In Reclaiming Our Cultural Landscapes no. 1, Maxine talks about one image by photographer Josef Koudelka
Welcome to our series Reclaiming Our Cultural Landscapes where we asked photographers to write about a photograph or photographer who shaped either their photographic self, relationship with their cultural communities or communal heritage. Don’t miss the 2017 Festival which runs from 6 May to 7 June 2017, across the West Midlands at www.reclaimphotographyfestival.org.
Josef Koudelka, Slovakia (Jarabina), 1963, Printed 1967, gelatin silver print, © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos
There is an elegiac quality to the work of Josef Koudelka which has always resonated with me. Moments in time irrecoverably past, seem somehow to reach also into the present. In photographing the disenfranchised, those in exile, and those on the margins of society, Koudelka’s affinity for his subjects is evident through his sensitivity of portrayal.
This image, Slovakia (Jarabina), was taken in 1963 during a period of his life spent travelling through Roma, or Gypsy encampments and villages. This particular series of images have left an indelible imprint upon my memory, in an echo of my own ancestral lineage, and of my own wanderlust to roam.
In Jarabina, we are witness to a man who has been accused of murder. The composition and framing of the photograph is sublime. Tyre tracks draw the eye of the viewer to the neck of the young man, as if being led by a rope to his unknown fate. His body is contorted uncomfortably, and in being handcuffed his body shape resembles that of a coffin. Indeed, a parallel patch of ground assumes the form of a grave, ready to envelop him as he falls. The look of terror upon his face is juxtaposed by the nonchalant poses of the guards, and of the assembled villagers, with hands in pockets or arms folded, in silent contemplation. It is an image which challenges our perception of nationality, our sense of selves, and our sense of others.