Photographer Bohumil Dobrovolský, who captured 1968 invasion, dies at 89

Bohumil Dobrovolský

Czechs are paying tribute to the photographer Bohumil Dobrovolský, who died on Wednesday at the age of 89. He is best known for his photographs documenting the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

Bohumil Dobrovolský (1935-2024), who died on Wednesday at the age of 89, was born in Libčice nad Vltavou in what was then Czechoslovakia. He was a photographer interested in live reportage photography. Between 1960 and 2024, he held dozens of solo and group exhibitions.

Soviet tanks in Vinohradská Street in August 1968 | Photo: archive of Bohumil Dobrovolský

Dobrovolský's most famous photographs are from the events of August 1968, which he documented in the streets of Prague with a ‘Minolta SR 7'. Early in the morning of August 21 he ran out into the streets of Prague and captured the dramatic events outside Czechoslovak Radio and the National Museum. In an interview for Czech Radio years later, Dobrovolský recalled what it was like to take the photographs:

"I was drawn into what was happening to such an extent that I did not feel any fear. They were driving people out of the building with machine guns. I had one pressed against my stomach a number of times during the day. I pushed one of the soldiers away and I shouted at him ‘If your mom saw you now, she would choke you.’ I spit in the face of another. I was thirty-three years old at the time. So, I should have known better, but I am, as I say, addicted to photography."

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 | Photo: archive of Bohumil Dobrovolský/Exhibition Soviet Invasion/August 1968

One of Dobrovolský's unique photographs of the time is when he accidentally captured among the participants in a student hunger strike after the self-immolation of Jan Palach, the 18-year-old Jan Zajíc. Zajíc later also burned himself to death on Wenceslas Square in protest against the growing apathy of the public to the Warsaw Pact invasion.

Dobrovolský’s 1968 photographs have been frequently exhibited since 1990. They could be seen in Sweden, Germany, Poland, Russia, France, Austria, USA, Hungary, Romania, Holland, and in Czechia in museums, galleries, schools and talks with screenings. In total, 60 exhibitions of his work have been organized.

Author: Jakub Ferenčík | Source: Český rozhlas
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