Hello Photoion students and photography fans, we’ve got another instalment of our Masters of Photography series for you today.
This series looks at some of the most influential photographers of the last hundred years and examines their life and work.
Today we’re looking at the work of Josef Koudelka.
Koudelka was born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, in 1938 and began taking photographs at an early age. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s when Koudelka’s work became more serious as he began photographing Gypsies in Czechoslovakia and theatre in Prague. These works would eventually be published in his first book, Gypsies, in 1975.
Koudelka worked as an aeronautical engineer until he turned to photography as a full time occupation in 1967. The following year, he published a series of photographs documenting the Soviet invasion under the initials P.P. which stood for “Prague Photographer.” Koudelka published under a pseudonym through fear for his and his family’s safety.
This collection of work, which would come to published together in 2008, earned him the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal – though it was awarded anonymously as no one in the wider photography community knew the identity of the Prague Photographer.
Koudelka is known for his black and white images that often has a dream-like or painting-esque quality to them. In many of Koudelka’s images, the subject is presented in the foreground in crystal clear focus, which the background is left slightly out of focus. The perspective of many of his images makes the background appear as if it is much further from the subject than it actually is, which helps to isolate the subject further.
Koudelka’s painting-like images are perhaps best exhibited in his collection, Desolate Beauty, a series exploring industrial areas and mankind’s influence on the landscape. The images are filled with twisted metal, heavy machinery, and many shots of nearby landscapes which have been changed by industry.
The unusual angles at which Koudelka captured many of these images makes the industrial constructs seem like alien invaders, destroying the landscape or bearing down on it ominously.
Koudelka is still active in the photography world, having published his most recent work, La Fabrique d’Exils, in 2017.