In the last century, Hungary has been wrought with political upheaval, virulent anti-Semitism, and photography. An exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts presents stellar, world famous photographers of Hungarian pulp who were spectacular exponents of the Hungarian style of both documentary and artistic photography.
Photographers include five of the most popular Hungarian exports, such as Brassaï, Robert Capa, Andre Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Munkácsi, all of whom were chased out by the vivious Horthy regime on the basis of their Jewish heritage. However, the exhibition features several non-Jews who were able to stay but endured dictatorship, Nazism and ultimately Soviet Rule.
These people suffered from a specific nostalgia, as well as an urge to communicate. (Hungarian is a linguistic anomaly, dissimilar to surrounding tongues.) Brassai only started taking photographs in Paris on the advice of his friend André Kertész, because he couldn’t possibly make a living as a journalist in a foreign tongue. If he’d been French, there’s a chance the world would never have seen his poignant photographs of lamp lit Paris. To be a great photographer, Robert Capa once said, ‘it’s not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian.’
Although Kertész continued to work well into the 1970s, the other big names had either died or given up 20 years before that, and after the 1956 revolution, the heavy foot of Soviet repression had put an end to the home talent. Nevertheless the magnificent quality of work prolifically produced by these photographers still expresses the horrors of war and lightness of beauty in the most succinct language of vision.
Royal Academy of Arts. Piccadilly, London, W1J OBD.
Until Sun Oct 2.
Here’s a taster of what you expect.