Fotograf Magazine

The Returns of Josef Koudelka

The catalogue for the exhibition Koudelka: Návraty1 (Koudelka:
Returns) by Josef Koudelka and Irena Šofrová looks back at the
photographer’s lifelong work, underlining the gesture of the generous
donation of his photographs to the Museum of Decorative Arts in
Prague on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. In his article “O darech
a darování“ (On Gifts and Giving), Jan Mlčoch recalls the shameful period
of the so-called normalization when Koudelka’s cycles Cikáni (Gypsies,
1961–1966) and photographs from the exhibition at the Divadlo za
branou Theatre (1967) in the original author’s adjustment, saved by Anna
Fárová in the late 1960s, stayed untouched in the museum until 1990.

In the catalogue, Irena Šofrová explains the concept of the
retrospective, including creative documentation, samples from
foreign journals or studies for exhibitions and publications, the
author’s personal sketches, diaries, notes illustrating his style of work,
his way of thinking and his approach to both photography and life.
The first creative stage of Koudelka’s life before he left the country, “Ve věcech lidskosti” (The Matters of Humanity) is dealt with by Josef
Moucha. The subsequent work created in exile, starting on 21 May
1970, is described by Alexander Stuart. Tomáš Pospěch focuses on
Koudelka’s panoramic photographs that capture the transformation and
destruction of the landscape by human intervention. The preview of the
creative photographic energy of “The Recluse Josef K.” (Solitér Josef K.)
by Josef Chuchma is set in the cultural and political context of the times
before the period of normalization, comparing the year of 1958 with the
situation after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

To confront the contemporary reflections of Koudelka’s work, the
publication includes a contemporary text by Anna Fárová2 who drew
attention to the uniqueness of Koudelka’s photographs already in 1967.
The retrospective catalogue and exhibition show that Josef Koudelka
has catapulted both his early and the subsequent exile work to the
highest planes of world photography and never budged on the high
quality of the 1960s.

Pavlína Vogelová

1 The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, 22. 3.–23. 9. 2018.
2 FÁROVÁ, Anna. Koudelka: Some remarks on the young Czechoslovakian
Photographer. Camera. 1967, 11(11), pp 26–35.

KOUDELKA, Josef. Koudelka. Návraty (Koudelka: Returns). Prague: Kant and Museum
of Decorative Arts in Prague, 2018. ISBN 978-80-7437-248-3.