Czech Photographer Josef Koudelka grew up behind the Iron Curtain and always wanted to know “what was on the other side”. Forty years after capturing the iconic images of the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, the legendary Magnum photographer arrives in Israel and Palestine. On first seeing the nine-meter-high wall built by Israel in the West Bank, Koudelka is deeply shaken and embarks on a four-year project in the region which will confront him once again with the harsh reality of violence and conflict.
Director Gilad Baram, Koudelka’s assistant at the time, follows him on his journey through the Holy Land from one enigmatic and visually spectacular location to another, from 2008 to 2012. In each location – soon to become a new “Koudelka photo” – a new scene unfolds, gradually introducing us to Koudelka’s method of working and his perception of the world he is documenting as well as the people he encounters. A fascinating dialogue emerges between Baram’s cinematography and Koudelka’s still photographs, as Baram places the photographer in his own breathtaking compositions. Josef Koudelka was born in Boskovice, Moravia (Czech Republic) in 1938.
After graduating in engineering from Prague University in 1961, and while working as an aeronautical engineer in Prague and Bratislava, he began his career working as a photographer for some theatrical publications. He became a full-time photographer in 1967, with a reportage on gypsy life and culture in Romania, Slovakia and Western Europe.
In 1968, just two days after his return from Romania, Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague and the Czech non-violent resistance movement. His negatives, smuggled out of Prague, were published by Magnum in New York with the initials “P.P.” (Prague Photographer), in order to avoid repercussions against him and his family. For this work Koudelka received, anonymously, the 1969 Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal.
In 1970 he left Czechoslovakia and received political asylum in Great Britain, where he lived for over ten years. In 1971 he joined Magnum, continuing to travel and work as a photographer all around Europe. In 1987 he became a French citizen and in 1991 he returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time in over twenty years.
In the course of his career he has been awarded numerous prizes, including: Prix Nadar, Grand Prix National de la Photographie, Grand Prix Cartier-Bresson, Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography.
His pictures have been exhibited in the most important museums in the world.
Josef Koudelka will be presenting the documentary Koudelka Shooting Holy Land, tomorrow on 23rd January at the 28. Trieste Film Festival.
Black and white photographs © Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Colored photographs by Gilad Baram