In the age of Instagram, where minutiae of life is incessantly documented, Josef Sudek’s new book, Labyrinths (Torst, $60), seems oddly prescient.
Here is the minutiae documented so artfully that the subject matter is seen at a remove. Meaning, you are first mesmerized by the masterful sepia of the photos before you realize that you are essentially looking at little piles of trash, scraps of paper, leftover food, unspooled string, and so on.
One would be pressed to say to use “arrangement,” “composition,” “formality,” and other fluffy art jargon to describe this particular side of the Czech photographer’s work, but there is something more important at play, a meditative nature of everyday things that slows you (and the time) down and makes you, not exactly think, but pay attention.
These still life photos were taken in Sudek’s studio between 1960s, and 70s. “I’ve been surrounded by a mess all my life,” he once told an interviewer.
Of course giving it the title of Labyrinths ennobles the mess, gives it more purpose, makes it worthy of contemplation. Other things are cleverly at play – the string is quite obviously the string of Ariadne.
The discarded, the crumpled, the destroyed, the leftovers – this artful vision of decay is not a statement on anything in particular, a refreshingly non-preachy, nonpolitical array of images that let the viewer for once engage in quiet contemplation of things.
All images courtesy of Torst, copyright the estate of Anna Farova.