Magyar Extract

The Hungarian photographic diaspora and its legacy

Text by Emily Speers Mears

Tank _vol 7issue 210

Left, Erno Vadas, Procession Budapest (1934). Right, Karoly Escher, Bank manager at the baths, Budapest (1938)


In January Hungary assumed the presidency of the European Union,placing its own president Viktor Orbán firmly in the international spotlight and heralding some not-so-warm welcomes from onlookers. (Green Party MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit of Germany compared Orbán to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for his authoritarian tendencies.) Following on from that inauspicious start, this summer the Royal Academy will present Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century, which foregrounds the work of five of the greatest photographers ever to have left Hungary: Brassaï, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi and Robert Capa (born Endre Ernö Friedmann in Budapest). These men captured the darkest, sexiest, most surreal days of the last century, mostly once they had emigrated to the US, France or Germany. The exhibition will contextualise their work – and re-Hungarianise it – by placing it alongside rarely seen work by the photographers who remained, including Károly Escher and László Fejes. Eyewitness continues even past the deaths of the famous quintet, presenting images taken in Hungary during the Soviet occupation and beyond. Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, Orbán recently passed a law establishing a body that oversees “balance” and “morality” in the Hungarian press, staffed by members of his own Fidesz party. Its effect on Hungary’s next generation of photographers remains to be seen. §

Images courtesy Hungarian Museum of Photography, Kecskemét