Of course, he's not really a printer. No, Josef Koudelka is a Czech photographer, born in 1938 in Moravia. He got his start in photography by photographing his family and surroundings with a 6 x 6 Bakelite camera. Which just goes to show even the most famous of photographers started out doing nothing different than what we're really doing now - shooting what's available, which is the Salt Lake Valley. Koudelka later went to University of Technology in Prague, and later staged his first photographic exhibition.
Koudelka then started regularly photographing stage productions at Prauge's Theater Behind the Gate on an old Rolleiflex camera (no idea how this one works, but it looks just as cool as the Bakelite). Later projects include shooting gypsies in Romania and recording the military forces of the Warsaw Pact as they invaded Prague. Koudelka's books include Gypsies, Exiles, and a combination of the two titled Chaos. He's won awards such as the Prix Nadar, the Grand Prix National de la Photographie, a Grand Prix Cartier-Bresson, a Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, and the Robert Capa Gold Medal (no Olympic affiliation, sadly) for photographs requiring exceptional courage.
As of this moment, Koudelka resides in France and Prague and is continuing his work documenting the European landscape. He has two daughters and a son. He celebrated his 72nd birthday this last January. It's nice to do a report on a famous person who is actually alive.
And now for some images...
This is one of his most famous ones - streets of a city moments before military invasion. I love the emotion of this photograph - the sense of "something's coming". This photograph reminds me of ancient men who sit on ancient porches and shake their ancient heads, saying "There's a storm coming, son, I can feel it in my bones." I love the watch, I feel like it really adds to the picture. It freezes that moment in time so perfectly, and so definitely. Koudelka took an instant and turned it into an eternity.
How do you do this? Hats off to Koudelka here. I think it takes skill and experience to be able to photograph soldiers without making them feel uncomfortable and without them shooing you away. When I ask strangers if I can take their picture, they usually look at me awkwardly and say, "Uh, um, uh, why?" I don't get the true "soul" of a person who's hiding their hands in their pockets and slumping their shoulders and asking if they ought to smile. But looking at the expression on these people's faces, I feel like they aren't hiding anything. They aren't afraid of the camera - more importantly, they aren't afraid of the photographer.
This one...probably staged, but you know, I'd like to think it isn't. Again, I love that emotion - that nostalgic feeling of stopping your industrious, 9 to 5 (and possibly 5 to 9) life to just listen to the same sounds you heard growing up. I love the composition of this photo as well. And I do like that it's a bit lighter than a lot of Koudelka's photography, because it shows he's well rounded. He's versatile, that Koudelka. He can take a photograph of anything, of any emotion, and make it beautiful and well-exposed and even a bit heart wrenching in all the right ways.
Like fashion, words tend to come in and out of style. Currently the word "epic" is very, very in fashion (particularly in conjunction with the word "fail"), and I'm worried that if I say this photograph is epic, the popularity of that word will take away from what I mean. But really, this photo is epic - it's bold, classic, brave, grand. It's awesome. Knowing that Koudelka didn't use a little point-and-shoot also adds to this image for me - this man was prepared. He had to have set up his camera in advance, to have determined the proper exposure, to have decided his angle and depth of field. He put maybe hours of preparation into capturing this particular second - a second no one else could have captured.
Again, Koudelka was prepared. He was in the right place at the right time, and I understand why he won an award for photographs requiring exceptional courage. Look at the soldiers, at the weapons, at the destruction, at the burnt up tree. I don't know many people who would willingly throw themselves into this kind of situation. Koudelka had courage ever photographer ought to have, and he chose to tell the best kind of story possible with his photographs - the kind of story only he could tell.