Midway through his life, Josef Sudek found himself confronted by the inferno of history, as World War II and its aftermath poured forth and engulfed his homeland. Like Dante, Sudek passed through the horrors to find visions of enduring beauty.
Josef Sudek needed to tap every possible source of beauty as the 1930s drew to a close, and his homeland fell victim to a savagery unequalled in its long bloodletting history. Czechoslovakia was created as a democratic republic by the victors of World War I, and it was sacrificed in 1938 by its "allies"—Great Britain and France—in an attempt to preserve peace.
I met Josef Sudek for the first time soon after World War II when my father, a musicologist, brought me along to one of Sudek’s famous "music Tuesdays." Every week for many years, about fifteen of Sudek's artist friends crowded into his incredibly cluttered studio and listened to music from his extraordinary record collection.
I don't remember my first meeting with Sudek. All I was aware of in those days was that a previous "normal" life was gone. My family was dead, my home was gone, most of my friends lost. There was no one and nothing to turn to, but I was alive—by some weird accident.
Patrick Nagatani and Andree Tracey at Jayne H. Baum Gallery, New York, November 1989
The sanest response to the threat of nuclear war may be to laugh—at the absurdity of the situation we have worked ourselves into, and to remind ourselves that life is in fact worth living. Of course, humor that deals with the threat of global destruction can't help but be black, as Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and others have demonstrated.