Hungarian Connection The Roots of Photojournalism
Author: Laszlo Beke, Gabor Szilagyi, Klara Tory, edited by Colin Ford
Publisher/Date: National Museum of Photography Film and Television (1987) 1st printing
Format/Condition: New paperback book in Fine condition. Profusely illustrated with b/w photos. 40 pages; measures 8 x 12”
Description: From the preface: For me, the search for the Hungarian Connection began in October 1979. Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain to write the catalogue for a retrospective exhibition of photographs by Andre Kertesz, I spent two days in New York interviewing the then 85 years’ old master. As we talked, I realized that the roots of his pioneering and influential style lay deep in his native land (which he had left in 1925). If Kertesz’s art owed so much to his Hungarian origins, was not the same probably true of the impressive number of Hungarian emigre photographers who had so shaped the history of the medium — and especially photojournalism — in the twentieth century?
The names of some of those influential Hungarians are cited early in the first essay in this book, Just suppose. . . by the teacher, historian and art critic Laszlo Beke. His contribution, too modestly sub-titled "Some Notes on an Outline History of Hungarian Photography", provides a context in which to understand the history, and how it led to a whole generation of early photojournalists.
For Hungary, the end of the First World War signaled the collapse of a monarchy, the loss of authority over many ethnic groups and a dramatic reduction in her territory. The Petit Trianon Treaty (4 June 1920) gave some two-thirds of the area of the nation to her neighbours: Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. Tens of thousands of Hungarians, finding themselves residents of ‘foreign countries’, hastily moved into what was left of Hungary. There was overcrowding, poverty, and considerable political unrest, but also a considerable enrichening of the cultural climate. Artists of all kinds and from different backgrounds were thrown together. There was an explosion in almost all the arts including photography.
The new artistic climate spawned many illustrated magazines, published in Budapest and other Hungarian cities. Full of engravings and, sometimes, photographs, they provided a visual education for many: Kertesz has testified to the influence of such magazines, and to the fact that at the age of six he hoped to be able to make such pictures one day. The photographer for one of the magazines (PestiNaplo), Morton Munkecsi, claimed to be the highest paid in the country (later, he made the same claim about his earnings in the USA).
When, in 1986, thanks to generous support from the Embassy of the Hungarian People’s Republic and the British Council’s Visiting Arts Unit, I went to Budapest to do some detective work, I began with those illustrated magazines. In particular, Kertesz had told me that two of his earliest pictures, taken while he was in the Army during the First World War, had won small prizes in a competition for soldiers’ photographs in the weekly Erdekes Usag (‘Interesting Happenings’). In Budapest’s National Library, I found that the competition had run almost throughout the war, and that hundreds of photographs (mostly by amateurs) had been published. A generous selection were later re-printed in large gravure portfolios, and it is these which form the basis of the first section of The Hungarian Connection exhibition. When I met the historian and critic Gabor Szilegyi, I found he was as excited by the Erdekes Usig War Albums as I — and vastly more knowledgeable. I am most grateful to him for sharing his knowledge with us in his informative essay.