In May 1970, Josef Koudelka left Czechoslovakia, fearing persecution ( because of his photographs of the 1968 Soviet invasion, published all over the world ) never to look back.
Began a period of exile that would last for the next sixteen years, taking him away from his native land, family and friends.
He became a foreigner everywhere he went, travelling throughout Europe, sleeping most of the time outdoors, living a frugal life with only the bare essentials. He learned enough English, French, Spanish and Italian to be able to make friends wherever he went, returning to the same places again and again, at the same time continuing to photograph the Gypsies, his first passion.
This life of exile came to characterize Koudelka, solitary traveler, free man and free photographer, symbolizing in a way the very romantic figure of the artist as we would like to imagine him, forgetting that it is condition he rarely chooses.
As stated in the book’s introduction: “Exil destroys you, but if it fails to destroy you, it makes you stronger”. And so do the subjects in his photos always appear: strong. They do not look like victims but like proud people living difficult lives with great dignity.
Obviously Koudelka recognized and admired their strength and freedom that had become a part of his own life.