Czech photographer's provocative works arrive
By Kim Se-jeong
When was the last time you saw a photo so sensually impressive that you couldn’t remove it from your mind?
Czech photographer Jan Saudek’s photos are of this kind.
More than 100 of them are at an exhibition that opened Friday, the first display of the widely-renowned photographer’s works in Korea where nudity and sexuality is still a taboo and absent from the public space.
Saudek’s photographs don’t present their subjectives in a pornographic fashion. The models are often with an annoyed look on their face, as if they just came back from a fight.
The story of the photographer’s personal life doesn’t necessarily answer where his sexual orientation comes from, and it is certainly a uniquely sad one.
Born to Jewish parents in 1935, he saw his parents put in a concentration camp by the Nazis and later killed. He and his twin brother were sent to a children’s concentration camp near the Polish-Czech border.
As a young adult, he worked as an apprentice to a photographer and later started working in a print shop. As he started using more advanced cameras in the late 1950s, he engaged in painting and drawing. He traveled to the United States for an exhibition where he met Hugh Edwards, an influential American curator of photography who had become a big supporter of his work.
Returning home, Saudek continued working at photography, but needed a secret hideout.
Jaroslav Olsa Jr., Czech ambassador to Korea, remembers him. “Everyone knew him, but he didn’t exist,” he said, for the secret police had him on their list.
Repression is believed to have led him further to devour his personal erotic freedom, and made him use implicitly political symbols of corruption.
By the late 1970s, he had become a leading Czech photographer and was recognized in the West. “He is now one of the three most famous Czech photographers,” Olsa said, who was both excited and nervous about how his pictures will be received by Korean audiences.
“I hope Koreans will like his works.”
The ambassador owns one of Saudek’s original pieces, hung in his Seoul office.
Saudek’s technique is a combination of photography and painting. He would take a photo, usually in black and white, then paint colors in the backdrop.
Some of his works entered popular culture in the West, being used as covers for albums by Anorexia Nervosa, Soul Asylum, Daniel Lanois and the Beautiful South.
The exhibition will run until July 15 at Insa Art Center in downtown Seoul. For more information about the exhibition, visit the website: www.saudek.co.kr.