Josef Koudelka – Gypsies
click on thumbnails for fullsize images
Josef Koudelka was born in 1938 in Boskovice, Czechoslovakia. Josef worked as an aeronautical engineer in Prague and Bratislava, but began to take photographic commisions from theatre magazines and regularly photographed stage productions at Prague’s Theatre Behind the Gate on an old Rollieflex camera. In 1967 he gave up engineering altogether to pursue his career in photography.
Josef returned from his project shooting gypsies in Romania just two days before the Soviet invasion in August 1968. He witnessed and recorded the military forces of the Warsaw Pact as they invaded Prague and crushed the Czech reforms. Koudelka’s negatives were smuggled out of Prague into the hands of the Magnum agency, and published anonymously in The Sunday Times Magazine under the initials P. P. (Prague Photographer) for fear of reprisal to him and his family.
With Magnum to recommend him to the British authorities, he applied for a three-month working visa and fled to England in 1970, where he applied for political asylum, in 1971 joined Magnum Photos and stayed for more than a decade. A nomad at heart, he continued to wander around Europe with his camera and little else.
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, his first book) and Exiles (1988, his second). Since 1986, he has worked with a panoramic camera and issued a compilation of these photographs in his book Chaos in 1999. Koudelka has had more than a dozen books of his work published, including most recently in 2006 the retrospective volume Koudelka.