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September 29, 2004

Hungarian Photography Past and Present Pt. 1

One of the great pleasures of the web as a resource is having access to vast archives of interesting photography representing movements, genres, influential individuals, and even the output of entire countries, at least when put together by diligent, hard-working and (reasonably funded) archivists. One of my favorite examples discussed in the past was the Side Photographic Collection, and the Eggleston Trust has gotten off to a great start with its website devoted to William Eggleston's work and what has been written about him.

Another recent and pleasant discovery is the amount of good Hungarian photography online, available through two or three art and photography portals. I’ve never known much about Hungarian photography, and looking to certain big names (a/k/a the "great men/women" theory) to serve as a guideline doesn't work; highly prominent natives like Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Robert Capa left the country early and produced much of their greatest work and thinking elsewhere. Their output doesn't lend itself to pigeonholing obvious tendencies or trends in the photography coming out of their native country.

I had personally tended to lump what little I had seen from Hungarian photographers in the past with work from other Eastern European countries: a little bit of avant garde here, a little bit of surrealism there, and some hard-hitting photojournalism from rural areas as well, with Communism and its aftereffects providing the fuel. Horribly simplistic, I know -- there's more than just fiddlers, fat ladies, farms and photograms -- and there's clearly more nuance to be teased out on the intertwining of Hungary's political and cultural histories, given that the country occupies a more unique position in having been the subject of numerous upheavals historically, and yet managed to get through many of them and transition into capitalism and globalization (for better and for worse) more cleanly than a number of its neighbors.

I thought about some of this as I encountered the work of Tamas Nagy and Zsuzsanna Kemenesi online at the Blue Sky Gallery. Both Hungarian photographers with highly graphic work with mystical overtones. Their work can be admired on its own merits, without thinking much of country of origin…but nevertheless, I was curious enough to do some research.


Tamas Nagy tea-toned image

As it turns out, online image resources are substantial, as well as resources like the Hungarian Museum of Photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t found as much historical perspective (at least in English) provided in the form of essays or critique, but the photographic archives are substantial enough to provide at least a flavor for the wealth of photographic talent in Hungary dating back over a century.

1) A good place to start for an overview is this tour through some of the leading lights of Hungarian photography in the twentieth century (including giants like Moholy-Nagy and prominent but unknown photographers like Joszef Pecsi and Kalman Szollosy).


"Darling" Kalman Szollosy image

2) Then there's the project Taken In Hungary, which presents various images taken in Hungary by foreign photographers – a view from the outside looking in – which includes the contributions of notables like Sylvia Plachy, Inge Morath, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. (Warning: navigation through this project is a bit counterintuitive, but it's fascinating to see how many of these photographers used Hungary as a subject)

3) Move to the present, and check out the ample contributions of contemporary photographers and photographers working with alternative processes at the Foundation for Hungarian Photography, which is a real treasure trove of interesting photographers and images…here are a few of my favorites, and I’ll mention a few more in another post.

* Gabor Arion Kudasz has a good general portfolio, but the best of his work to my eye is the project "Globalization":


"Korinthosz" Gabor Kudasz image

*Andras Bozso uses alternative processes to produce superb portfolios of portraits ("Ferc" and Manipulated Portraits") and of the homeless, which he renders anonymous through creative use of blur and toning. Outstanding work.


Hajlektalanok 2 Andras Bozso image

* The aforementioned Zsuzsanna Kemenesi has a more substantial portfolio of graphic, black and white images with a surreal, shadowy sensibility at the foundation:


Zsuzsanna Kemenesi image

* For those who can't get enough of alternative process still lifes, including photograms and cyanotypes, Gabor Kerekes has a large number of portfolios devoted to various subjects, all highly accomplished. In the best of these (like in Sense of Orientation), the abstraction achieved through the processes and toning provides a level of interest that keeps the images from being merely pretty or ornamental.

* István Halas' portfolio consists exclusively of diptychs, consisting mostly of graphic color images, which are haunting and elliptical.


Istvan Halas diptych

* Sarolta Szabo has two highly stylized portfolios: "Berlin" and "Pleasure", which use B&W and color respectively to depict various mysterious tableaux of decadence and sexuality:


Sarolta Szabo image, from Pleasure series

More good stuff to be recommended in Part 2 of this post...

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The Fotomuseum Den Haag
(http://www.fotomuseumdenhaag.nl/) in The Netherlands now shows 'Kindred Spirits -
Hungarian Photographers 1914 – 2003' by
guest curator Péter Nádas.

Posted by: Frank van Eykelen at Sep 29, 2004 8:12:26 AM

As being a Hungarian, I was very pleased to read about Hungarian photographers in my favorite photograpy blog.

In addition to your current selection of photographers, I would recommend a few more contemporary and past photographers from here who I like much:

Janos Eifert

Imre Benko:

Peter Korniss:

Balazs Gardi:

It also a little-known fact that André Kertész was born in Hungary, but just like Robert Capa, he had left the country.

[sorry for my poor English]

Posted by: Peter at Oct 18, 2004 7:34:38 AM

helo,Sylvia Plachy is hungarian so is Brassai (Born Halasz Gyula), Gyorgy Kepes,Martin Munkacsi, Lucien Aigner,etc..

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