25 Josef Koudelka Quotes: The Importance of Looking

If you’re looking for the best Josef Koudelka quotes, then you’ve come to the right place.

A documentary and landscape photographer, Josef Koudelka first came to international prominence as the anonymous Czech photographer who chronicled the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The images he produced were eventually smuggled out of Prague and published in the Sunday Times.

Thematically, his work reveals humanity from the depths of chaos, portraying ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and conflicts. Throughout his lengthy career he has established himself as the foremost chronicler of the changing landscape of Europe.

In this article, we’ll be sharing 25 of the best Josef Koudelka quotes. If you find the quotes helpful then we would be grateful if you could share the article with other photographers.

Josef Koudelka Quotes

I try to be a photographer. I cannot talk. I am not interested in talking. If I have anything to say, it may be found in my images.

I would like to see everything, look at everything, I want to be the view itself.

When I first started to take photographs in Czechoslovakia, I met this old gentleman, this old photographer, who told me a few practical things. One of the things he said was, “Josef, a photographer works on the subject, but the subject works on the photographer.

I don’t pretend to be an intellectual or a philosopher. I just look.

What matters most to me is to take photographs; to continue taking them and not to repeat myself. To go further, to go as far as I can.

Josef Koudelka Quotes 1

The Work

I photograph only something that has to do with me, and I never did anything that I did not want to do. I do not do editorial and I never do advertising. No, my freedom is something I do not give away easily.

I never accepted any assignment, never photographed for money. I took photographs just for myself.

My work has no theme. I don’t care if my photographs get published, and I have no interest in “the news.” But the invasion of Prague was not news, it was my life.

[My] photographs are proof of what happened. When I go to Russia, sometimes I meet ex-soldiers… They say: “We came to liberate you….” I say: “Listen, I think it was quite different. I saw people being killed.” They say: No. We never… no shooting. No. No.” So I can show them my Prague 1968 photographs and say: “Listen, these are my pictures. I was there.” And they have to believe me.

The changes taking place in this part of Europe are enormous and very rapid. One world is disappearing. I am trying to photograph what’s left. I have always been drawn to what is ending, what will soon no longer exist.

Personally, I have had the good fortune of always being able to do what I wanted, never working for others. Maybe it is a silly principle, but the idea that no one can buy me is important for me. I refuse assignments, even for projects that I have decided to do anyhow. It is somewhat the same with my books. When my first book, the one on the gypsies, was published, it was hard for me to accept the idea that I could no longer choose the people to whom I would show my photos, that any one could buy them.

It never seemed important to me that my photos be published. It’s important that I take them. There were periods where I didn’t have money, and I would imagine that someone would come to me and say: “Here is money, you can go do your photography, but you must not show it.” I would have accepted right away. On the other hand, if someone had come to me saying: “Here is money to do your photography, but after your death it must be destroyed,” I would have refused.

I don’t like captions. I prefer people to look at my pictures and invent their own stories.

By [photographing theater] the same way I photograph real life, I learned to see the world as theater. To photograph the theater of the world interests me more… With the gypsies, it was theater, too. The difference was that the play had not been written and there was no director – there were only actors… It was the theater of life… All I had to know was how to react.

Devastation is photogenic.

Koudelka, Invasion
Prague Warsaw Pact tanks invade. Prague, Czechoslovakia. August, 1968. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Koudelka on Technique

Sometimes I photograph without looking through the viewfinder. I have mastered that well enough, it is almost as if I were looking through it.

…photography was easier in the beginning. It’s like a dart game: at the beginning, you can toss them anywhere, they will always be well placed. Wherever you hit is the right place. But once you start building something, you realize that certain pieces are missing.

Listen, I have never had any hero in my life or in photography. I just travel, I look and everything influences me.

When I photograph, I do not think much. If you looked at my contacts you would ask yourself: “What is this guy doing?” But I keep working with my contacts and with my prints, I look at them all the time. I believe that the result of this work stays in me and at the moment of photographing it comes out, without my thinking of it.

Koudelka, Pilgramage
Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage. Ireland. 1972. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Quotes for Better Photography

If I couldn’t shoot lots of photos, I would not be the photographer that I am. Still, the cost of film has often been a problem. At times, to save money, I had to work with remainders of movie-film, and even to buy film that was stolen. But when I have only three rolls of film left in my bag, I panic.

I have to shoot three cassettes of film a day, even when not ‘photographing’, in order to keep the eye in practice.

What I needed most was to travel so that I could take photographs.

I never stay in one country more than three months. Why? Because I was interested in seeing, and if I stay longer I become blind.

I am not interested in repetition. I don’t want to reach the point from where I wouldn’t know how to go further. It’s good to set limits for oneself, but there comes a moment when we must destroy what we have constructed.

If I am dissatisfied, it’s simply because good photos are few and far between. A good photo is a miracle.

Koudelka, Exiles
Portugal. 1976. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

What’s your Favorite Josef Koudelka Quote?

Have a favorite Josef Koudelka quote from the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. Also, don’t forget to share it with others through the usual channels (social media, forums, websites, etc).

To learn more about Koudelka’s photography, we recommend reading checking out his photographer profile on Magnum’s website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Visit the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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