Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th Century

“Hungarian photojournalism showing stylistic developments”

Jack Newhouse – July 2011

Bank Manager at the Baths by Escher

Károly Escher, Bank Manager at the Baths, Budapest, 1938 © Hungarian Museum of Photography

Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th Century” is a brilliant event at the Royal Academy of Arts.

This exhibition focuses on the deep influence Magyars had on photography. In the beginning of the twentieth century in Budapest journalism and illustrated press were part of the vast intellectual debate, therefore Hungarian photojournalism rocketed.

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century” is dedicated to the birth of modern photography, featuring the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy- Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. Over 200 photographs from 1914 to 1989 are on show.

These world renowned photographers were at the forefront of the stylistic developments. Some of them went to Europe and the US becoming famous and profoundly stimulating modern photography. Others remained inHungary, including Rudolf Balogh and Károly Escher.

Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy and Munkácsi are each known for the important changes they brought about in photojournalism, documentary, art and fashion photography. By following their paths throughGermany,Franceand theUSA, the exhibition will explore their distinct approaches, signalling key aspects of modern photography.

André Kertész (1894 – 1985) showed an intuitive talent for photography which blossomed when he moved toParisin 1925. Using a hand-held camera, he captured lyrical impressions of the ephemeral moments of everyday urban life. Proud of being self-taught, Kertész considered himself an ‘eternal amateur’ whose vision remained fresh; his highly personal style paved the way for a subjective, humanist approach to photography.

A painter and designer as well as a photographer, László Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946) became an instructor at the Bauhaus in 1922. He was a pioneer of photograms, photomontage and visual theory, using unconventional perspectives and bold tonal contrasts to manifest his radical approach. His camera-less images and experimental techniques reflect on the centrality of light to the medium.

Rudolf Balogh, Shepherd with his Dogs, Hortobágy, c. 1930 © Hungarian Museum of Photography

Martin Munkácsi (1896 – 1963) was a highly successful photographer first in Budapest, then Berlin, covering everything from Greta Garbo to the Day of Potsdam. Taking photographs of models and celebrities outdoors, he invested his photographs with a dynamism and vitality that became his hallmark.

The image of modern Paris was defined by Brassaï (1899 – 1984). Introduced to photography by Kertész, who was then at the heart of an energetic émigré community of artists, Brassaï is known for his classic portraits of Picasso. His stunning photographs of sights, streets and people bring vividly to life the nocturnal characters and potent atmosphere of the city at night.

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954) left Hungary aged seventeen, first for Berlin where he took up photography, then on toParis. He is often called the ‘greatest war photographer’ documenting the Spanish Civil War, the D-Day landings and other events of World War II. In 1947, he cofounded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger.

Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th Century” also celebrates the diversity of the photographic milieu in Hungary, from the early 20th century professional and club photography of Rudolf Balogh, Károly Escher and József Pécsi, to the more recent documentary and art photography of Péter Korniss and Gábor Kerekes.

Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th Century” is organised on a chronological order. The first room, “Hungary 1914-1919” is dedicated to the early photograph when Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire. To communicate their national peculiarities Magyars pioneered photography.

The second room, “The First World War in Hungary”, focuses on the photographers reproduction of the conflict. With the Trianon Treaty (1920)Hungarylost the 72% of its territory and the 64% of its population.

Hungarian governments started to be more and more fascists, anti-Semitic and anti-intellectual. Affected by the situation, many people fled abroad. The third room, “Moving away:Germany,France” displays works of Moholy- Nagy who moved to Germany becoming an important Bauhaus member. Munkácsi went to Berlin working for magazines. Brassaï and Kertész moved to Paris- the first was called ‘the eye of Paris’ while the second break out in magazines.

The fourth room is titled “Moving away: Britain, America”. Munkácsi moved to New York in 1934, securing a lucrative position with Harper’s

Erno Vadas, Procession, Budapest, 1934 © Hungarian Museum of Photography

Bazaar, revolutionising fashion photography by liberating it from the studio, developing into an inspiration for many fashion photographers. Kertész later arrived in New York but had many issues especially after 1941. Moholy- Nagy in 1937 became Director of the New Bauhaus in Chicago. In 1939 Robert Capa, together with his brother also a good photographer, moved to New York.

“Moving away: Robert Capa, Photojournalism and War”, the fifth room, is entirely dedicated to this very celebrated war photojournalist whose

‘Death of a loyalist Militiaman’, taken during the Spanish Civil War, is still an icon.

The sixth room is “The Second World War in Hungary and the Aftermath”. Hungary declared war on the URSS in 1941, in 1943 tried to leave the conflict, in 1944 was occupied by Germans, in 1945 signed a ceasefire with the Allies, in 1946 the Republic was proclaimed but in 1948 it became a Soviet satellite. The brief revolution in 1956 was immediately repressed and Hungary remained part of the “Soviet Empire” until 1989. Photographers pictured all these moments.

The last room, “Hungary 1945-1989”, displays Socialist Realism images, the only accepted by the regime, which slowly degraded their steadiness developing into a less inhibited style. When the Berlin Wall came down Hungarian photography grew increasingly but resembling to other countries losing its national unique art form.

On show from 30th June until 2nd October 2011, at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London.