I’ve always loved taking photographs. At 13, my Dad bought me my first SLR camera. At 16, I was selling cameras and developing services in Boot’s on Saturdays. And these days, I provide some photographic tips and take pretty much all the pictures for this site and our Instagram account.
Josef Seidel started running a photography business in the town, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, back in 1888. The business had three main strands – postcards, portraiture and amateur photography. The museum is in the house where Josef lived and at one point 11 employees worked. Our guide, Martin, provided us with a fascinating insight into life in a small Bohemian town, photography as a business and how life changed for Josef’s children with first the occupation by Nazi Germany and then life under communism.
But the most entrancing aspect of the visit were the photos taken by Josef and his son, Frantisek, which adorn the museum. Over 120,000 photos have already been digitised and catalogued, with at least another 40,000 to go. The photos are available here (the project is only in Czech and German at the moment, but you can always let your browser translate) and are really worth an idle browse. I bet your ‘just 5 minutes’ will turn into many repeat visits.
Today, everyone is a photographer. Well, everyone takes photos. But looking through the Seidel collection, I was reminded what real photography is about and why the teenage me would spend lunchtimes in the school darkroom experimenting. It was to create something worthy of the term ‘art’. The wonderful and paradoxical thing about early 20th century photography, is that the whole process was so technical and fraught with mishap, that the Seidels didn’t think about creating art. It was a business. But, take a look at the catalogue and you will see its artistic merit.
For a bit of fun, Jane and I posed in Josef’s studio. Now we make no claims that this is art ….