Desolate Beauty: Josef Koudelka’s Industrial Landscapes
The Magnum photographer finds a visual poetry in post-industrial rural landscapes
Josef Koudelka started using a camera in panoramic format in 1986 while participating in the photographic mission of the Interministerial Delegation for Regional Planning and Development (DATAR), whose objective was to “represent the French landscape of the 1980s”. He thus criss-crossed France, then the entire world, to take stock of modern humanity’s influence on landscape.
These images bear witness to major human works, ranging from factories to quarries, or enormous mining complexes and abandoned zones. They carry the reader into inaccessible and little-known areas, between sublime and disarray, to witness the imposing reality of industry that we try now to erase.
A new book, published by Xavier Barral, brings together 40 of these panoramic images, selected by Koudelka with the help of the former director of Les Rencontres d’Arles François Hébel. The below is an extract from an essay by Hébel, which is published in the book, which gives an overview of Koudelka’s photographic journey and his fascination for industrial landscapes over 30 years.
"Over and above their beauty, these photographs confront the issue of the massive transformation of the landscape brought about the Industrial Revolution."
- François Hébel
“Koudelka’s regular encounters with the world of industry might be fortuitous, but it has often been where he has found the landscapes that excite him. When a place inspires him, when a photo is ‘waiting’ for him, he goes back several times and then makes his choice from numerous views of the same place. The result of these 30 years of wandering and photographing landscapes is a collection of exceptional images, as well as testimony to industry’s transformation of the land that no other photographer before him had ever carried out. He finds in these grandiose sites the subject matter for an extraordinary collection of spectacular graphic constructions in a format that few photographers have tackled successful.
"I was always trying to find beauty in places where others don’t see it"
- Josef Koudelka
‘I was always trying to find beauty in places where others don’t see it. Without taking up the environmental cause, I am pleased if my photographs draw attention to their violation. I love photographing contemporary landscapes, but photographing my contemporaries interests me less.’
"It contains poetic drama, the projection of an uncompromising toughness, including towards himself, along against the elements. "
- François Hébel
Over and above their beauty, these photographs confront the issue of the massive transformation of the landscape brought about the Industrial Revolution. From this serious and powerful opus, the fruit of hours of observational walking, of osmosis, emerges an emotion unequalled in photography. It contains poetic drama, the projection of an uncompromising toughness, including towards himself, along against the elements. His unique way of looking at the planet is a matter of combat; there is rage, a gnawing need to recreate characteristics, lines of strength, mastery in the violent, anarchic disorder brought about by the needs of modern humanity.” – François Hébel