Saudek's father was a Jew and this, coupled with his Slavic (Czech) heritage, caused his family to become a target of the Nazis. Many of his family died in Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. Jan and his brother Karel, or Kája, were held in a children's concentration camp for Mischlinge, located near the present Polish-Czech border. His father, Gustav, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in February 1945. Both sons and father survived the war.
According to Saudeks's biography, he got his first camera, a Kodak Baby Brownie, in 1950. He apprenticed to a photographer and in 1952 started working as a print shop worker, where he worked until 1983. In 1959, he started using the more advanced Flexaret 6x6 camera, and engaged in painting and drawing. 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 and was encouraged in his work by curator Hugh Edwards.
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. From the late 1970s, he became recognized in the West as the leading Czech photographer, and also developed a following among photographers in his own country. 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.
Saudek lives and works in Prague. His brother Kája Saudek is also an artist, the best-known Czech graphic novelist.
Photo from 1959
First kiss to little brother