Jan Saudek was born May 13, 1935 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He is both an art photographer and painter.
According to Saudeks's biography, he got his first camera, a Kodak Baby Brownie, in 1950. He apprenticed to a photographer and in 1952 he was apprenticed with a photographer and started working as a print shop worker, where he worked until 1983. In 1959, he started using the more advanced Flexaret 6x6 camera that his wife gave him. After completing his military service, he was inspired in 1963 by the catalogue for Edward Steichen's The Family of Man exhibition, to try to become a serious art photographer. In 1969, he traveled to the United States.
Returning to Prague, he was forced to work in a clandestine manner in a cellar, to avoid the attentions of the secret police, as his work turned to themes of personal erotic freedom, and used implicitly political symbols of corruption and innocence.
In 1983, the first book of his work was published in the English-speaking world. The same year, he became a freelance photographer as the Czech Communist authorities allowed him to cease working in the print shop, and gave him permission to apply for a permit to work as an artist. In 1987, the archives of his negatives were seized by the police, but later returned.
His best-known work is hand-colored portrayals of painterly dream worlds, often inhabited by nude or semi-nude figures surrounded by bare plaster walls or painted backdrops, frequently re-using identical elements (for instance, a clouded sky or a view of Prague's Charles Bridge). They echo the studio and tableaux works of mid-19th-century erotic photographers, as well as the works of the painter Balthus, and of Bernard Faucon. His early art photography often evokes childhood. His later works often portrays the evolution from child to adult (re-photographing the same composition/pose, and with the same subjects, over many years). Religious motifs or the ambiguity between man and woman have also been some of Jan Saudek's recurring themes. He often uses 19th-century dates for his print and image dates.
His work was the subject of attempts at censorship in the West during the 1990s.
Saudek has had work in hundreds of gallery and museum shows, and has been published in over five-dozen books.
His work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Centre Georges Pompidou, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Moravian Gallery, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, J. Paul Getty Museum, Museum Ludwig, National Gallery of Australia and National Gallery of Victoria.
Saudek lives and works in Prague.