Exiles | Wall is the first exhibition of the works of legendary photographer Josef Koudelka in the Netherlands in forty years. Koudelka’s eventful life largely determined the subject matter of his photography. In 1970, he fled his native country and then lived in exile for more than 20 years. During this time, he wandered through Europe taking photographs and became affiliated with the photo agency Magnum Photos. His lifestyle, the landscapes he crisscrossed, and his encounters with people led to his unique photographic style that expresses a feeling of emptiness, loss and disorientation.
Two projects that exemplify this very clearly are his Exiles and Wall. Exiles depicts his 20 years of wandering through Europe. For Wall, he began in 2007 to capture the impact on the landscape of the wall between Israel and the West Bank.
Although both projects came about in other times and in different places, their themes are the same: banishment, exclusion and suppression. Due to this strong similarity in content, these projects are now, and for the first time, being presented together in the Nederlands Fotomuseum. This exhibition provides not only insight into the work of this exceptional photographer but is also expressly intended to reflect our own era in which migration and the building of walls between peoples is highly relevant once again.
Josef Koudelka (born in 1938 in Czechoslovakia, later obtained French citizenship) acquired world fame with his photo reportage of the Soviet Union’s brutal invasion of Prague in 1968. This series was smuggled out of the country, published in international media and earned him the Robert Capa Award although his name had to be kept secret at first for his and his family’s safety. He fled his country in 1970 and remained stateless for a long time thereafter. It was during this time that he travelled throughout Western Europe and took pictures of people, places and landscapes that he saw along the way.
In 1988, a selection of photographs dating from this period was published in Exiles, a book of photographs that provides a powerful expression of displacement. This exhibition displays a substantial choice of photographs from the 3rd revised and expanded edition of Exiles that was published in 2014.
In 2008 Koudelka was invited with 11 other photographers to participate in a photography project entitled This Place. The project was intended to create an image of Israel that would go beyond the everyday political reality. Koudelka was impressed by the enormous wall that the Israeli government had built between Israel and the West Bank. While taking photographs, he visited both sides of the wall. His panoramic photographs from this project published in 2013 in the book Wall relate to his previous photography projects about the disrupted landscapes in Europe and that had already been published in a number of books. His photographs of the wall are primarily landscape photographs displaying the devastation of the land considered by many as the Holy Land. Also
resonating in his confrontation with the wall is his own personal history although Koudelka had never actually seen the heavily guarded border between Eastern and Western Europe during the time he was still living in Czechoslovakia. It was too dangerous to get anywhere near it.
Koudelka was not expressing a political standpoint with this photography series. In these photographs, the wall symbolises a way of approaching and dealing with conflicts typical of modern times. Koudelka likes to quote a graffiti text he encountered somewhere on the wall: ‘One wall, two prisons’.
The extensive panoramic series of photographs is presented in the form of a leporello, a unique artist book, composed of 35 photographs with a total length of 22 metres: a form of presentation that reinforces the concept of a solid wall. In another gallery, the same panoramic images are projected as enlarged images so that the visitor can experience a more physical relationship to the presence of the wall in the landscape.
Josef Koudelka – Exiles I Wall
Netherlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam
September 17, 2016 – January 15, 2017