After graduating, he moved to Hollywood, where an already impressive portfolio helped him get steady freelance work and a job at The Los Angeles Times. Since then, he has lived a life without borders as an attentive observer whose own harrowing story is perhaps what helps him tell the stories of others so well, although, he’s certainly not one for dwelling on himself.
“To be honest, I’ve never really paid any attention to it,” he says. “In reflecting on it now, I know that it’s definitely been a plus because I’m not afraid to go into a place and make it happen. I’m never uncomfortable. Mentally, I’m pretty strong because I grew up in a pretty violent environment. So if I go photograph in refugee camps or prisons, it’s like I’ve been there. I’m coming home. I know the mind-set. I understand it.”
Afghanistan, Angola, Cuba, Guatemala, Iraq, Mongolia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Rwanda, Venezuela, Zimbabwe— the list of places that Kratochvil’s career has taken him to over the years seems endless. His photographs tell stories about the hard living conditions, suffering, violence, poverty and desperation found in so many areas around the world. These are realities he knows well, as a former refugee himself who lived in isolated camps. Kratochvil’s work has appeared in numerous galleries and publications, and he has released five books.Left: Kratochvil covered the beginning of the Soviet War in Afghanistan in 1978. Ten years later, he returned just before the Soviets left to visit refugee camps. He took this photograph at a temporary hospital outside of Jalalabad where he saw this woman with her child. The boy had been burned by napalm and died shortly after Kratochvil took the picture.
Considering how many difficult places Kratochvil has traveled to, asking him to choose an assignment that was the most challenging or dangerous seems futile. But he doesn’t hesitate to say that the weeks he spent covering the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 for Fortune were the toughest and resulted in some of his most controversial work.