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Hearing from the Horse's Mouth

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It's always a treat to hear directly from an artist. But the experience is even better when the artist—in this case, Josef Koudelka—is so remarkably candid about his process, inspirations, and what makes good art.

Last night, Czech-born French artist Josef Koudelka—with Matthew S. Witkovsky, the Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and Amanda Maddox, assistant curator at the Getty Museum—spoke to a packed house in the Art Institute's Fullerton Hall. Visitors were welcomed by lively Romani music, in direct reference to Koudelka's early photographic series Gypsies (example above), for which he visited Roma populations for weeks at a time in his home country and later abroad over the course of years. Koudelka said that he's often asked why he chose to photograph gypsies and that he hoped that the entrance music provided the answer to that question.

Koudelka_student-on-tank

He also spoke extensively about what makes a good photograph—one that gets into your head and speaks to different people for different reasons—and his process for determining good photographs. He is an incredibly discerning editor of his own work, evaluating each image on a contact sheet and circling images that are the best or images that might have potential. He only publishes and puts his full name on his best images—the ones he eventually wants to be remembered for. In his words, there are "no great photographers, only great photographs."

And for all of you aspiring photographers, he offered some great final advice: discover what you love, photograph it, and buy good shoes. Now those are words to live by.

Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful opens tomorrow to the public and runs through September 14.

Image Credits:

Josef Koudelka. Romania, from the series Gypsies, 1968, printed 1980s. Promised gift of Robin and Sandy Stuart. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

Josef Koudelka. (Student on tank, eyes crossed out), from the series Invasion, August 21/27, 1968. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.