Josef Koudelka was born in 1938. He began photographing Gypsies in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. He also photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague, publishing his photographs under the initials P. P. (Prague Photographer) for fear of reprisal to him and his family. In 1969, he was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for those photographs.
Grattan Puxon recalls “”I travelled to Prague in the summer of 1968 shortly before the Soviet invasion. I went to meet Milena Hübshmannová with whom Josef was then living in a flat in the suburbs. Our plan was to travel in her car to Bratislava and other towns, as I wished to meet with Roma leaders in preparation for the 1st World Roma Congress (planned for London and eventually opening on 8 April 1971 – that day now kept as Roma Nation Day). I found the atmosphere very tense as I learned that the Dubček government was under increasing threat and that top Russian staff officers were already in the capital. Nevertheless we set off through the countryside, which appeared peaceful. Josef had his camera and a load of film, which I felt only added to the danger. Milena was able to point out with care that Czech army units were remaining in their barracks. We met up with Dr Jan Cibula, then working as the intern doctor at a factory. I brought him greetings from leading Roma in Paris, including Vanko Rouda, general secretary of the Comité Mondiale Tzigane . . . and from people in Jugoslavia, among them Slobodan Berberski, writer, and Fajk Abdi, head of Phralipe in Skopje and later an MP in the Macedonian Parliament. In Bratislava we met Anton Facuna, the engineer, who later wrote the Statutes for the International Romani Union . . . . They spoke of plans for creation of Roma unions and their wish to link up with the movement and take part in the planned congress. They were happy to hear from Yugoslavia as President Tito was supportive of Dubček and during the invasion gave him shelter in the Yugoslav Embassy. . . . Later, when I was living in Greece (and general secretary of the IRU [International Romani Union]) we heard that the Communist Party had forced the Roma unions to disband themselves. By then Dr. Cibula had fled into exile in Switzerland.”
Puxon remembers that at first, Josef seemed “quite shy but later to enjoy a few jokes with Milena,” noting, too, how “he always carried that huge stock of film. He told us he had 600 rolls on that trip. . . . Josef was always in khaki, jacket, and trousers. At least that’s how I remember him. Glasses, some days growth on his face and a grin for the world. Perhaps a challenge in that grin. Nobody would stop him from taking pictures.”