An extensive retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague was born on the occasion of the unusually generous gift of Josef Koudelka to his native country and is also a celebration of the eightieth birthday of this prominent personality of contemporary world photography.
The exhibition is chronologically organized into seven chapters, according to individual thematic cycles. The first cycle is a collection of rare original author's magnifications from the late 1950s and early 60s with the title "The Beginnings" that Koudelka prepared for his first exhibition in 1961 at Semafor Theater. This is followed by a series of early studies called "Experiments" that are important to understanding the originality of Koudelka's work. Two other themes originated in parallel - the main Koudelka topic Gypsies, a collection of photographs that is today considered to be the classic work of world photography. The "Theater" cycle represents extreme stylization of the form, distinctive graphic images, which became an unmistakable author's handwriting in the framework of the theater photography at that time. An important role in the life of Koudelka was played by the extensive report of Invasion 68, which was why he was forced to leave his homeland in 1970. For twenty-five years, a cycle called Exily was created, images capturing the feelings of alienation, expulsion, and the impossibility of returning. The last part is a monumental panorama, large-format photographs, which represent three decades of mapping the influence of man on the contemporary landscape.
Josef Koudelka's photography is nowadays highly prized for its high artistic value, and because Koudelka has never produced enlargements in large editions, and some of the older photos are just a few magnifications. This fact greatly contributes to the uniqueness of the ensemble dedicated to UPM in Prague, which becomes one of the few institutions that has such an extent in its collections and management of Koudelka's work. Among the major museum collections where the author's work is also located include the Pompidou Center and La Maison de la Photographie in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Victoria Albert Museum , London.
The exhibition includes a comprehensive photographic publication in the KANT publishing house, enriched with extensive documentary material and texts by six authors, Stuart Alexandra, Josef Chuchma, Jan Mlčoch, Josef Moucha, Tomáš Pospěch and Irena Šorfová, and Anne Fárová's periodical from 1967.
The KOUDELKA: RETURNS exhibition is in a sense Koudelka's return to his homeland, even though he continues to remain the globetrotter, who is constantly on the road, where he is photographing or preparing his projects. During his lifeless work, he repeatedly returns to his photographs, as he has repeatedly returned over the years to the same places, to the same topics or motifs to get his best photo. Twenty-five years ago, the Exila cycle began, as well as twenty-five returned to places around the Mediterranean, resulting in the Vestige panorama photo project. Koudelka's work is in time, and even after thirty or forty years he gives the author the sense of returning to him and publishing new publications that are still up to date.
During his life, the author always went his way, was not subject to external influences or artistic directions. He crossed the boundaries of various forms of expression, from reportage, through graphic photography, to poetic documentary, to fine art large-format images. He has always transformed his manuscript and subordinated to the subject. Josef Koudelka undoubtedly belongs to the most important contemporary personalities of the world photography, is classified as humanistic documentary photography, although it is difficult to place this prominent personality anywhere. Many photographers create good individual photos, but there are not many who leave an unmistakable human message with all of their work.
The Photographic Collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is the largest collection of Czech photography, which is continuously presented at dozens of domestic and international exhibitions. The gift of Josef Koudelka is quite exceptional. In addition to the frames of František Drtiko and Josef Sudek, which were also donated to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Josef Koudelka's collection will be one of the most important sets of world photography in Czech collections.