When asked to cite a photographer whose work and books interest me the most I usually mention Josef Koudelka and Robert Frank. The urge to say both names at once is strong. More often though I will pull one of Josef's books off the shelf than Mr. Frank's. Still it's a close call.
Aperture has just published a retrospective book of Josef's work called simply Koudelka. As usual, anything new published on Josef will be added to my shelf and this title was no exception. It is beautifully produced and houses 158 images. The reproductions are well done and the design allows them to be seen clearly. The paper stock is nice and thick. For anyone not familiar with his work, this title would serve as the best introduction.
Being a retrospective book it covers his whole career divided into chapters: the early work including panoramics (I believe cropped medium format images unlike the actual long frame cameras he would utilize later) through experiments (high contrast works) and theater work and continues with chapters on Gypsies, Prague, Exiles and Chaos. The later chapters contain the recognizable images for those familiar with his other books.
My only problem with the book is the lack of images that I haven't seen before. I might dismiss this criticism because the book is serving as a retrospective but I can't help wanting more from an artist of his caliber when something this substantial is created.
It is known that he is very controlling (as perhaps one should be) of his archive. Several years ago he stopped his dealers from selling his prints. He hides his identity on some images with a photo credit that just reads "JK." Granted that is not hard to figure out but he definately seperates them into a lesser worth staus. Why however have images like the following not made it into a publication?
Perhaps, like with other artists, it is hard to look back at older work. One wants their newer images to be at the forefront of attention and looking back may seem like stagnation. His interest for the last dozen years has been in using the long frame cameras which I also admire. But I can still hope that one day I'll be able to crack the spine on a book's worth of the unseen Josef Koudelka photographs. The work exists. It is good. It wouldn't dilute the known work. I can't see how it would be a detriment to publish it.
So, please Josef, lighten up on the reins.
Book Available Here
Book Available Here