INsight Artist, 2013
“Forty years have gone by, and I do not remember them nor they me. You cannot rely on your memories—but you can rely on your pictures.” —Josef Koudelka
Josef Koudelka was thirty years old in 1968. He had committed himself to photography as a full-time career only recently, and had been chronicling the theater, and the lives of gypsies, but he had never photographed a news event. That all changed on the night of August 21, when Warsaw Pact tanks invaded the city of Prague, ending the short-lived political freedom in Czechoslovakia that came to be known as the Prague Spring. In the midst of the turmoil of the Soviet-led invasion, Koudelka took to the streets to document this critical moment.
The year 1968 was fraught with change, at times as violent as it was revolutionary. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, the Tet Offensive, antiwar protests throughout the United States, U.S. athletes giving a Black Power salute at the Olympics, student riots on the streets of Paris and Mexico City, the brutal execution of a Vietcong prisoner—so many events of that year are iconically embedded in the cultural consciousness. Czechoslovakia too was undergoing radical changes. Koudelka’s documentation of the invasion that terminated his country’s recently achieved freedoms, and the remarkable resistance of the Czech people, is as riveting as the strength and courage it portrays.
Koudelka’s photographs of the invasion were miraculously smuggled out of the country. A year after they reached New York, Magnum Photos distributed the images, but credited them to an unknown Czech photographer to avoid reprisals. The intensity and significance of the images earned the still-anonymous photographer the Robert Capa Award. Sixteen years would pass before Koudelka could safely acknowledge authorship.
The exhibition, Invasion 68 Prague, is comprised of images personally selected by Josef Koudelka from his extensive archive. Conceived as an installation, it features large-scale prints as well as related texts.
Josef Koudelka (born in Moravia, Czech Republic, 1938) is the recipient of the Prix Nadar, Grand Prix National de la Photographie, Grand Prix Cartier-Bresson, and Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. Major exhibitions of his work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, New York; Hayward Gallery, London; Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam; and Palais de Tokyo, Paris. In 2007, Aperture published his bestselling self-titled monograph. He is a member of Magnum Photos.