“Perhaps to live I needed to know there is beauty.” Sonja Bullaty

Sonja Bullaty (1923-2000), Sudek on his 80th birthday, Prague, March 17, 1976 (117.1996)

Sonja Bullaty (1923-2000), Sudek, Prague, 1960s (118.1996)

Angelo Lomeo, A toast: Sonja Bullaty and Josef Sudek, 1972 (116.1996)

Sonja Bullaty (1923-2000), Women’s March, Tanzania, 1966

Sonja Bullaty (1923-2000), Summer Evening, 1976 (94.1982)

Born in Prague into a Jewish banking family, Ms. Bullaty received her first camera at 14, a consolation gift from her father for having to abandon school and normal teenage activities as their world darkened with the approach of war.

”I have loved the camera ever since, because it gave me joy and it gave me a life,” she said. “In the following difficult years I had no camera but often saw things indelibly etched on my mind. Perhaps to this day I search for some of those missing images.”

She was deported to Poland on her 18th birthday and spent the next four years in captivity, first in the Lodz Ghetto, then in the Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen concentration camps. Toward the end of the war, she escaped a death march near Dresden, which was then in flames, by hiding with a girlfriend in a haystack in the barn where the prisoners had been held for the night. Although Nazi soldiers, armed with pitchforks, were sent back to roust the women, they remained undetected, and Ms. Bullaty managed by stay alive until liberation allowed her to return to Prague.

There, she discovered that none of her family had survived.

Eventually, she sought out the well-known Czech photographer Josef Sudek and over time became what he called his “apprentice-martyr,” mixing chemicals for the darkroom, filing negatives and absorbing the unwritten rules of composition as she watched him print his dark, moody, almost abstract works. Master and pupil, they shared an affinity for the simplicity of windows and the mystery of reflections, and a fondness for patriotic kitsch and the seemingly banal. Ms. Bullaty wrote about her mentor in a 1978 book, “Sudek.”

“I want to express with it what I see, experience and feel, a world real or surreal, sad or funny, but a world uniquely my own,” Ms. Bullaty said of the guiding force behind her work. “Perhaps to live I needed to know there is beauty.”
Source: New York Times, Sonja Bullaty, 76, a Photographer of Lyricism, October 13, 2000

Sonja Bullaty and Angelo Lomeo, Stonehenge Sunset, England, 1969 (676.1982)

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