About the fate of the Seidel family and the exceptional museum with Zdena Mrázková

A lesser known piece of trivia is that in addition to medieval monuments, Český Krumlov also hides a treasure from a relatively recent period – a paradise for all photographers and their subjects, the Seidel Photo Studio Museum. The beautiful Art Nouveau house with a garden is also an oasis of peace and a well of information for all who want to learn more about life in Krumlov and its surroundings a hundred years ago. The head of the museum, Zdena Mrázková, reveals the fate of the Seidel family and their exceptional studio.

Why should we definitely not miss the Museum Fotoateliér Seidel when visiting Krumlov?

Although many people primarily associate this house with getting dressed up in period costumes with scenery and taking photos, there are many more reasons to visit. The house itself is an architectural gem, renovated by the Český Krumlov Development Fund with full respect for the authenticity of the original building and furnishings. The real treasure is then hidden in the preserved 140 thousand negatives documenting the entire Czech-Austrian-Bavarian borderland from Nýrsko through central Šumava to Jindřichův Hradec. In addition to a tour of the museum's interior and photographs, we also want to comment on the photographs and introduce you to the stories behind them, the thousands of details that document the time without distortion.

You are somewhat separate from the main tourist stream, in the third meander of the Vltava River. What’s to see here?

It is a quiet zone and an area where you can find traces of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – the Jewish Synagogue, the District Court and the city park, and there used to be a swimming area and sports ground here in the past. The boom of incipient bourgeois self-awareness is right here. And these imprints of the recent past are much closer to us than those of the medieval families in the city centre. Of course, without the Rosenbergs, Schwarzenbergs and Eggenbergs, Krumlov would not be what it is today. But you don't identify with these facts as much as when you put on the period clothes that your great-grandmother could easily have worn at the Seidels.

Who was Josef Seidel and what role did his studio play in Český Krumlov?

He came from northern Bohemia, where he trained as a photographer, and then wandered around Bohemia and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. When he arrived in Šumava in 1886, he learned that the widow of a deceased photographer with a furnished studio remained in Krumlov. So he hurried here and took over the studio. It was the beginning of the professional photography era and Seidel became one of the pioneers of this craft. He documented the local life, people and, as an enthusiastic tourist, the beauties of the Šumava as well. He was one of the first photographers who set out after his photo subjects on skis. He then made postcards from landscape photographs, which were sold very successfully.

Seidel and his studio must have been renowned throughout the region...

He drove and photographed at least 450 places in Šumava, many of them repeatedly in different forms and times. When a photographer was supposed to come to the village, it was announced in advance, it was an event. They kept Seidel's customer books, in which they not only stated how much he was selling the photos for, but also the name and address of his customers. Thanks to this, the preserved image archive is not anonymous and has been transferred to an on-line database, where people can search for their roots today. These are probably the strongest moments for me, when visitors find photos of their grandmothers and grandfathers here.

Josef Seidel died in 1935. What followed after his death?

After his death, his prosperous business was taken over by his 27-year-old son František. In 1949, however, the Communists confiscated over 5,000 negatives used to make postcards, ending local production, and in 1953 his studio and business were definitively closed. Seidel's postcards were then published by the state publishing house Orbis, without mentioning the author. From the moment František had to close the family studio, until his death, he did not operate it again, and only occasionally used a photo chamber for his own purposes.

František’s fate was a troubled one...

Yes, during the war he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for almost a year, and after the war his brother and family and his fiancée were deported to Germany. He himself avoided deportation only because of the fascist imprisonment. This was followed by communist persecution… His fiancée could only return to Bohemia after lengthy and difficult negotiations in the late 1950s, when it was too late to have children. They lived here until their deaths.

You also try to pass on the extensive archive of Seidel's studio to people through photo books. What titles have you released so far?

The first book to be published was Lipno – A Landscape Under Water, about the stories of long-gone Lipno settlements that were flooded during the construction of the Lipno reservoir. This was followed by Šumava – A Landscape Under Snow, with winter pictures that Seidel and his colleagues created on skis, and when you read it, it's like one big adventure. The third is Krumlov – A City Under a Tower, a book structured according to city districts and probably containing the largest array of stories portrayed by people. But we also have other plans, for instance, we are photographing the places of long-gone villages in the Boletice region. My sons and I often follow in the footsteps of Josef Seidel, we take comparative photos in nearby areas and throughout Šumava, and it's a joy.

Would you like to invite our readers to an upcoming museum event?

Every month, we organise several events for all ages, including families with children and school programmes as well. You can come to a screening about old Šumava, about old Krumlov, get to know about how people lived 100 years ago, or view a practical demonstration of working with old cameras in a darkroom. The younger generation may not believe all the work that had to be done to create a single photo! If you like the atmosphere of an era when time passed more slowly, or want to introduce it to your children, you are most welcome at the Seidels!