Oxford School of Photography

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Daily Archives: June 25, 2014

Josef Koudelka – the great Czech photographer

Today I start an occasional series on the great photographers, those who are referred to as masters. This series will be to introduce you to photographers who you may have heard of but never investigated or perhaps you have never come across and so are completely new to you.

Today I introduce Josef Koudelka

Josef Koudelka (1938-)Josef Koudelka

Documentary, Landscape, Photojournalism

Biography: Born in a tiny village of Moravia, Koudelka began photographing his family and surroundings as a teenager with a 6 x 6 Bakelite camera.

He was trained at the Technical University in Prague and worked as an aeronautical engineer in Prague and Bratislava from 1961-67. He had been able to obtain an old Rolleiflex and in 1961, while working as a theater photographer in Prague, he also started a detailed study of the gypsies of Slovakia, who were then undergoing further attempts to “assimilate” them within the Czech state. His work was the subject of an exhibition in Prague in 1967.

In 1968 Koudelka extended his project to gypsy communities in Rumania and that same year recorded the invasion of Prague by Warsaw Pact armies. Smuggled out of the country with the help of Czech curator Anna Farova and published with the initials P.P. ( Prague photographer) to protect his family, the highly dramatic pictures showing Russian tanks rolling into Prague and the Czech resistance became international symbols and won him the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal………more

As a member of The Magnum Photo Agency he is already considered one of the greats alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa etc. This link is a short film about his work of the Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 from the Magnum in Motion series

Further information can be found in this excellent Guardian interview with Koudelka in 2008

Koudelka is a photographer whose work is impossible to ignore because each image throws up so many stories, as you look at a picture and start to try to understand the reasons why the shutter was released at that moment a range of emotions, expectations and ideas come to you. His work is rarely decorative, it is always demanding and about difficult subjects. In some ways the early work of Oxford photographer Paddy Summerfield reminds me of Koudelka, Paddy’s early work is on permanent exhibition in the reception area of the Old Bank Hotel on the High Street in Oxford. Paddy is a reluctant interwebber so although he is often mentioned he no longer has his own site but this might give you some idea of his work

The hope is that with these occasional introductions you will find someone whose work you are absorbed by and undertake further investigations or maybe even go and buy a book

Jane Bown: turning the lens on Britain’s shyest photographer

In The Guardian

She’s always preferred being behind the camera, but from her childhood passed around a circle of aunts to her time as a Wren in the second world war, Jane Bown had a story to tell – and it took her friend and assistant Luke Dodd to persuade her to tell it…

She claimed that her portrait photography came about because of her reputation for working rapidly and for mastering the most adverse circumstances or awkward individuals. An ideal shoot for Jane was 10 minutes, enough time to really see the subject but not enough for the initial spontaneity to disappear. She cornered the most reluctant of subjects, Samuel Beckett, in a dark alley down the side of the Royal Court theatre as he tried to give her the slip. His enmity is palpable but he stood long enough for her to expose five frames. It was all over in less than 30 seconds – the middle frame is now regarded as the archetypal Beckett portrait.

Samuel Beckett, leaving the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London in 1976

Samuel Beckett, leaving the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London in 1976 Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer

She became a photographer in 1946 when, as a recently demobbed Wren, she applied, on a whim, to the UK’s only full-time photography course at the Guildford School of Art. Although she didn’t own a camera and had never taken a picture and the course was already over-subscribed, its director, Ifor Thomas, accepted her as he had also worked in the navy during the war. Painfully shy, she sat looking out of the window for the first two terms and the teacher almost gave up on her. With £50 borrowed from an aunt, Jane purchased her first camera, a Rolleiflex, and the world came into focus. She still talks of these early photos – abstract studies, still-lives, Gypsy children, fairgrounds, farm-workers – as her best work, adding, “I was never really interested in people or portraits – that came later … I was happiest moving about seeing things, still am. These pictures are the real me.”

'Sharp-elbowed': Jane Bown among a scrum of male photographers fighting for a shot of Bette Davis at

‘Sharp-elbowed‘: Jane Bown among a scrum of male photographers fighting for a shot of Bette Davis at the London Palladium in 1975. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

 Looking for Light: Jane Bown is out this week. The DVD is out on 26 May. An exhibition of Bown’s work runs at Kings Place, London N1, until 31 May.

Read the full article here