Born: January 10, 1938
Josef Koudelka is a Czech photographer who’s most famous images were of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague in 1968. Although largely self taught, Koudelka’s images are highly narrative and deal with themes of power and isolation. His prolific career includes various series’ of images. His earliest work was for theater publications followed by his images of the Prague invasion in 1968. He worked obsessively on a series of photographs of Gypsies in Romania, his exiled nomadic years of the 1970’s and 1980’s, his story-like panoramic landscapes of his Chaos project and Black Triangle, a series of photographs documenting the wasted landscape in the Podkrušnohoří region between Germany and the Czech Republic.
Josef Koudelka was born in 1938 in Moravia. Despite showing an interest in photography throughout his youth, It wasn’t until he was almost 30 that he decided to give up his job as an aeronautical engineer in Prague to pursue photography full time.
His early work comprised of commissions for theater magazines, most notably Theatre Behind the Gate in Prague. The illustrative, high contrast images served as a hallmark of the publications style. Koudelka kept study notebooks of his work (as seen in the 2014 exhibition, Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful at the J. Paul Getty Center). These notebooks show an obsessive study of Koudelka’s own work including many versions of cropping various photographs to arrive at the final works.
With in one year of leaving engineering, Koudelka would be thrown into photographing one of the most historic events in Europe of the late 60’s.
Koudelka had just returned from photographing a body of work on Gypsies when the military forces of the Warsaw Pact invaded Prague and devastated Czech reform. The next 7 days would be spent making photographs that would greatly impact his career and bring a devastating event to the eyes of the world.
Kudelka’s negatives were smuggled out of Prauge and printed in the Sunday Times in London and Look Magazine in the United States under the pseudonym initials, P.P. simply standing for Prague Photographer in fear of being identified for political reasons. It wasn’t until years later that he was actually known as the photographer who took these images. He even won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for the work anonymously.
Interestingly though this conflict established his credibility as a photographer, it would be the only conflict news situation he would shoot.
Koudelka fled to England in 1970 where he applied for political asylum and stayed for over 10 years. Through the efforts of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliot Erwitt he became a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos.
Most of Koudelka’s adult life has been spent in a somewhat nomadic state which come across in his subject matter. His time spent photographing Gypsies yielded a prolific body of work that was published in a famous book in 1975.
His travels extended through Europe as he would often sleep out doors and live on milk and bread to save money for film and photography supplies. His work from this period explores common themes of human relationships, isolation and even death. He worked living mostly off of awards and grants as he ultimately achieved artistic success with exhibitions and Museum acquisitions across the world.
In recent years his work has shifted to landscape panoramas which bring some influence from his earlier work, but in a new medium.
He lives today splitting his time between France and Pague and still continues to work with landscapes having recently photographed Israel and Palastine for Aperture Foundation.
Josef Koudelka: Exiles http://amzn.to/1IwvTZ7
Koudelka: Gypsies http://amzn.to/1PgYZQg
Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful http://amzn.to/1L0lgvK
Invasion 68: Prague http://amzn.to/1dZKEqy
Josef Koudelka: Wall http://amzn.to/1Iww3jl
Josef Koudelka :: The Art of Photography http://theartofphotography.tv/episodes/josef-koudelka/
Josef Koudelka on Photography and Nationality https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_D5hLeQqHM
Josef Koudelka, Vestiges 1991-2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-zVhub_A28
Josef Koudelka https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG9VetQkh5o
1961 :: Divadlo Semafor, Prague
1967 :: Josef Koudela: Cikáni – 1961-1966, Divadlo za branou, Prague
1968 :: Josef Koudela: Divadelni fotografie – 1965-1968, Divadlo za branou, Prague
1975 :: Josef Koudelka, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1977 :: Gitans: la fin du voyage, Galerie Delpire, Paris; Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland; The Tel-Aviv Museum, Israel; Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
1984 :: Josef Koudelka, Hayward Gallery, London
1988/89 :: Josef Koudelka, Centre National de la Photographie, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; International Center of Photography, New York; Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; IVAM, Valencia, Spain.
1989 :: Josef Koudelka, Mission Transmanche, galerie de l’ancienne poste, Calais, France
1990 :: Josef Koudelka z Fotografického dila 1958-1990, Umeleckoprumyslové museum, Prague
1994 :: Cerny trojuhelnik – Podkrusnohori : Fotografie 1990–1994 = The Black Triangle : the foothills of the Ore mountains, Salmovsky Palac, Prague
1995/97 :: Periplanissis: following Ulysses’ Gaze, Mylos, Thessaloniki, Greece; Zappeion, Athens; Centre culturel Una Volta, Bastia, France; ville de Rodez, France; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo; Museo di Storia della Fotografia, Fratelli Alinari, Firenze, Italy.
1998 :: Reconnaissance: Wales, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff, UK
1999/2001 :: Chaos, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome; Cantieri Culturali della Zisa, Palermo, Italy; Palazzo Marino alla Scala, Milan; The Snellman Hall, Helsinki; sala de exposiciones de Plaza de España, Madrid.
2002 :: Josef Koudelka: Fotograf, National Gallery, Prague
2002/03 :: Rétrospective, Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France; Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico.
2003 :: Teatro del Tempo, Mercati di Traiano, Rome
2006 :: Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France: exhibition and laureate of the Discovery Award
2008 :: Screening at Théâtre antique d’Orange, Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France
2008 :: Prague 1968, Aperture Gallery, New York
2008 :: Koudelka, Benaki Museum, Athens
2008 :: Josef Koudelka, Pera Museum, İstanbul
2008 :: Invaze = Invasion, Old Town Hall, Prague
2010 :: Invasion Prague 68, Photo Cube Market Square, Guernsey
2012 :: Zingari, Fondazione Forma, Milan
2013 :: Vestiges 1991-2012, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseilles, France
2013/2014 :: Josef Koudelka Retrospective, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
2014/2015 :: Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Getty Center, Los Angeles