Josef Koudelka was born in 1938 in Boskovice, Moravia. He began photographing his family and the surroundings with a 6 x 6 Bakelite camera.He began taking commissions from theatre magazines, and regularly photographed stage productions at Prague’s Theatre Behind the Gate on a Rolleiflex camera. In 1967, Koudelka decided to give up his career in engineering for full-time work as a photographer. He had returned from a project photographing gypsies in Romania just two days before the Soviet invasion, in August 1968. He witnessed and recorded the military forces of the Warsaw Pact as they invaded Prague and crushed the Czech reforms. He was a nomad at heart and continued to wander around Europe with his camera and little else.
Desolation, waste, departure, despair and alienation are common themes in his work. His characters sometimes seem to come out of fairytales. Still, some see hope within his work — the endurance of human endeavor, in spite of its fragility. His later work focuses on the landscape removed of human subjects. He became a full Member of Magnum in 1974. Quote: “The maximum, that is what has always interested me.”