Josef Koudelka – the great Czech photographer
June 25, 2014
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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
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