Josef Sudek and Photographic Documentation of Works of Art:
From a Private Art Archive to Representing a Cultural Heritage
The project undertaken by the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences is concerned with research into and presentation of the issues relating to the photographic documentation of art works, a subject that has hitherto been neglected in the Czech milieu. As a case study, it uses one of the most important collections of this type in the Czech lands, consisting of photographs by Josef Sudek. Photographic reproduction of the visual arts and architecture is in general a basic tool for making this part of the national cultural heritage accessible on both the specialist and lay levels. In this part of his oeuvre, Josef Sudek consciously went beyond the standards of his day and displayed his unique artistic approach in the routine trade of documentation.
The aim of the project is the comprehensive preservation, physical and digital conservation, specialist processing, evaluation, and presentation to the wider public of a collection comprising some 13 500 negatives and 6000 positives made by Josef Sudek, mostly dating from the period 1930–1960, which is kept in the collections of the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Apart from a few exceptions, this part of Sudek’s work has so far not been subject to specialist evaluation, nor has it been presented to the public. The collection has an undoubtable value not only as a record, as it is also valuable in that it contains many photographs of works by artists who are nowadays often forgotten. Josef Sudek’s approach to reproduction and documentary photographs will be presented especially in two selected collections – through photographs of those parts of Prague destroyed by the bombing raids of 1945, and through an analysis of the relationship between photographs and works of art in general, taking as an example his documentation of sculptural works. The entire collection will be made accessible in an online database, making it possible to reveal and carry out further research into both the known and the forgotten artistic heritage of the previous century.
The project is supported by the “Applied research and development of national and cultural identity Programme” (in short, “NAKI II”) operated by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, identification code DG16P02M002. Operating period: 2016–2020.