2015-11-24

Exhibition dates: 10th September – 28th November 2015

The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in association with Fundación MAPFRE.

Curator: Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator Department of Photography of the Art Institute of Chicago

Without reminding myself every so often, you actually forget just what a master of photography Josef Koudelka is.

Looking at the installation photographs below, without knowing the names of the individual images, is instructive. Notice how graphically strong his organisation of the picture plane is. Usually one or two, three at the most, strong vertical or horizontal elements – dark on dark, light on dark; man and hovercraft; figures on pavement; women, tree and building; assemblages of objects and light.

I believe all of his work links back to his sense of the theatre of memory, whether it be the landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy or the psychological interior of the mind of his theatre characters as he portrays them through photography. From the mystery and exoticism of the Gypsies series, to the recording of history, time and conflict of the Invasion photographs (witness the Hand and wristwatch). From the metaphysical symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) in Exiles, which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience, to the destruction of ancient archaeological sites and depictions of places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time in his panoramic format photographs.

These theatres of the divine, theatres of the mind are ‘Theatres of Memory’ in which the 16th century Italian philosopher Guilio Camillo asks the question: How is the motion of the memory connected with the motion of history? How is the personal political?

Koudleka’s probing of this question is present in every one of his images. Through his inquiry “he maintains a total unity through the photographer’s vision.” The artist forms mental and physical images of the things he wants to remember, that he wants us to remember, using theatrical spaces… and his subjective thoughts bind us, closely, to collective memories.

“History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

Marcus

.

Many thankx to Fundación MAPFRE for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

“FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE presents the most complete retrospective exhibit up to this day dedicated to the Czech photographer of French nationality Josef Koudelka (n. 1938), member for the past forty years of Magnum Photos agency.

Engineer by profession, Koudelka became committed to the photographic medium in the middle of the sixties and became one of the most influential authors of his generation. Halfway between the artistic and documentary, Josef Koudelka is now a living legend. He has received prestigious awards in recognition of his work, among others, the Grand Prix National de la Photographie (1989), the Grand prix Cartier-Bresson (1991), and the International Award in Photography of the Hasselblad Foundation (1992).

This exhibition goes through his entire trajectory that covers more than five decades of work. The extense selection with more than 150 works reflects his first experimental projects produced at the end of the fifties and during the sixties, as well as his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles and reaching the great panoramic landscapes produced in the last years. In addition the exhibition includes important documental material, the majority unpublished -layouts, pamphlets, magazines of the period among others-, that allows us to delve into the work as well as the creative process of this author.

The title of the exhibition is Uncertain Nationality, which describes the sense of not belonging to a place, a sense of disorientation so present in his work since his exile from Czechoslovakia after the invasion of Prague, and his permanent interest in territories in conflict.”

Press release from Fundación MAPFRE



Entrance view of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid





Installation views of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Introduction

In the mid-1950s, when a new youth culture characterised by an open mindset was beginning to emerge in Czechoslovakia following the death of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and after two decades of brutal repression, Josef Koudelka (born in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and nationalised French) left his village in Moravia and moved to the capital, Prague. An aeronautical engineer by training, Koudelka became very actively involved in photography in the mid-1960s, contributing to the creative renaissance that took place in his native country.

Koudelka not only immortalised these years with his camera but also embodied them. He spent lengthy periods in gypsy encampments in Slovakia, he compulsively photographed actors during play rehearsals, and he mingled with demonstrators and soldiers in August 1968 in order to capture the invasion of Prague by the Soviet troops. When Koudelka went into exile shortly afterwardshe acquired the official status of “nationality doubtful”, becoming a stateless person as he was unable to produce documentation proving that he was born in Czechoslovakia. He refused to be intimidated by this situation, however, and continued to travel and take photographs, allowing gypsy communities and traditional and religious festivals to decide his destinations.

Koudelka settled in Paris in the 1980s and after the fall of Communism returned to Prague in 1990 where he now has a second home. Nonetheless, he continues to be a traveller, committed over the past twenty-five years to the creation of panoramic photographs that depict landscapes around the world which have been altered and often devastated by the hand of man.

This exhibition encompasses Josef Koudelka’s entire career, spanning more than five decades of work. The comprehensive selection of images on display includes his first experimental projects of the 1950s and 1960s and his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles, concluding with the great panoramic landscapes of recent years. In addition, visitors will see important documentary material, most of it previously unpublished and including layouts, leaflets and magazines of the period which contribute to a deeper understanding of this artist’s work and creative process.

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Early years + theatre

Early years and Experiments

Josef Koudelka was immersed in the ambiance of liberalization that occurred in Czechoslovakia after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 who had subjected the country to a brutal repression for two decades. Koudelka began to photograph professionally in 1958 and create a series of landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Right away, the camera accompanied him on all of his trips, which would herald his impulse to work as an independent photographer and nomad for more than forty years.

Koudelka dates his first serious photographic activity to 1958. Between that date and 1962 he produced a body of work which encompassed landscapes and outdoor views taken in Prague and during trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Travel and its associated discoveries were a permanent stimulus to his creativity as a photographer. During these early years Koudelka assiduously studied the possibilities of giving form to the photographic image before and after the actual shot was taken. Initially, he inclined to manipulation subsequent to exposure, such as cropping and the use of experimental techniques in the dark room.

The Theatre

In the 1960s Koudelka worked free-lance for the most important Czech theatrical companies, Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) and Divadlona Zábradlí (Theatre on the Balustrade). As such, he evolved a new way of photographing that involved the repetition and prior visualisation of the image. Working rapidly and close to the actors on the stage while they were rehearsing, Koudelka constantly moved around them until he had the desired image in his mind. The harsh, exaggerated theatrical lighting proved difficult to photograph, obliging him to force the development of his films with low exposures. Ultimately, a detail that interested him in an image might only occupy a small part of the negative and thus required significant blowing-up and laborious manipulation during the developing process in order to obtain a legible copy. Koudelka’s images of theatrical performances were used for promotional purposes and often appeared on the front cover and in the pages of the magazine Divadlo (Theatre).

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE Josef Koudelka website

Josef Koudelka

An Hour of Love by Josef Topol, Divadlo za branou [Theater behind the Door], Prague

1968

© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Theatre on the Balustrade, King Ubu (by playwright Alfred Jarry), Prague

1964

© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Alfred Jarry’s Uburoi, Divadlo na zábradlí, Prague

1964

Gelatin silver, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka

Czechoslovakia
1960

Gelatin silver, early print

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Gypsies

In 1961 Koudelka started to take photographs in villages and gypsy encampments. He initially continued with his habitual employment as an engineer but this photographic endeavour soon became a project that would define his artistic career and give rise to the series Gypsies. He returned again and again to around eighty different places in Slovakia and the Czech regions of Moravia and Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), principally between 1963 and 1970, taking thousands of photographs from which he selected various hundreds and finally a few dozen that he most preferred, entitling them with the name of the place where they were taken. The varied compositions – interiors, individual and group portraits, and landscapes – allow the subjects space to be themselves while maintaining a total unity through the photographer’s vision. These works also constitute views onto a world which seemed very exotic at that time, even for other Czechs and Slovaks, but which was nonetheless quite self-sufficient and as universally accessible as ancient myths.

The first exhibition of this series, held in the lobby of the Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) in Prague in March 1967, only included twenty-seven photographs. The twenty-two prints that have survived from that event are included in the present exhibition, mounted on their original panels and displayed as a group, as they were almost fifty years ago.

Josef Koudelka
Bohemia

1966

Gelatin silver, print 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Moravia (Strážnice)

1966

Gelatin silver, print 1967

Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia

1963

Gelatin silver, print 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of the artist

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Romania

1968

Gelatin silver, print 1980s

The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Robin and Sandy Stuart

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia

1963

Gelatin silver, print 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago, Amanda TaubVeazie Endowment and Photography Gala Fund

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Installation view of the Invasion section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Invasion

In August 1968, shortly after returning to Czechoslovakia after a trip to Rumania where he had gone to photograph gypsy encampments, Koudelka woke up early one morning to discover that the Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Union had invaded Prague. He immediately loaded his Exakta Varex camera with East German film and went out onto the street, tirelessly photograph the devastating occupation between 21 and 27 August. Koudelka climbed on tanks, encountered soldiers armed with machine guns (as did the demonstrators alongside him), and photographed the innumerable slogans and posters which appeared every day on the city’s walls and were then removed by the invading forces every evening. Koudelka penetrated into the heart of the resistance. A new era was dawning and his photographs became a powerful reminder of how that change first began.

His images became a document of the conflict and symbol of the spirit of the resistance movement. The rolls of film that he used to photograph the Prague struggle ended up in Western Europe illegally and the Koudelka images appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. Koudelka spent that winter editing his photographs, selecting just a handful from among thousands of images. Finally, the negatives were smuggled out to the United States and with the help of the Magnum Photos agency were distributed to magazines and newspapers around the world on the occasion of the first anniversary of the invasion in 1969. Prior to 1984, when they were publicly exhibited for the first time in London with Koudelka’s name attached to them, these images were published anonymously and only attributed to “P.P”, standing for “Prague Photographer”, in order to avoid possible reprisals against Koudelka and his family.

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on sidewalk, wearing jacket with target)

1968

Gelatin silver print, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on tank)

1968

Gelatin silver print, early print

The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of a private collector

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Hand and wristwatch

1968

Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968

Gelatin silver, print 1990

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Vinohradská Avenue

1968

Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968

Gelatin silver print, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
(Two Czech citizens with flag)
1968

Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Near the Radio Headquarters. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968

Gelatin silver print, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exiles

In 1970 Koudelka left Czechoslovakia for Great Britain, where he lived until he moved to France in 1980, obtaining French citizenship in 1987. During his years of exile he worked tirelessly, travelling during the spring and summer in order to photograph traditional festivals and gypsy events in various countries in Western Europe, principally the UK, Ireland, Italy and Spain, then retiring to his darkroom in the winter. During this period of his life Koudelka made numerous friends on his travels and through his association with Magnum Photos. He remained totally independent, however, refusing to rent an apartment or accept commissions in order to retain control of his artistic output and to be in complete charge of his agenda. His enigmatic photographs of these years evoke his own feelings of isolation through images of animals running free, lone figures, abandoned objects and displaced gypsies, although his work presents these feelings of solitude and distance in very broad terms.

Josef Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970 and petitioned to exile to the United Kingdom. While he was in exile, he continued to work throughout Europe on those routes marked by Gypsy religious festivals and folklore that are held annually. The alienation that he felt for not belonging to a nation is reflected in his Exiles work that shows symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience. Unclear nationality refers to the legal status that appears in the author’s travel documents each time he returned to the United Kingdom, his home base during the first decade of exile, since he did not have a Czechoslovakian passport and could not prove his birthplace.

The subjects in the series Exiles are not limited to a specific group or period, and while they are based on Koudelka’s own everyday experiences during his stateless period, they are more metaphysical than physical. Here autobiography and reportage maintain a relationship of productive tension.

Josef Koudelka
Still Life (Newspaper), France

1976

Gelatin silver, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France

1987

Gelatin silver, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Czechoslovakia
1968

Gelatin silver, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Ireland

1972

Gelatin silver, early print

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Panoramas

Since 1986 Koudelka has been taking photographs with panoramic cameras. His first project, commissioned by the Mission Photographique Transmanche, depicted the landscape of northern France affected by the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Since then he has used the broad panoramic format to depict places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time. The artist’s most recent panoramic photographs show important remains of past civilisations discovered on archaeological sites in twenty countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean.

Since 1986, Koudelka was using a panoramic camera. He uses this expanded format to show territories devastated by conflicts or altered with the passage of time. These images are the core of his impressive foldout publications such as Black Triangle or Chaos that shows scenery on the edge of ruins.

In 2007 Koudelka was invited along with eleven other photographers to take part in a project to explore the complex situation in Israel and Palestine. Despite his initial doubts, he accepted on the condition that he should be allowed to work as he wished and that he could focus on the wall in the West Bank and the area surrounding it on both sides. Having “grown up in Czechoslovakia, behind a wall”, Koudelka immediately pinpointed this barrier, with its physical, environmental and metaphorical connotations, as the subject that most interested him. This extensive system of concrete walls and barbed-wire fences allowed him to take full advantage of the broad panoramic format that he had been using since the 1980s, while the subject also gave him the opportunity to focus on the region’s landscape.

More recently, Josef Koudelka used this format to document the border of the West Bank and the territories that surround it such as the Negev desert or the Golan Heights. This work, Wall, urges the spectator to see the desolation of vast scenery dominated by walls, barbed-wire fences, access roads and borders. In the exhibition, there is a selection of copies from this work together with the book published in 2014. The panoramics are impressive objects that are between 1.2 and 1.8 m long. In these panoramics we perceive a scenery created by the man that tells his story, as well as the transformations that he has suffered due to human pillage, meaning: through his photographs we see man as creator and destroyer of the world.

Between 1991 and 2015, Josef Koudelka visited twenty countries bordering the Mediterranean, stopping at over two hundred Greek and Roman archaeological sites to create his series Archaeology. This was an unprecedented exploration which has not yet been completed – Koudelka keeps visiting archaeological sites in Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and other Mediterranean countries – searching not for the documents of the sites, but for the most perfect images of their existence.

Josef Koudelka
France (Nord Pas-de-Calais)

From the series Chaos, 1989

Inkjet, print 2013

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Lebanon (Beirut)

From the series Chaos, 1991

Gelatin silver, print 1999

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Jordan (Amman)
from the series Archaeology, 2012

Inkjet print, 2013

© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Josef Koudelka
Israel-Palestine (Al ‘Eizariya [Bethany])

From the series Wall, 2010
Inkjet, print 2014
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Fundación MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura

Paseo de Recoletos, 23

28004 Madrid, Spain
T: +34 915 81 61 00

Opening hours:

Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm

Monday 2.00 – 8.00 pm

Tuesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Wednesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Thursday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Friday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Saturday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Fundación MAPFRE website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

Filed under: beauty, black and white photography, documentary photography, exhibition, existence, gallery website, intimacy, landscape, light, memory, photographic series, photography, photojournalism, portrait, psychological, reality, space, street photography, surrealism, time, works on paper Tagged: Al 'Eizariya, Alfred Jarry Uburoi, An Hour of Love by Josef Topol, At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Black Triangle, Czech citizen on sidewalk, Czech citizen on tank, Czech photographer, Czech photography, Czechoslovakia, Divadlo na zábradlí, Divadlo za branou, Divadloza Branou, Exakta Varex camera, France (Nord Pas-de-Calais), Fundacion MAPFRE, Hand and wristwatch, How is the personal political, Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops, Josef Koudelka, Josef Koudelka Alfred Jarry's Uburoi, Josef Koudelka An Hour of Love by Josef Topol, Josef Koudelka At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Josef Koudelka Bohemia, Josef Koudelka Czech citizen on sidewalk, Josef Koudelka Czech citizen on tank, Josef Koudelka Czechoslovakia, Josef Koudelka France (Nord Pas-de-Calais), Josef Koudelka Hand and wristwatch, Josef Koudelka Ireland, Josef Koudelka Israel-Palestine, Josef Koudelka Jordan (Amman), Josef Koudelka Lebanon (Beirut), Josef Koudelka Moravia (Strážnice), Josef Koudelka Parc de Sceaux, Josef Koudelka Paris, Josef Koudelka Romania, Josef Koudelka Slovakia, Josef Koudelka Still Life (Newspaper), Josef Koudelka Theatre on the Balustrade, Josef Koudelka Two Czech citizens with flag, Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality, Koudelka Archaeology, Koudelka Black Triangle, Koudelka Chaos, Koudelka Early years + theatre, Koudelka Exiles, Koudelka Invasion, Koudelka Panoramas, Koudelka: Gypsies, madrid, Moravia (Strážnice), Near the Radio Headquarters, Prague, Prague Invasion, Prague Photographer, Romania, Slovakia, Still Life (Newspaper), Theater behind the Door, Theatre behind the Door, Theatre of Memory, Theatre on the Balustrade, Theatres of Memory, Two Czech citizens with flag, Uncertain Nationality, Vinohradská Avenue

Show more