So forty years ago last month Soviet tanks rolled into Prague for reasons perhaps slightly too complicated for us to go into here, and right now (through 10/30) the Aperture Foundation’s gallery on 27th Street in Chelsea is featuring works from the Aperture Foundation’s new publication Invasion 68 Prague, a compilation of photographs taken by the then-30-year-old inexperienced photojournalist Josef Koudelka (though the photos were for many years circulated without an attribution, for fear of repercussions).
The photos are astonishing, as you might expect; one consistent source of astonishment is the crowds of Czech citizens gathering in squares or around doorways, mobbing Soviet tanks — a foreign power invaded their city and everybody went outside. The atmosphere in the photos is dire and confusing but ultimately inspiring, too, for that sense of consequence and participation. The show, which is extremely well-curated, integrates a looping video of still photos and newsreel-style footage; photos of flyers and graffiti tacked to the walls; texts of official statements, radio addresses, newspaper accounts and the like; and photos in all sizes and configurations. You’re looking at the pictures while also absorbing a sense of total cultural participation, and you come away from the exhibit maybe understanding why the Czechs, when they finally had the chance to elect their own leader again, elected a playwright.