Between 1962 and 1971, Josef Koudelka travelled through his
native Czechoslovakia and beyond to rural Romania, Hungary,
France and Spain. His main subject was the Romany Gypsies.
Drawn to their nomadic lifestyle, rituals and customs, Koudelka
took on a nomadic lifestyle on his own, often travelling with little
more than a camera, rucksack and a sleeping bag as he journeyed
into his subject matter.
Koudelka’s stark images depict the simplicity of Gypsy life, but he
does not present their situation as a social problem that should
somehow be fixed. Instead, he shows the Gypsies as perpetual
outsiders, and their lives as a primal mix of glee and wonder,
sorrow and mystery
Josef Koudelka , born in Moravia, made his first photographs while a student in the 1950s. About the same time that he started his career as an aeronautical engineer in 1961 he also began photographing Gypsies in Czechoslovakia and theater in Prague. He turned full-time to photography in 1967. The following year, Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague, publishing his photographs under the initials P. P. (Prague Photographer) for fear of reprisal to him and his family. In 1969, he was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for those photographs. Koudelka left Czechoslovakia for political asylum in 1970 and shortly thereafter joined Magnum Photos. In 1975, he brought out his first book Gypsies, and in 1988, Exiles. 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 Invasion Prague 68 (2008), and, most recently, La Fabrique d’Exils (2017). Significant exhibitions of his work have been held atthe Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, New York; the Hayward Gallery, London; the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam; the Institute of Chicago; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.