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Josef Koudelka

Text from Wikipedia

Koudelka, Josef
Czech, 1938-

Josef Koudelka (b. 1938 in Boskovice, Moravia) is a Czechoslovakian photographer.

Biography

Josef Koudelka began photographing his family and the surroundings with a 6 x 6 Bakelite camera. In 1961, he earned a degree from the Technical University in Prague and later worked as an aeronautical engineer. At the same time, Koudelka began photographing theatre productions on an old Rolleiflex camera.

In 1968 he witnessed and recorded Soviet armies as they invaded Prague and crushed the Czech resistance, before he was forced to flee the country. His pictures of the events became dramatic international symbols (though he published them anonymously at first), helping him to win the esteemed Robert Capa Gold Medal. This proved a major turning point in Koudelka’s life and career. In 1970 he won asylum in England, living there for the next ten years. A nomad at heart, he continued to wander around Europe hoping to capture something of the world that seemed to be vanishing before his eyes.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Koudelka sustained his work through numerous grants and awards, and continued to exhibit and publish major projects like Gypsies (1975) and Exiles (1988). His work received much support and acknowledgment from Anna Farova, a Czech art historian, and the famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1987 he became a French citizen, and was able to return to Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1990. He then produced Black Triangle, documenting his country’s wasted landscape.

Koudelka resides in France and is continuing his work documenting the European landscape.

Work

His early work significantly shaped his later photography, and its emphasis on social and cultural rituals as well as death. He soon moved on to a more personal, in depth photographic study of the gypsies of Slovakia, and later Romania. This work was exhibited in Prague in 1967. Throughout his career, Koudelka has been praised for his ability to capture the presence of the human spirit amidst dark landscapes. Desolation, waste, departure, despair and alienation are common themes in his work. His characters sometimes seem to come out of fairytales. Still, some see hope within his work — the endurance of human endeavor, in spite of its fragility. His later work focuses on the landscape removed of human subjects.


 


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