Two Covers by Jan Saudek

Jan Saudek is one of those artists whose work I disliked initially but who wound up growing on me.  At least two of his photographs have been used as album covers.  The first is featured on the cover of French black metal band Anorexia Nervosa‘s album New Obscurantis Order.  The actual photo is titled “Black Sheep and White Crow” and is without a doubt one of Saudek’s most provocative images, and that’s saying something.  It ran into controversy last year over charges of child pornography and child prostitution (a concept it certainly invokes, though invoking an idea in art is certainly not the same thing as endorsing or practicing it) and was thus removed from Ballarat International Foto Biennale. The second appeared on an album of a band that I like immensely, Soul Asylum.  The album is Grave Dancers Union, and the original piece’s title is quite a mouthful: “Fate Descends Towards the River Leading Two Innocent Children.”


Jan Saudek – Anorexia Nervosa – New Obscurantis Order

Jan Saudek - Soul Asylum - Grave Dancers Union

Jan Saudek – Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union

Jan Saudek - Black Sheep and White Crow (1990)

Jan Saudek – Black Sheep and White Crow (1990)

Jan Saudek - Fate Descends Towards the River Leading Two Innocent Children (1970)

Jan Saudek – Fate Descends Towards the River Leading Two Innocent Children (1970)

Jan Saudek (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Jan Saudek

Enter the Soul Asylum (Official Site)

4 thoughts on “Two Covers by Jan Saudek

  1. In nature, a sheep is white and a crow is black. Here the colours are inverted, and this can hint that the roles between the woman and the girl are exchanged. Indeed, the look in the girl’s eyes seems “mischievous” or “sinful”, while the look in the mother’s eyes seems more “innocent”.

    • It should be added here that SOME, but not most, sheep are black. Therefore in English the phrase “black sheep” is used to mean somebody who is very much unlike the others, as in “black sheep of the family”.

  2. I think Jan captures truth in humanity. There will always be those who come from dark places and exploit. There are those who see everything in sexual terms, but many recognize something more pure in his work. A drop of milk from a breast is not porn, but it doing the job it was designed for. A woman kissing her own breast is not porn, but a reality every day on this planet. I respect Jan…he has the ability to cut through the cultural and religious filters that bridle and label natural things as “dirty”. It is how we see and react that make things darkness or light. He shows women in reality and in their dreams.

    • I agree, though I think Jan often confronts some of the darker elements of human nature in artful ways. Many of his images look pornographic on first glance, but when one has a true understanding of the work, he realizes that these images aren’t intended as erotica in themselves but as a confrontation of certain aspects of human sexuality and/or sexual practices.

      In the case of Black Sheep and White Crow, those aspects are pedophilia and child prostitution. There is a story here, and the title gives us clues. The black sheep is obvious: the mother, who is dressed in black, is offering her own daughter for money. Of course she’s a black sheep, a pariah in her family or culture, but the question remains: was she black sheep before she prostituted her little daughter and had to resort to this in order to survive, or did she only become a black sheep after she began doing this horrible thing? Perhaps it is cyclical, a downward spiral. This is, of course, expressed merely in symbolic terms.

      That leaves the daughter (wearing a white blouse) as the white crow, and this is a little trickier to parse. Crow symbolism is complex and fascinating. These are generally birds of cunning, and sometimes even outright evil. Seems like an odd choice for a child, no? But look at the girl’s face. She is returning the gaze of the viewer directly, confronting him, and she wears an expression that can be thought of as seductive. Yet the color white is often associated with innocence, purity and childhood. Symbolically, then, this is child wise beyond her years. She has clearly been corrupted by (perhaps) years of abuse. Thus, this child–like a white crow–is a contradiction. She should be pure and innocent, but she is clearly anything but . . .

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