(1920 - 1990)
Modern Hungarian Photography
1) The Pictorialism
While in the United States Pictorialism was born around 1895 under the name Photo Secession, primarily in order to distance itself from the ever-growing amateur movement, in Hungary the National Association of Hungarian Amateur Photographers, founded in December 1905, designated the toolset and creative language of Pictorialism as the basis of its artistic goals. This, although it moved the art of photography, which was rigid in studio templates at the end of the century, out of the deadlock and did a lot for the recognition and development of photography, by the end of the 1920s it had already become strongly outmoded. Pictorialism can also be considered the beginning of modernist efforts, in the sense that it was initially a progressive genre. Photographic methods similar to painting or graphics were preferred. Photos taken in this style are characterized by: soft contouring and light scattering, and the use of various processes. It is interesting that only in the Hungarian language labeled these development techniques (e.g. bromine oil printing, paper printing or rubber printing) with the adjective 'noble', thereby emphasizing the artistic nature of photography. But this stylistic trend, just like abroad, has produced its counter-trend(s) at home as well.
József Pécsi's career began in the 1910s. He learned the basics of the profession in Munich, where he graduated with honors and received the then highest German photography award, the Dührkoop Medal. At the age of twenty-four, he was elected one of the honorary members of the Salon of Photography in London. He had countless successes, most of which he won with his pictures made in the pictorialist style. He participated in the creation of Hungarian photographic education in 1913, from which he was removed in 1920 due to his leftist views. The most outstanding individuals of his time visited his studio, and many photographers who later became a defining figure in Hungarian photographic public life learned the craft of photography in his studio. In the course of his creative work, he also immersed himself in the art deco genre alongside František Dtrikol from Prague, but at the same time, his most significant direction was advertising photography, which he raised to an artistic level. His book Photo und Publizität, published in Germany in 1930, had a great influence on many European photographers working in this direction. He also left behind inimitable works in the field of self-portraits and nude photography, and he published the first nude folder in Hungary.
Female photographers are among the most prominent representatives of the "modern style" of the turn of the century. Ilka Révai, a great portrait photographer trained at Dührkoop, Erzsi Gaiduschek, a very popular studio photographer, Jutka Miklós, a poet who maintained a studio in Nagyvárad during the World War, and above all Olga Máté, who was a pioneer of modern portrait photography in Hungary. Her most famous works include portraits of Mihály Babits, Károly Mannheim, Béla Zalai, Juliska Láng and Margit Kaffka. The loosening of contours in her portraits and the use of the sfumat technique are very popular. The other procedure she often uses is when the "disembodied" figure can hardly stand out from the dark background, where only the face and hands expressing the person's character are emphasized by the lighting. These two processes can be paralleled with the fashionable painting methods of the time, primarily with the technical solutions of Whistler's and Eugéne Carrière's popular works. Focusing, emphasizing, compressing and omitting the face, i.e. non-natural, non-photographic representation, was not alien to the photo aesthetes of the time either. Máté Olga opened her first independent studio in Fő street in 1899, but her studio on Veres Pélné street became really famous. Through her husband, the philosopher Béla Zalai, she came into contact with progressive trends. Their apartment is occupied by like-minded people - members of the Nyugat and the Vasárnapo Kör ('Sunday circle'), e.g. It became a popular meeting place for Béla Balázs, György Lukács, Ferenczy and the Dienes family. During her work, she became interested in women's issues. Towards the end of her career, she changed her previous style and created a lasting impression in the new realist style. Her studio was most often visited by families from Budapest's wealthy middle class, chief clerks, intellectuals and artists. She has participated in numerous domestic and international exhibitions.
Ilka Révai relatively early broke through the template of familiarity, visual conditioning, and the public taste that expected a picture to be like a painting at all costs, ahead of her male contemporaries. In her few, available pictures, the photographic expression prevails. As an excellent realist portraitist, she took the human face as her lens, from a novel camera position, she photographed only the face and only the head more than once from a close camera position, which was very rare among her contemporaries.
2) The Hungarian-style
Due to the economic, social, domestic and foreign political changes after the First World War, domesticity naturally increased in the field of photography as well. For years, Hungarian photographers did not receive invitations to the previous international exhibitions, and Hungary was only able to organize it in 1927, which, however, lacked interesting names. The so-called Hungarian style appeared in Hungarian photography in the twenties and reached its peak in the thirties. Its main characteristics are the choice of folk themes, the idealistic representation, the "only the beautiful" approach, the conscious use of backlighting, various image softening methods, and the use of gelatin silver enlargements instead of 'noble' methods. Although the Hungarian style proclaims the sovereign language of photography, it is in many respects a continuation of pictorialism. In 1914, Rudolf Balogh, as the editor of Fotóművészet, formulates the program as follows: "let's look for and find subjects with which we can better assert ourselves abroad - let's create Hungarian artistic photography, with Hungarian air, clear Hungarian skies!". In 1937, one of the leaders of the movement, Béla Paulini, published a publication entitled "Gyöngyösbokréta", whose ghostly, romantic photographs reinforced the clichés about the Hungarian parastydyl. At the same time, they covered up the burning problems of the exploitation of the peasants. The use of photographs fitted into the process of national identity building and folklorization: the popular theme of the newspapers was the idealized presentation of folk life, and the conservative, national newspaper Új Idők, edited by Ferenc Herczeg, became a forum for the trend. Between the two world wars, this style was the most successful trend in Hungary, many generations came under its influence, and its influence was even felt in the socialist realist era, after the Second World War.
Ernő Vadas started his artistic and photographic career as a student of Rudolf Balogh. After his first successes, in 1928 he joined the amateurs' organization, MAOSZ.
István Kerny was an amateur photographer. He started taking photographs when he was 14 years old, and he made his first camera himself. During his almost 70 years of work, he not only cultivated almost all branches of photography, but also published more than 40 articles and studies. However, the most exciting part is its role in the development of the Hungarian style.
F. G. Haller's life path, like that of so many other photo amateurs in the period between the two world wars, is a mixture of clerical work and artistic work. His civilian occupation was an engineer. According to some recollections, he earned his living as the chief engineer of the Hungarian Radiator Factory until nationalization, and according to other sources, as the chief official of the Láng Gépgyár, and meanwhile his artistic ambitions led him on a straight path to photography. In 1932, he became the secretary of MAOSZ, and in 1934-35, the club's treasurer. From 1939, he was the secretary of EMAOSZ, the organizer of courses and vocational education. In the 1930s, he also took a significant part in the public life of amateur photography with his professional literary activities. In 1936, he became the editor-in-chief of Fotoművészeti Hírek, and two years later, he regularly published exhibition reviews in Fotószemle, published a series in Tükör for those familiar with the basics of photography, and was a regular columnist for the German Die Galerie. After 1945, he reorganized the largest Hungarian photography association, the Budapest Photo Club. The most significant part of his oeuvre is made up of photos taken during his travels in Transylvania and Italy, as well as genre pictures taken from folk life.
3) The Social Photography
Modern Hungarian social photography was born as the antithesis of the Hungarian style. Only the political changes following the First World War served as a breeding ground for more mobilizing social photography. From the point of view of the development of sociophoto, it had a fundamental importance that the most important sociophotographers of the twenties and thirties were close to some political movement, which fundamentally influenced their perception. In this context, two political groups were significant, one was the Sarló movement in Bratislava, which started in 1928, and the other was the sociophotographers organized around Lajos Kassák and his magazine, "Munka" from 1930. In the spirit of communist ideology, the former group used photography as a weapon in the class struggle, and primarily immortalized poverty and misery in order to stigmatize social injustices. The danger lay in this that their pictures were sometimes a little schematic, only becoming photos of poverty aiming for a shock effect. The Kassák circle, on the other hand, took a more moderate position, since Kassák protested against all kinds of thematic restrictions. He encouraged many practicing labor photographers to rediscover the world from a socialist perspective.
The increasingly militant attitude of the sociophotographers - in contrast to the early sociophoto - went hand in hand with increasingly complex and effective formal execution, which was greatly influenced by the German Bauhaus photography, above all the influence of László Moholy-Nagy on the Hungarian sociophoto. The German impulses were conveyed on the one hand by photographers such as Éva Besnyő, who was active in both countries, and on the other hand by the writings of contemporary Hungarian photo theorists. These included Árpád Szélpál, the poet and publicist, who was himself a prolific social photographer, Kálmán Brogyányi, a member of the Sarló movement, Iván Hevesy, Hungary's most significant photo esthete at that time, and Lajos Kassák. They all explored the possibilities of political photomontage, as John Heartfield had done in Germany, and promoted it as an adequate form of expression for committed and class-fighting sociophoto. At the beginning of the 1930s, the Munka-circle came to the public with several exhibitions, and in 1932, it published the first Hungarian social photography book entitled "Our Life". The critics of the time praised the strict objectivity and clear composition of the images, and above all their photographic power. The photos of the Kassák circle showed not only aesthetic sophistication, but also the intention of the "new way of seeing" advocated by Moholy-Nagy, which Kassák referred to when he saw the new socialist worldview in the formally unusual, aesthetically demanding compositions of his fellow photographers. At this stage of the sociophoto's development, Kassák came to the important conclusion that the impact and political mission of the sociophoto mainly depends on its formal execution.
Some important artists, such as Kata Sugár, Kata Kálmán and Klára Langer, worked in an approach related to the Munka photo circle - but organizationally independent of them. Stylistically and content-wise, they were close to the left-wing movements, and from their prominent peasant heads brought to the fore or from their "visions" avoiding all kinds of idylls, the same atmosphere seeking renewal emerges, as we know from the works of the Hungarian village researchers and folk writers of the time. Of course, their work remained isolated for a long time, Kata Sugár's dramatic works, for example, only received publicity after 1945, and Kata Kálmán was able to publish her recordings in two volumes thanks to the Cserépfalvi Kiadó (Tiborc, 1937, which was one of the most effective period documents for left-wing intellectuals, and Szemtől szemben, 1939). The activities of these three artists now seem more serious than the role of the Munka photo circle — primarily because they created a more aesthetically demanding and unified oeuvre. The social backwardness of Hungary in the 1930s looks at us with the most dramatic force from the photos of Kata Sugár, the archaic hardness and desperation of the faces are ennobled into a type floating above the personality in these pictures. Kata Kálmán's images are cooler, more descriptive, and as a distant analogy they remind us of the realism of Roman portraits. According to critics of the time, the recordings revealed the human depths of the peasant's fate. The shots of German photographers Helmar Lerski and Erna Lendvai-Dirksen were the prototypes of the socio-portraits of Kata Kálmán, whose work was popularized by photo historian Iván Hevesy, Kata Kálmán's husband. In Klára Langer's photos, on the other hand, activity and a restless character dominate. One of Langer's memorable series of pictures mapped the most delicate subject, the life of the gypsies, even from poverty. The sociophoto movement reached the highest point of its development with these series of images, here you can recognize not only the qualities of commitment and stylistic rigor, but also the character of a personal artistic vision.
Károly Escher, the most significant Hungarian figure in Hungarian realist reportage photography, began his work in the 1930s. His photos are characterized by a keen eye, caustic irony, and sometimes a bizarreness and depth of thought that evoke the shocking associations of surrealism. He fused Dadaist montage technique, avant-garde photo experiments and the leftism of Hungarian social photography with supreme talent in the reportage-like images that preserved the reality of the photo, but did not lose the boldness of the imaginative experiments either. One or another picture — e.g. the juxtaposition of mounted policemen and street garbage collectors, the outdoor furniture of the evicted, or his shots composed of the swirling of sausages, stage scenes — exude the atmosphere of the great films of the era and the blood-filled images of Eisenstein and the moving burlesques. Escher was actually a representative of the same concept that the universal photographic art of the 1930s represented in the works of the Magnum circle. Unheard-of mobility and left-wing inspired critical realism permeated the works of Magnum's founders — Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa — and Károly Escher worked on a similar critical realism at the same time as them, but instead of world news, with the more modest Hungarian opportunities. His activity extends into the latest era — he worked until his death in 1966.
4) The vh II. after
Hungarian photographers abroad
In Hungary in the 1910s, there were no professional educational institutions where those who wanted to could study photography. Those who could afford it, went to Vienna, Munich or Berlin. After World War I, many people went abroad for financial reasons, others migrated due to political pressure or professional considerations. The difference compared to previous waves of emigration was that this time many people never returned to Hungary. László Moholy-Nagy, László Czigány, Zoltán Glass, János Reismann left for Germany, Gitta Carell went to Italy, György Kepes and Stefan Lorant made their careers in England. After the National Socialists took power, dozens of Hungarian photographers gathered in Paris: André Kertész, Rogi André, Brassai, Robert Capa, Andor Dienes, Ferenc Kollár, Ergy Landau, Nóra Koffer Kamilla Kelenföldi Telkes. Living abroad as a photographer was easier than at home, since you could get good money for the pictures, and you could send your work anywhere, and photography was a respected profession.
Few countries can be said to have given the world so many first-class photographers, but perhaps even fewer countries have been unable to retain any of them. The opinions of specialists are divided about the role Hungarian photographers who emigrated abroad play in the history of Hungarian photography. Writings about the era usually discuss them in a separate chapter, but do not talk about the effects. The Hungarian public knew almost nothing about the work of Kertész, Capa, Brassaï or Munkácsi until the 1960s and 70s; Fortunately, that has changed today.
Artworks in this theme
(1901 - 1945)
(1899 - 1962)
(1879 - 1944)
(1894 - 1974)
(1891 - 1975)
(1894 - 1971)
(1895 - 1946)