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Biography of Jan Saudek: Iconic Czech Artist of Jewish Origin

18.10.2021
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Biography of Jan Saudek

Jan Saudek is an iconic Czech photographer whose trademark is provocative photographs of the human body. In his photographic work, Saudek explores the nature of the interaction between people and objects, clothing, and nudity. His photographs evoke mixed feelings: they are aesthetically beautiful and disturbing; they are funny and grotesque; it is impossible to give them an unequivocal assessment, but one thing is clear: one cannot remain indifferent to Saudek’s photography.

Childhood and Youth

Jan Saudek was born in Prague in 1935 into a Jewish family. He survived his youth in Czechoslovakia during World War II, when Jews were victims of German persecution. Saudek, his brother, and his father survived the concentration camp, but several of his family members died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The Beginning of His Artistic Journey

The Beginning of Jan saudek work

After surviving the terrible years of his youth, Saudek bought his first Kodak Baby Brownie camera in 1950. He apprenticed with a photographer and then began working in a print shop from 1952 to 1983. While working, in 1959, Saudek gained experience photographing with a 6×6 Flexaret camera. Three years later, Saudek took a famous photograph called “Life.” It depicted an adult man holding a baby in his arms.

Saudek’s Other Interests

Saudek great work

In addition to photography, he dabbled in drawing and painting. In 1963, he was inspired by Steichen’s catalog of the exhibition “The Family of Man” to become a keen art photographer. Six years later, he traveled to the United States, where curator Hugh Edwards motivated and encouraged Jan Saudek in his work.

Difficulties on the Way to Success

Jan Saudek First book

When he returned to Prague, it became necessary for him to work in an underground basement. This was because he could not afford to risk being caught by the secret police, as the themes of his work revolved around political corruption, innocence, and erotic freedom. It was not until the 1970s that the West began to confidently recognize him as the best photographer from Czechoslovakia.

Jan Saudek freelance photographer

His first book was published in 1983. Jan Saudek began working in photography as a freelance photographer because the Czech Communists forbade him to work in printmaking and would not allow him to work as an artist. Also in 1987, the negatives of his photographs were detained by the police for some time. Eventually, all obstacles were lifted, and he could work as he wished, showing his work at the Czech nude photo gallery.

Czech nude photo gallery Jan Saudek

Saudek says of his scandalous work: “Often my work is called vulgar. But the critics can be wrong: I shoot people in varying degrees of nudity or in strange garb so that my work is timeless. With fashion photographs, you can immediately guess what year they were taken.

And it’s true: Jan Saudek’s photographs are timeless.

Features of Saudek’s Creations

Jan Saudek Creation 1977

Beginning in 1977, he began using color tints and hand-painted techniques in his works. Saudek’s most popular works are his hand-toned depictions of dream worlds inhabited by nude figures surrounded by walls.

Jan Saudek Creation of children

The themes often found in Jan Saudek’s work include memories of childhood, the evolution from child to adult, and the ambiguity associated with men and women, often triggered by religious discourse.

In addition, his work fell victim to attempts at censorship in the West in the 1990s.

Jan Saudek Creation 1990s

Saudek’s collective artworks became very much a part of popular culture. They have been used for Grave Dancers Union music album covers, Soul Asylum; Welcome to the Beautiful South, Beautiful South; New Obscurantis Order, Anorexia Nervosa; and For the Beauty of Wynona by Daniel Lanois.

Jan Saudek’s Children and Personal Life

Jan Saudek's Children and Personal Life

He is known for his liberal views as well as his “free” behavior. Saudek is officially married for the fourth time, but as he himself admits, he has had many contacts outside of marriage.
Saudek has twelve children, the youngest daughter is five years old, and the oldest son is 51 years old. And this son’s wife is Jan Saudek’s ex-wife. With his current wife, Jan Saudek lives more than ten years, she is a journalist by profession and is younger than her husband of 45 years. Last year, they officially got married in China.

Interesting Facts

Facts about photographer Jan Saudek

Saudek’s work has been repeatedly criticized and banned because of its controversial and sensitive themes. “The Black Sheep and the White Crow” that work depicting a partially nude girl in puberty. Jan Saudek photo was exhibited in 2011 at the International Biennial of Photography in Ballarat, but it was followed by an allegation of child prostitution and was immediately removed.

Two films have been dedicated to Jan Saudek. Jan Saudek: Prague Printemps was directed by Jerome de Missoltz in 1990. It was 26 minutes long. The other is Jan Saudek: Bound by Passion, a feature film by Adolf Zick made in 2008.

Jan Saudek is 86 years old. But that’s just the age on the passport. The photographer feels young at heart. He is full of energy, he plays sports, works, enjoys life and women.

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