Review: Eyewitness – Hungarian Photography in the Twentieth Century
For the second time within 12 months the Royal Academy of Arts in central London is presenting a major exhibition with a Hungarian theme. Previously art treasures held in Budapest were in focus, now it’s the turn of Hungarian photography, and again an impressive and beautifully produced catalogue with nearly 200 striking images has been issued to accompany the display.
László Fejes: Wedding, Budapest, 1965 (silver gelatin print, 155 x 238 mm).
The exhibition’s title includes the names of five internationally renowned Hungarian photographers and the same names appear on the cover of the catalogue – Brassa?, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy and Munkácsi. With their different but sometimes overlapping approaches to their craft, between them these “famous five” were instrumental in bringing about important changes in photojournalism, documentary, art and fashion photography.
Zoltán Berekmeri: Winter’s Evening in Békéscsaba, 1955 (silver gelatin print, 1987. 400 x 300 mm)
They were able to do that on the international scene because all five left their homeland Hungary and made their names in Europe and America. Brassa? and Kertész, for example, defined the images of modern Paris and everyday urban life. Moholy-Nagy became an instructor at the Bauhaus and a pioneer of photomontage and visual theory. Munkácsi liberated fashion photography from the studio, taking it outdoors, while Capa developed into one of the world’s greatest war photographers. His images of the Spanish Civil War and the D-Day landings are unforgettable.
Károly Escher: Bank Manager at the Baths, Budapest, 1938 (silver gelatin print, 392 x 290 mm)
The careers of these five have been covered in print and exhibitions before, sometimes individually and sometimes in combination. However, what makes this exhibition and its catalogue both different and exciting is that many other Hungarian photographers are also included.
Ern? Vadas: Procession, Budapest, 1934 (silver gelatin print, 395 x 300 mm).
Texts and stunning images inform us about the careers and works of those who stayed behind in Hungary and thus failed to get into the international spotlight. Names such as Rudolf Balogh, Károly Escher and Kata Kálmán unfortunately are not as well known as they ought to be. Now they can join the ranks of their more famous colleagues.
Angelo: Airport steps, Budapest 1936 (silver gelatin print, 400 x 300 mm)
And it’s not just a handful of people at issue. The catalogue contains potted biographies of 50 Hungarian photographers. In addition, alongside information about photography in Paris, Berlin, London and New York, attention is given to artistic and political developments in Hungary, from the First World War right up to 1989.
The exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts runs until 2 October.
Rudolf Balogh: Shepherd with his Dogs, Hortobágy, c. 1930 (silver gelatin print, 180 x 290 mm).
Buy the book
Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the
Péter Baki, Colin Ford, George Szirtes,
Large format, paperback, illustrated, 240 pages, Royal Academy of Arts, 2011, GBP 24.95