“I found myself outside Czechoslovakia, and decided to do something that I’d been unable to do whilst living there: see the world.” —— Josef Koudelka
Photographer Josef Koudelka’s most famous and celebrated work is the series of photographs he made during the “Prague Spring” in 1968. During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia had briefly drifted apart from the authoritarian regime in a move towards democracy. However, the short-lived political liberalization was forcibly ended when troops and tanks of the Soviet Union and several other Warsaw Pact members invaded the country to crush the reforms. While Milan Kundera documented the invasion with words in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Koudelka captured the moments through his lens. The photographs he captured made his career, but they also sent him into exile. Though Koudelka seems passive about his life in exile, the truth may well be the opposite.
Koudelka began photographing the roaming Gypsies when he was in university, and subsequently showcased these works in his 1975 publication, Gypsies. Akin to the gypsy communities he photographed, he lived a nomadic way of life without a fixed abode; he journeyed across Europe, wandering and all the while photographing. In 1988, he published Exiles which documents his years as an itinerant and stateless person. Koudelka once said that he does not pretend to be an intellectual or philosopher, he just looks. The power of looking is penetrating; from the black and white portraits, the most honest and blunt emotions of the photographer, the vitality and fragility of humanity, and the bareness and desolation of landscape are all brought to light.
一直以來Koudelka使用菲林拍攝，喜歡由拍攝到沖曬全盤由自己掌握的感覺，這是他渴望自由的一種方式。Koudelka曾在《The New York Times》的欄目LENS接受訪問時提到，因為全景菲林相機的種種限制，使他不得不放棄拍攝全景照片，直至Leica為他特製了S2數碼全景相機，並將相機調校至黑白的設定，讓他不需再帶著沉甸甸的菲林出外拍攝、不用花很多心思來沖洗，更不用花時間去找資助，而照片質素依舊是非常精密，也為拍攝帶來更多的可能性。他晚年拍攝的風景照片依舊是簡練有力，充滿歷史痕跡的宏偉建築也是體現人類存在的一種方式。
Koudelka has always shot with an analogue camera, as he likes taking control of the entire process from shooting to film developing; a manifestation of his yearning for freedom. In an interview with LENS, a section in The New York Times, Koudelka spoke of how the challenges with shooting panoramas on film camera had stopped him from taking panoramic photographs — that is until Leica crafted a one-of-a-kind S2 digital panoramic camera and set it on black and white for him to use. As a result, he no longer needs to carry around heavy films when he is out shooting, nor spend time developing his photographs, or being dependent on sponsorships. The digital camera is thought to be much more precise, which in-turn gives him more freedom and flexibility when it comes to his work. The landscape photography he did in his later years are still very concise and powerful, and the magnificent buildings filled with traces of history somehow reflect upon human existence.
這篇訪問裡最讓人深刻的是Koudelka說，他從吉卜賽人身上學到沒有東西是永恆的，不過份地擔憂未來，不為賺取金錢而浪費太多時間。可是，他的作品卻成為了一個又一個的永恆，把歷史裡的人文風景定格下來。Josef Koudelka的《流放》系列和1980年代中期拍攝的全景照片，一共68件作品現於德國Ernst Leitz Museum Wetzlar展出，展覽名為《Exiles and Panoramas》，展期至8月23日。正如他所說，當人老了便會感到時間是生命裡唯一擁有的東西，所以把時間花在自己喜歡的事情上，還有看看這世界，就是他Koudelka的攝影本質吧。
The most inspiring thing from the LENS interview is the lesson Koudelka learnt from the Gypsies — Nothing is permanent. One should not worry much about the future, and particularly not to waste time worrying about money. Ironically, Koudelka’s works have become “permanent” one after another as they capture the cultural landscape at that specific historical moment. A selection of 68 pieces from Josef Koudelka’s Exiles series, and also the panorama series he started taking since the mid-1980s are currently on display at the Ernst Leitz Museum in Wetzlar, Germany. The exhibition is called “Exiles and Panoramas”. It will run until 23 August. As Koudelka said, as people get old, they get to feel that time is the only thing you have in life. For that, spending time on things he likes, and getting to see the world might well be the entire essence of Koudelka’s photography.