by Stuart Alexander
1938 Born January 10 in Moravia (Czechoslovakia).
yak. 1952 Introduced to photography by his father’s friend, a baker, he begins to photograph his family and friends, using a bakelite camera.
1956-61 Studies engineering at the Technical University, Prague.
Acquires an old Rolleiflex.
Meets the photographer and critic, Jirí Jenícek, who encourages him to make his first exhibition at the Semafor theater in Prague in 1961.
1961 At the opening of the exhibition at the Semafor theater, he meets Anna Fárová, an important figure in Czechoslovakian photography, who becomes a friend and collaborator.
Travels abroad for the first time to Italy as a musician in a group of folk dancers and folk musicians.
Begins to photograph gypsies in Czechoslovakia.
Contributes as a freelance photographer for Divadlo (Theater) magazine.
1961-67 Works as an aeronautical engineer in Prague and Bratislava.
1963 Meets Markéta Luskacová, a social science student who begins to photograph gypsies in Czechoslovakia.
1965 Invited by Otomar Krejca, the director of the Divadlo Za Branou (Theater Behind the Gate), he begins to photograph performances there.
Becomes a member of the Union of Czechoslovakian Artists.
1967 Resigns from engineering post to become a full-time photographer.
Receives the Union of Czechoslovakian Artists annual award “for the innovative quality of his theater photography.”
Shows the photographs of gypsies for the first time in his exhibition, Cikáni---1961-1966, Divadlo Za Branou, Prague (Cikáni means gypsies in Czech).
1968 Travels to Romania with gypsy specialist, Milena Hubschmannová, to photograph gypsies.
Returns to Prague the day before the Warsaw Pact armies’ invasion of the city. He photographs the confrontations between Czechoslovaks and Soviets wherever they occur and daily life in the streets throughout this tumultuous period.
1969 His photographs of the events of 1968 in Prague are smuggled out of the country and find their way to the United States. Without mentioning Koudelka’s name, Magnum distributes the photographs that are published in most of the major international news magazines. The story “by an anonymous Czech photographer” is awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal. Elliott Erwitt, then president of Magnum Photos, makes a short film of animated stills from these photographs for CBS News.
The Divadlo Za Branou theater group from Prague invited him to accompany them to the Aldwych Theatre in London and to exhibit some of his theater photographs in the foyer of the theater. It was his first visit to England.