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Photographer Jan Saudek: "We, the people, are beautiful"

A series of four photographs tells the story of three young ladies drinking alcohol for the first time. The wholesome girls sip from the drinks at the start in the first photo and by the fourth photo have undressed, gotten sick and passed out in a pile on the floor.
The series was produced by the lens of one of the Czech Republic's most famous and controversial photographers, Jan Saudek. Saudek, 66, is known world-wide for photographing women of all body types and body sizes and of all ages in various stages of undress. Artificially added splashes of red, blue and yellow colour accent the often obscene poses in his photos, leaving critics divided on their artistic merits and photography lovers always able to recognise a Saudek original. For some he is a genius, for others a purveyor of pure kitsch, for others just pure fun.


"No! Please don't!"
photo: Courtesy Jan Saudek

A series of four photographs tells the story of three young ladies drinking alcohol for the first time. The wholesome girls sip from the drinks at the start in the first photo and by the fourth photo have undressed, gotten sick and passed out in a pile on the floor.

The series was produced by the lens of one of the Czech Republic's most famous and controversial photographers, Jan Saudek. Saudek, 66, is known world-wide for photographing women of all body types and body sizes and of all ages in various stages of undress. Artificially added splashes of red, blue and yellow colour accent the often obscene poses in his photos, leaving critics divided on their artistic merits and photography lovers always able to recognise a Saudek original. For some he is a genius, for others a purveyor of pure kitsch, for others just pure fun.

This month Jan Saudek brings his singular work to the Bratislava Michael's Gate Gallery in the exhibition The Divine Comedy. His third exhibition at the gallery, it also includes photographs by his girlfriend, model and student Sára Saudková. (Saudková took Saudek's name but has never legally married him.)

The Divine Comedy - which gets its name from a Saudek photograph involving a trio of girls - comprises of 70 traffic-sign-size photographs taken mostly in recent years. About 30 are by Saudková.

"Saudek's pictures are a matter of taste," said Jozef Krasuľa, the gallery's manager. "They are quite shocking for some people, but no one can say they aren't original."

Krasuľa considers Saudek one of the world's best photographers. Saudek first exhibited at Krasula's gallery when it opened in 1995, a time when he was refusing to exhibit work in the Czech Republic after a Prague museum declined to show his work.


The photograph "Duck and Drake".
Courtesy Sára Saudková

"It was a happy coincidence," Krasuľa said. "I met Saudek at the right time. I needed somebody who could attract people to a newly opened gallery."

Since Saudek agreed to that first exhibtion, Michael's Gate Gallery has become a favourite spot among Bratislava artists.

Saudek and Saudková

Saudek started teaching Saudková photography two years ago. He now considers her pictures superior to his, even if they differ in artistic approach. According to her they have a similar eye for beauty, yet Saudek's pictures expose female nudity in all imaginable forms, achieving a hilarious flamboyance with their use of bright colours.

Saudková, on the other hand, shoots mostly in black and white. Her photos reflect a certain bashfulness with their subjects. And while Saudek's camera was most famously fixed in one place for decades - blacklisted by communists, he took photos for over thirty years in front of a window in his apartment - Saudková travels with her camera.

In her photograph Duck and Drake (see photo on this page), a man skips stones into a river. In Kiss, a man and woman exchange a light kiss while towering above the camera - the photographer seemingly lying flat on the ground. And unlike Saudek, Saudková does not always expose her models' private parts.

"Jan photographs through the eyes of a man. I photograph through the eyes of a woman," she said. "We both know exactly what we want when we put people in front of the camera. But I try to get a shot done immediately while Jan talks more and works spontaneously."

Jan and Sára Saudek refuse to use the word "models"; their friends, lovers and relatives appear in their pictures, which are today taken mostly in their Prague flats with simple Flexaret and Praktisix cameras and a 1000 Watt flash bulb. Occasionally they model for themselves.

"In Sára's case it works well, but I should probably stay behind the camera," said Saudek. "I didn't inherit much beauty."

Saudek calls himself a "single married divorced widower". He has been married three times and fathered seven children. Now in his 60s, he keeps an "active interest in women" and admits to drinking more wine then he should.

"I cannot imagine a world without women, " said Saudek. "But it's weird - my brother was the subject of my first photograph. I was very afraid of girls then - I didn't have the guts to ask them to pose for me."

Saudek received his first camera in 1950 at age 15. A year later he took his first photos, and was soon experimented with adding colour artificially. By the mid-1960s he had raised the ire of the communist authorities with his racy subject matter. He continued to live in poverty and work in a factory even after he started selling photos to a Dutch postcard company in the 1970s.

Since the revolution Saudek has had 400 exhibitions world-wide and appeared in Time magazine. Through his nude photographs he says he has always showed the world that "we, the people, are beautiful."

What: Jan Saudek, Sára Saudková: The Divine Comedy - photography exhibition
Where: Galéria Michalský Dvor, Michalská 3.
When: December 13 until January 13, open daily (except Mondays) 13:00 - 18:00.
Admission:free
Tel: 02/5441-1079.

For more information on Jan and Sára Saudek and colour photos go to www.saudek.com

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