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Czech-born photographer Josef Koudelka, a nomad who 'shapes the world' with his camera lens
Czech photographer Josef Koudelka looks at one of the photographs in his exhibit "Invasion 68 Prague", organized by the French Institute and the Czech Centre in Bucharest, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia, on October 17, 2013. The exhibition that presents the historical moments of Prague Spring in August 1968 will run until February 2, 2014. Forty-five years after capturing the Soviet invasion of Prague, Czech-born photographer Josef Koudelka says he is more interested in "shaping the world" with his camera lens than in front-page events. AFP PHOTO / ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI.

By: Mihaela Rodina

BUCHAREST (AFP).- Forty-five years after capturing the Soviet invasion of Prague, Czech-born photographer Josef Koudelka says he is more interested in "shaping the world" with his camera lens than in front-page events.

"A photographer's work is to have an opinion about things, about the world, and to react to the world," Koudelka, 75, said in an interview in French with AFP in Bucharest where an exhibition of his pictures has opened.

"What I do is look through my viewer and try to shape the world. As I do this, the world too is shaping me," he added.

The white-bearded, blue-eyed photographer said that in every country where he has travelled he was after events and people that were not necessarily newsworthy.

"The important thing is that I have touched upon the major topics of my times," he said, citing the gypsies, or Roma, as a subject to which he devoted himself in the 1960s, as well as environment-related topics.

Koudelka said his latest book, "The Wall", comprising panoramic landscape photos he made between 2008 and 2012 along the barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian territories, "is not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel but against the way man treats the Earth".

"To me, this wall is a crime against the landscape. People can defend themselves but the landscape cannot. There you have a landscape that is holy to a large part of mankind and they are destroying it," he sai

A self-confessed nomad who emigrated from then Czechoslovakia in 1970, Koudelka said he had never lived for more than three months in one country over the past 40 years.

"I don't really feel like a citizen of any country. I'm not Czech like the Czechs, and I have a French passport but I don't feel French like the French."

"Luckily, because I don't want to be like the others."

What he says he knows for sure is where he comes from. "It's southern Moravia. And I know I come from there because there you can find the best music in the world."

'What happened in Czechoslovakia was a tragedy'

In August 1968, the then aeronautical engineer had just returned from a trip to Romania where he had photographed gypsies when the Soviet tanks roared into the Czech capital, wanting to crush a reform movement known as the Prague Spring.

"What happened in Czechoslovakia was a tragedy both for the Russians and for myself because I was part of the same system, and what happened to them could have happened to me," he said.

His black and white pictures showing the occupation of the city by Soviet troops were smuggled out of Prague and published anonymously, for fear of reprisals, in the Sunday Times of London.

The shots that earned him a Robert Capa prize are part of the Bucharest show titled "Invasion 68 Prague".

"Maybe I was just a little idiot with a camera but I think I did a pretty good job," Koudelka said.

Back in his native country in 1990, after the fall of Communism, he said he felt as if he was "drunk", thrilled "to hear people speak Czech" around him.

"It was great to walk in the streets that I knew, to meet people, to look at their faces."

A man constantly on the move who put together 61 pictures taken between 1968 and 1987 in a book called "Exiles", Koudelka said he agreed with a friend who said: "If exile doesn't kill you it makes you stronger."

"Exile comes with two gifts. One is that you can build your life all over again."

"The second one is that if you have the chance to return, which I never thought I would have, you see things with completely different eyes."

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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