Jan Saudek



1935 – born in Prague on 13th of May

1950 – he gets his first camera KODAK BABY Brownie –first photographic attempts

1952 – apprentice to a photographer, he works at a printing shop until 1983

1959 – he gets hold of his first real camera, a Flexaret 6×6; he starts drawing and painting

1963 – forever influenced by the catalogue of the magnificent photographic exhibition ‘Family of Man’ (Edward Steichen)

1972 – he creates his typical WALL composition, which became a projection screen for his figural scenes

1981 – his first monography ‘Il teatro de la vita’ appears in Milano

1983 – becomes a free-lance photographer and devotes himself fully to his own work

1990 – becomes the first Czech national to receive the French title ‘Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ (Knight of Art and Literature), French film director Jerome de Missolz makes a film about him – ‘Jan Saudek – Czech photographer’

2005 – his biggest monography, 14th overall, is published with the name ‘SAUDEK’ accompanied by a wide retrospective exhibition in Prague

2007 – Adolf Zika makes a full-length documentary film about Jan Saudek called ‘Trapped by his passions, no hope for rescue’, which received the Glass Eye Award at EuroFest 2008 in Montreal for best documentary film

Jan Saudek is regarded as the most renowned Czech photographer worldwide and has had over 400 individual exhibitions. His photographs are portrayed in most of the prestigious and significant museums and art galleries all over the world.

  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (USA)
  • Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (USA)
  • Centre Georges Pompidou, MNAM, Paris (F)
  • International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester (USA)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA)– Moravská galerie, Brno (CZ)
  • Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (F)
  • Musée Paul Getty, Los Angeles (USA)
  • Museum Ludwig, Köln (D)
  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, (AUT)

To people who live for photography, especially artistic photography, there is no need to introduce living legend of world photography, Jan Saudek. We strove for this interview while still putting together the first issue of the Week of Life magazine.But with Jan, it is like with a king. You need to wait patiently for his servants to let you know he is expecting you at a given time and place. Be five minutes late and the door is already closed. None other than Adolf Zika, who has filmed a successful feature length documentary film about Jan Saudek (awarded the Glass Eye Award in Montreal) did this interview, the founder of week of Life. The 75-year old charismatic and well-respected artist was in a good mood, enjoying life to the fullest. Rightfully so, since only a few days earlier, he found out that his incurable illness, feared by the doctors, had somehow disappeared. Perhaps it was frightened of Jan’s athletic and well-built body, letting him enjoy life for some time to come. Jan Saudek is among the most significant Czech individuals whom the United States helped get to the top. Come and hear his thoughts and ideas regarding today’s information age.  

Jan, do you think that in today’s era of technology it is right for people to disclose their privacy and let others from across the world see how they live, what they do and what they enjoy?

The privacy of one is the privacy of all. In today’s fast paced world, there is no time for hiding, withholding or being silent. That would be the worst scenario. It’s good to open yourself to the world and show that we are all equal, which is, I think, inscribed in the American Constitution. True, we live in a different environment and are used to different customs, beliefs and faces, but we were simply all created equal.

Do you take note of the world of the internet and all the community networks around you?

You know, I ignore it. Electronic mail itself has disappointed me, along with all the media around. I really think that the internet is for people that are too shy to say the truth and hide behind some identity – I have had a negative experience with this and I am sure you know what I mean. But, it would be nonsense not to use it. It would be like riding the mule here in the middle of the city, or using classic photographic film and rinsing it in the developing dish. You cannot stop progress and I don’t mean to, since I find it backwards to ignore such devices as the mobile phone or all these community networks. People shouldn’t over do it, but if there is a purpose behind it, like your project to help people realize that we are all the same and equal, then I say yes.

Digital photography ousted our beloved analog some time ago. Does it feel right that it enables anyone on this planet who knows how to press the shutter button to become a photographer, even for just a week or so?

The problem is that today almost everyone uses a camera and it is inevitable that among the billions of images made there will be some that are brilliant, sadly, only due to pure chance or coincidence. That is, however, the way it is and I will not try to change anything. Personally, I was against digital photography and now I am the proud owner of a digital camera because, if nothing else, you can acquire amazing images with it. But, at the same time, people use it to deceive and that frightens me. You can create images with a different face, different head, you can get to the bottom of the ocean. But I will not be the one to dispute the technology, since that would be reactionary. So, I just see it as the masquerade that is celebrating human life.

Would you agree with me that every person is a voyeur in one sense or the other?

Sure! Besides that, everyone is slightly perverse and has killing tendencies, as well as the need to invade the privacy of others while staying invisible to them. That is natural. It is only about how much we can suppress these tendencies or use them for the good, never for delinquency.

Could you imagine yourself documenting your own life in this way or similarly to they ways of other photographers?

I do that constantly and I’ve done it since the 1950s. Arranged or not, that is how life goes. It is the essence of human kind to be unable to accept reality, eventually making its way to the top, leaving the lies and the imaginary gold-foil only to be swept away. At least, to the eye of the observant spectator.

Once again, could you imagine looking through a book or a magazine only to find one human life after the other?

My beloved, I am overloaded with information and so I have to defend myself against it, otherwise I would be stuck to the PC unable to do anything else, since the information flow is too powerful. No, I wouldn’t be able to do it, I need to live my own life, document it and then give a message. That I am able to do, just like it happens on WoL. However, we need to realize that this life of ours is the only life we have, and I am no exception. I am very suspicious of the fact that this life is the last, that there is nothing after it, nothing that continues on. No one has been able to come back and tell us what lies ahead. If that is the case, it would be wise for everyone to document their life in one way or the other and inform others. Even if it means documenting a week for the project Week of Life! (Long pause)… I like the project!

Thank you, well said. What do the United States mean to you?

Yes, America, I mean the United States, but let us include Canada just for Cohen. It has played a fundamental role in my life. Already before the war I was able to see Snow White from Disney, an amazing tale, invincible to this day. After the war, I familiarized myself with Polock and other class acts who were also painters in those days. Regarding music, I got acquainted with bugy bugy and then with Rock and Roll. I was deeply influenced, since I believed they have the best musicians in the world. In the late 60s, I found myself traveling to the Midwest, where I met a person who influenced my life in a decisively. He was the curator of prints and drawings at the Art Institute in Chicago who told me to go on, to continue and never stop! It was Hugh Edwards. A person who changed my life, this gentleman from Chicago.

Do you feel the United States was a different country then than it is now?

As a matter of fact, I have visited the United States several times and I was deeply touched each time. Truman Capote, Bobby Dick, Herman Melville, Proulx, the lady. I am still amazed, even today. Naturally, there is a lot of junk even in the United States, but it is up to us to carefully select and I have always selected correctly. The American culture is the combination of various cultures from around the world, involving Russian, German, Dutch, Native American and so on. It leaves a good impression. Oh, and I don’t like terrorists. That would be all.

Jan Saudek

Příspěvek byl publikován v rubrice Rozhovory a jeho autorem je Zdeněk Kamrla. Můžete si jeho odkaz uložit mezi své oblíbené záložky nebo ho sdílet s přáteli.

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