“Permanent traveller” Koudelka returns to Prague with major exhibition

Josef Koudelka, photo: CTK

A huge exhibition of work by the world-renowned Czech photographer Josef Koudelka has just opened in Prague. Entitled Returning, it features hundreds of photos from throughout the 80-year-old’s career, including famous cycles such as Gypsies and the stunning images of the 1968 invasion that first brought him international acclaim. I discussed the show with Helena Koenigsmarková, director of exhibition venue the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Josef Koudelka,  photo: CTK
“Some of them are so-called vintage photographs. That means they are original prints done by Josef Koudelka himself.

“There are all the famous cycles of photography he did in the last more than 50 years.

“There are the famous cycles Gypsies, Theatre or Invasion 68, which is very important.

“We also have the cycle Exiles and the large panoramic photographs he did in the last 30 years.

“All the photographs are very strong in their content.”

Have you got any favourite cycles of his? Are there any that speak to you a lot?

Photo: CTK
“Yes. I have known Josef for many years and he did his first exhibition after the political changes at the museum, in 1990. I was there as a starting director, and it was an emotional experience at the time.

“And I myself really like Exiles.

“They reflect the situation of a man who is so close to his country and has to live outside his country. And he travels – he’s a permanent traveller through many countries.

“In this photography cycle he is always looking at and taking photos of people who are in a situation of so-called ‘odcizení’. I don’t know the word in English [laughs].”

Maybe “alienation” or something like that?

Photo: CTK
“Yes, something like that. It’s very, very strong.”

Josef Koudelka is often described as the greatest living Czech photographer. For you, what makes him so great?

“I would say he is the greatest living photographer with Czech origins.

“He is a world photographer, really. And probably the most famous photographer today.”

And what is it that’s so good about him?

Returning runs at the Museum of Decorative Arts until September 23. A concurrent exhibition of Koudelka’s work entitled De-creazione is on at the National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace and also concludes on September 23.

“It’s his way of seeing.

“Maybe what’s Czech, or better to say Moravian, because he was born in Moravia, is his close relationship with tradition, with the country, with folk art, with music.

“Music is very important in his life, he says.

“And people who see his exhibition today say that it’s like music, really – everything fits so perfectly together.”