In 1968, Alexander Dubček, recently elected head of the Communist Party, ushered in reforms during a period of liberalization that loosened restriction on free speech, media, and economic activity in the former Czechoslovakia. Unable to halt the march of these universal democratic values, the Soviet military turned to more aggressive means, deploying its forces into the streets of the nation’s capital to crack down on citizens exercising their fundamental rights to speak freely and assemble peacefully.
Photographer Paul Goldsmith, then only 19, rode into Prague on his Vespa on August 20, only a day before the Soviet tanks rolled into the city. Goldsmith spent the next day capturing images of the violent protests that ensued. He left the city late in the afternoon, riding his Vespa toward the West German border and the Associated Press office in Nuremberg.
It would be another 20 years before the Velvet Revolution allowed the Czech and Slovak people to shed the shackles of Soviet oppression. But the courage displayed by ordinary Czechoslovak citizens in August 1968 laid the groundwork for the Communist Party’s eventual collapse by exposing cracks in the Soviet system that could no longer go unnoticed.
Through his arresting images from the streets of Prague during that fateful August, Paul Goldsmith evokes this spirit of resilience that drove throngs of Czech citizens to stare down Soviet tanks in the name of liberty. His timeless photographs capture the hundreds of anonymous faces—some battered and blood-soaked, others youthful and resolute—united in their fierce determination to see freedom triumph over tyranny. The citizens captured in this volume were not mere witnesses to history—they helped make it.
—Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State
Matt and Stuart at The Image Flow have been working closely with Paul for some five years to scan and restore his work from August 1968. This has been a huge collaboration over the years, resulting in rich, full-tonal prints of Goldsmith’s compelling work. The images were printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl to capture the warmth of Goldsmith’s black and white work. The body of work, over 50 images, is called Prague 1968.
Goldsmith’s work will be on display in three different locations. Eight of his images will be hang at our own Gallery 291, with an opening reception June 7.
Sponsored by the American Embassy in Prague, the largest body of his work will be at The American Center, the cultural arm of the American Embassy in Prague, from late August 2014 through October 2014. The Image Flow printed 23 30×40 images for this show.
The Image Flow also printed 22 20×24 images for his show at the Krsny Ztraty, a well-respected cafe and gallery in Prague. The show opens September 17.
After so many years working on this project, it will be satisfying to see some of this work on our walls! Come by in June and see them for yourself, or if your travels take you to Prague in late August and September, go see them in the city where they were first created!
The price is also courage and persistence. The burning fire of Prague Spring was never extinguished despite the heavy hand of Soviet repression. Persistence and courage remained and the embers once again burn brightly.
Lessons from the past are too easily forgotten. Our memories need refreshments so that we may keep moving forward with freedom as our guide.
—George P. Shultz, Secretery of State
See more work and read Pauls’s incredible story on his website.