Josef Koudelka (b. 1938, Boskovice, Moravia) received a degree in engineering from the Technical University of Prague in 1961.
While working as an aeronautical engineer in Prague and Bratislava in the early 1960s, Koudelka obtained a Rolleiflex camera and began photographing stage productions for theater magazines. He later left the theater to pursue the documentation of gypsy life and culture in Romania, Slovakia, and Western Europe, turning to photography full-time in 1967.
In 1968, just two days after returning to Prague from Romania, Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague and the Czech resistance efforts. With the assistance of art historian and museum director Anna Farova, the resulting negatives were smuggled out of Prague and published by Magnum Photos in New York under the initials “P.P.” (Prague Photographer) to avoid reprisals to Koudelka’s family. Koudelka was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for these photographs in 1969, but did not publicly acknowledge authorship of them until 1985, following the death of his father.
Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970 to gain political asylum in England and lived there for more than a decade. He joined Magnum Photos Agency in 1971, continuing to travel Europe and photograph its landscape using awarded grant monies. Koudelka became a French citizen in 1987 and returned to Czechoslovakia in 1991 – following an absence of over two decades – to produce "Black Triangle," a project documenting the ravaged state of his native country’s terrain from French coal mining in the Ore Mountain foothills.
Koudelka is the recipient of numerous awards, including two grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain (1973, 1976), the Prix Nadar, France (1978), the United States National Endowment for the Arts Photography Grant (1980), the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation Photography Prize, Sweden (1992), and the Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2004).
Koudelka’s photographs have been exhibited internationally at institutions such as the International Center of Photography, New York; the Museum Folkwang, Essen; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Monographs of Koudelka’s work include: Gypsies (Aperture 1975), Exiles (Aperture 1988), Prague 1968 (Centre National de la Photographie 1990), The Black Triangle: The Foothills of the Ore Mountain (Vesmir 1994), Chaos (Phaidon 1999), Koudelka (Aperture 2006), and Invasion 68: Prague (Aperture 2008).
Koudelka lives and works in Paris, France.