Josef Koudelka

Josef Koudelka is a legendary name in the world of documentary photography. Born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia in 1938, Josef began taking pictures of his hometown at the age of 15 with his first camera – a gift from his parents. He quickly developed an eye for capturing images that told stories and documented the lives of people around him.

As a young man, he studied engineering at the Technical University in Prague but soon realized that his true passion was for photography and decided to pursue it as a career instead.
At 18, Josef moved to Prague where he studied engineering at the Czech Technical University and worked as an aeronautical technician. He also became deeply interested in theatre performances, both attending shows and continuing his photography hobby on the side.

"The biggest lesson in photography is that from negative we make a positive."

In 1968, Koudelka photographed tanks rolling into Prague during what became known as the Prague Spring uprising against communism. The photos were smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and published anonymously under the name "Pražský Jaro" (Prague Spring).

Koudelka's identity remained unknown until end of 1969 when he revealed himself to be their author in order to gain citizenship from France which allowed him greater freedom than he could have in Czechoslovakia at that time.
Koudelka's most renowned work comes one year earlier. It was 1968 when project entitled "Gypsies", which documented the nomadic lifestyle of Romanies living across Europe from 1958-1970 was published. His raw style captured everyday scenes such as weddings, funerals, festivals and gatherings with an unrivalled level of intimacy and emotion. Despite being banned by Czech authorities due to their anti-Roma stance on Romani culture, Koudelka's photos were smuggled out of Czechoslovakia where they were published anonymously until 1975 when he identified himself as the photographer behind them.

This photographic essay on Romani culture earned him international recognition. This work established him as one of the foremost photographers documenting everyday life around Europe and marked the beginning of what would become a decades-long career behind the lens.

"Gypsies fascinated me first of all with their music. If you listen to their music, you will understand why I was photographing gypsies."
Since then, Josef Koudelka has continued to use photography to capture human experience around him; travelling extensively around the world while never losing sight of what truly matters - people's lives - no matter where they come from or who they are. He believes that "documentary photography should be about compassion" which is evident in both his early works or his more recent photographs.
Over time, Koudelka honed what has now become known as "The Koudelka Style:" black-and-white photographs containing layers upon layers of textures within each frame; captivating compositions combining human figures with their geographical environment or manmade structures which contribute to creating strong visual storytelling about both people and places alike.
Author Anna Laza
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