Prague has not exactly been the seedbed for artistic endeavor. There are a few happily glaring exceptions and one of these is the Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896-1976). Sudek's work was rarely seen in the West until his American assistant compiled an anthology of photos for public viewing. Some of these fine photos dating from the '20s to the '60s offer a look at an artist who clearly takes his place with Stieglitz, Weston, Steichen and Adams.
Sudek lost his arm in the first World War and began his career by taking pastime photos of fellow war veterans. After some formal training, he won international attention for intimate impressions of the Prague countryside or the debris scattered across his desk. Sudek's photos have little of the glaring modernism that found its way into the work of Stieglitz or Weston. These are home-grown little jewels that wash everything in an emotional, almost Gothic mystery.
A meticulous craftsman, Sudek used a specially modified single negative camera, sweeping a romantic vista or zeroing in on a dilapidated backyard dotted with new fallen snow. We move in close to these photos for quiet details like tiny steeples barely visible in the hazy distance or beads of moisture collected on a solitary glass. (Jan Kesner Gallery, 164 N. La Brea Ave., to March 19.)