Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century

The Royal Academy of Arts presents an exhibition dedicated to the birth of modern photography, featuring the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. Each left their homeland Hungary to make their names in Europe and the USA, profoundly influencing the course of modern photography. Many other talented photographers who remained in Hungary, such as Rudolf Balogh and Károly Escher, are also represented in the exhibition. Over 200 photographs from 1914 to 1989 show how these world-renowned photographers were at the forefront of stylistic developments, revealing their achievements in the context of the rich photographic tradition of Hungary.

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 through Germany, France and the USA, the exhibition explores their distinct approaches, signalling key aspects of modern photography.

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 best 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 to Paris. He is often called the 'greatest war photographer', documenting the Spanish Civil War, the 'D'-Day landings and other events of the Second World War. In 1947, he co-founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger.

André Kertész (1894–1985) showed an intuitive talent for photography, which blossomed when he moved to Paris in 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 explore the centrality of light to the medium.

Martin Munkácsi (1896–1963) was a highly successful photographer first in Budapest, then Berlin, covering everything from Greta Garbo to the Day of Potsdam. He moved to the USA in 1934, securing a lucrative position with Harper's Bazaar, revolutionising fashion photography by liberating it from the studio. Taking photographs of models and celebrities outdoors, he invested his photographs with a dynamism and vitality that were to become his hallmark.

The photograph: László Fejes, 'Wedding', Budapest, 1965. Silver gelatin print. 155 x 238mm. Hungarian Museum of Photography © Hungarian Museum of Photography.

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century
Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi
The Sackler Wing of Galleries, 30 June–2 October 2011
Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London

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