets of glass, and sealing the edges with lead. Called Puřidla, these photographic objects are thought to have been inspired by the reliquaries and containers of sacred objects displayed in St. Vitus Cathedral, which Sudek often photographed.

His circle

The many artists, musicians, photographers, poets and publishers who lived in Prague during the interwar years influenced Josef Sudek’s creativity. Through his work photographing art and his enthusiastic participation in photographic societies and camera clubs, Sudek formed strong and influential friendships with other artists. During and after the Nazi occupation, these friends would gather together on Tuesdays for musical nights in Sudek’s apartment.

Activities

Meet the Experts: Vladimír Birgus, Ian Jeffrey and Ann Thomas

Saturday 29 October at 12 pm
In the Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
Included with admission to the Gallery

Join Vladimír Birgus, Ian Jeffrey and Ann Thomas, co-curators of The Intimate World of Josef Sudek, as they discuss the work and life of the renowned Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896–1976), his artistic circle, and the importance of publishing during one of Prague’s most fascinating periods. Discover why Sudek was considered the “poet of Prague” in this extraordinary exhibition of over 100 works now on view for the first time in North America at the newly inaugurated Canadian Photography Institute. In English with a bilingual question period.


Group Tours for Adults: From the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada

Exploring Poetry and Prose in Photography
From Tuesday 8 November 2016 to Sunday 12 February 2017
In the Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
Duration: 1 hour
Cost: 7$ + Gallery admission

Tour The Intimate World of Josef Sudek (28 October 2016 – 26 February 2017) and discover how the Czech photographer’s work reveals the poetry hidden in the simplest of objects and scenes of everyday life. Explore more than 100 works and learn about one of the 20th century’s most evocative experimentalists in the medium of photography.

You’re also invited to take a tour through history via The Globe and Mail’s photo archives. Cutline (28 October 2016 – 12 February 2017) features powerful and provocative images that expose defining moments in Canada from the 20th century. In English and French.

Reservations required three weeks in advance. Please call 613-990-4888 or contact reservations@gallery.ca to book a tour. Groups must include a minimum of 10 people.


NGC Lecture Series: The Intimate World of Josef Sudek

Wednesday 14 December at 10:30 am
In the Auditorium
Included with subscription to the NGC Lecture series
Individual tickets available for purchase at the door: $7 ($5 for members)

Ann Thomas, Senior Curator of Photographs, shares insights into The Intimate World of Josef Sudek, the first major exhibition of the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada. The show examines the work and life of Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896–1976) and his intimate circle of artist friends during the decades before and after the Second World War. In English with simultaneous translation. Learn more about the NGC Lecture series.

Ann Thomas

The Senior Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada, Ann Thomas has organized numerous exhibitions and is the author and editor of several publications, including Lisette Model (1990), Beauty of Another Order: Photography in Science (1996), No Man’s Land: Lynne Cohen Photographs (2001), Modernist Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada (2007) and The Great War: The Persuasive Power of Photography (2014).


A Poem for a Poet

From 28 October 2016 – 26 February 2017
On-going in the exhibition didactic room
Included with admission to the Gallery

Let yourself be inspired by Josef Sudek’s series Window of My Studio. Write a poem that captures your thoughts and feelings about his work, then share it or take a photograph from a window near you and post it to your favourite social networks using #MySudek. Show us your poems and pictures by tagging the National Gallery of Canada on Facebook, Twitter @gallerydotca and Instagram @ngc_mbac.

Josef Sudek
Last Rose, 1956, gelatin silver print, 28.2 × 23.2 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Gift from an anonymous donor, 2010. © Estate of Josef Sudek. Photo: NGC

Plan your Visit

Exhibition hours

28 October 2016 - 26 February 2017
Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
Monday: Closed (see exceptions)
Tuesday – Sunday: 10 am to 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am to 8 pm
For additional information on Gallery hours, please click here
(Gallery spaces begin to close 15 minutes before the times above.)

Admission

Adults: $12
Seniors (65 +): $10
Students (with valid ID): $10
Youth (age 12–19): $6
Children (age 11 and under): Free
Members: Free (become a member)
All prices include tax.

Contact Us

Have a question about visiting the National Gallery of Canada? Don’t hesitate to get in touch. Contact us at 613-990-1985 or 1-800-319-ARTS and via email at info@gallery.ca or check out our list of Frequently Asked Questions.

Getting Here

National Gallery of Canada, 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa. Google Map. For more information call 613-990-1985 or 1-800-319-ARTS.

Dining

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Exhibition Catalogue$45.00

The Intimate World of Josef Sudek
Paperback • 272 pages • English

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