Josef Koudelka is a Czech-French photographer born January 10th, 1938 in Czechia. Koudelka graduated from the Czech Technical University in Prague in 1961 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Whilst in college Koudelka was an amutrue photographer on the side and liked to photograph the Prague theater and gypsies. The gypsies became a lifelong interest for Koudelka because he was drawn to their music and culture. He even spent extended periods living with them. By 1967 Koudelka quit engineering to become a full time photographer. He’s known most for his black and white photos covering the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968.
Koudelka’s photos captured the chaos of the war so well that he had to be smuggled out of the country and had to publish them anonymously under the name Prague Photographer (P.P) to protect himself and his family. He escaped to England, where he applied for political asylum and a spot at the Magnum Agency, a well known international photography company. Koudelka was afraid to go back to Prague in fear the government would learn he was the Prague Photographer but he wanted to broaden his horizons. He talked to the Magnum Agency in regards to what could happen if he and family were to suffer reprisals from his photos. This led Magnum to write a letter to the Czech Ministry of Culture giving Koudelka a grant to photograph gypsies across Europe. When the grant was over he didn’t go back home instead he continued traveling. Koudelka at one point even started to live like a gypsy. He would take his equipment, a sleeping bag and rucksack between different villages capturing their society and culture. He embedded himself so far into the culture the gypsies thought he was poorer than them.
Before I knew anything about Josef Koudelka this photo made me want to know more about the photographer. I want to know who would risk their life taking a picture during war so close to a battlefield. Who would stand so close to an army tank for a photo? This picture was taken during the invasion of Prague and it captures a man holding a flag standing on an army tank while there is destruction and smoke around him. You can also see dozens of people standing on the sidelines watching him. The photo is in black and white but completely captures the audience’s attention through the story behind it.
I believe the main subject in this photo is the guy on the tank seeing as they’re placed right in the middle which really draws the audience’s focus to it. However, I almost feel as though the negative space is just as important as the main focus. The negative space containing the smoke and the other citizens completes the story of what’s happening. It shows how authentic the photo is. It shows the chaos Prague fell into during the war. To add on, I like how the smoke creates a dark exterior around the man but the background is light. I feel like that brings your attention to the man as well. The sharpness and eye view angle also adds to the “dramatics” of the photo.