In the August of 1968, crowds of Soviet tanks rolled into the shining capital of Prague, marking the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. This historical event, which would change the lives of the Czech people for years to come, has come to be known as The Prague Spring. During the invasion, one young man took to the streets, armed with nothing more than his camera, with which he would record the devastating events. This man’s name was Josef Koudelka.
Koudelka was born in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic (then known as Czechoslovakia) in 1938. He began taking photographs at an early age, mostly of his family and his surroundings. At school he studied engineering, earning a degree in 1961, but he later gave up his career in engineering in order to pursue his true passion: photography.
Koudelka’s photographs are striking and emotional. In the early 1960s, he did a series entitled Gypsies (Czech: Cikáni), in which he recorded the lives of Gypsies and Roma people from various European countries. If you are curious about this fascinating collection of photographs, you can read more about it here.
His dramatic photos of significant events and occurrences have become international symbols. But the publication of such bold and poignant photographs came at a cost.
After he anonymously published the photographs of the Soviet invasion in 1968, Koudelka feared reprisals. Despite the fact that the photographs of the Prague Spring had been published anonymously, Koudelka left his country in May of 1970, in order to avoid retribution for the controversial photo series, which he entitled Invasion.
“I was afraid to go back to Czechoslovakia because I knew that if they wanted to find out who the unknown photographer was, they could do it.” – Josef Koudelka
If you wish to see more of Koudelka’s photographs from the Prague Spring, be sure to check out our post The Prague Invasion of 1968.
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