by Steve Bisson

Josef Koudelka, one of the world’s most acknowledged masters of photography, a member of Magnum Photos and the winner of prestigious photography prizes, who has to date shown his work in major centres of photography and contemporary art around the world, is to be presented in Slovenia for the first time at the Jakopič Gallery. Between 20 May and 3 September, the Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012 exhibition will be on display within the framework of the Month of Photography 2014 and the pan-city project Emona 2000. The show will also be accompanied by a varied programme.

© Josef Koudelka, book 'Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012’

According to the curator Marija Skočir, ‘Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012’ is an exhibition comprising monumental black-and-white panoramic photographs taken by Josef Koudelka during the mentioned time span in 19 countries by the Mediterranean Sea while he was visiting over 200 ancient Greek and Roman archaeological sites. The exhibition offers an insight into a unique and intimate research journey which has not yet come to an end: Koudelka continues to visit archaeological sites in Greece, Turkey, Tunis, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and other Mediterranean countries where he, displaying limitless perseverance and requiring little help, documents ruins from a different, entirely individual vantage point.

© Josef Koudelka, Atene, Greece,1991

© Josef Koudelka, book 'Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012’

In his photographs, Koudelka preserves the world we are leaving behind and losing sight of. However, he does not do this as a photojournalist nor is he driven by a wish to create documentary photographs. Koudelka records monuments, those mighty traces of man’s activity, in periods of the day which allow them to appear in their innermost essence and in the complete absence of any live presence around them. The images convey the photographer’s experience of the monologue conveyed by the silence of the ruins, inviting the viewer to enter through the photographs into this world of glorious witnesses of the past.

© Josef Koudelka, book 'Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012’

The photographs are taken with a panoramic camera, an item employed by Josef Koudelka ever since 1986 when he participated in the DATARphotographic mission. He later also used it during the Transmanche expedition and in projects such as Chaos. It is only in the last few years that the artist has been using a digital camera adjusted to the panoramic format.

© Installation views Jakopič Gallery; photo: Matevž Paternoster/MGML

The show to be staged in the Jakopič Gallery innovatively presents the photographs as spatial elements positioned on the gallery floor, i.e. embedded in a pattern marking the layout of the ancient Emonan buildings that once stood at the site of the present-day gallery. Making visitors feel as if they are strolling through archaeological remains, they highlight both horizontal and vertical lines deriving from the structural elements of the squares, fora, cities, buildings and building elements of ancient civilisations. Arranged in this way, the photographs interact with the large panoramic photographs hanging on the gallery walls. After viewing these, visitors can observe a projection of 300 photographs which cannot yet be put on display. The projection complements the photographer’s journey which has still not come to an end, with the artist not being aware of the true impulse that makes him return to the same places time and again:“Basically, what dominates is an attraction to beauty, the solitude in beauty – a beauty that encourages and feeds reflection. It’s this beauty that has attracted me for the past 21 years, and leads me to visit the same places several times. Each time I try and capture the place better than I did on the previous visit.”

© Josef Koudelka, Amman, Jordan, 2012

© Josef Koudelka, book 'Sledi / Vestiges 1991–2012’

The focus will also be on book publications which account for a significant part of the artist’s work, thereby rounding off the insight into his brilliant career as a photographer. Visitors will be able to flip through some of Koudelka’s fundamental photo monographs. As an introduction to the exhibition, there will be a display case containing the “Teatro del Tempo” monograph which presents one detail of a topic that is more extensive yet similar to Vestiges: in it, Koudelka has published photographs of archaeological remains and patterns created by landscapes and buildings taken between 2000 and 2003 in the Eternal City of Rome, where they were later put on display as part of the FotoGrafia festival.

Since the Vestiges project has not yet finished, the exhibition has no catalogue. However, the Jakopič Gallery, in co-operation with the photographer, has published a boutique volume designed and printed in Slovenia at an extremely affordable price containing 20 key photographs of the Vestiges 1991−2012 series, which should not be missing from the bookshelves of any true collector of Josef Koudelka’s publications.


Jakopič Gallery