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Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century

Laszlo Fejes. Wedding, Budapest, 1965. Silver gelatin print, 155 x 238 mm. Hungarian Museum of Photography. Copyright Hungarian Museum of Photography.

Exhibition preview

THIS SUMMER, the Royal Academy of Arts is staging an exhibition dedicated to the birth of modern photography.

Entitled Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century, it features the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi, and will be on display from June 30 to October 2, 2011.

The five photographers left their homeland in 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, will also be represented in the exhibition.

Over 200 photographs from 1914 to 1989 will show how these world renowned photographers were at the forefront of stylistic developments and reveal 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 will explore their distinct approaches, signalling key aspects of modern photography.

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 reflect on 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 US 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 became his hallmark.

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 emigre community of artists, Brassaï is 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 World War II.

In 1947, he co-founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger.

The exhibition will also celebrate the diversity of the photographic milieu in Hungary, from the early 20th century professional and club photography of Rudolf Balogh, Károly Escher and Jószef Pécsi, to the more recent documentary and art photography of Peter Korniss and Gabor Kerekes.

Key works by over 40 photographers will show how major changes in modern photography have been interpreted through a particularly Hungarian sensibility.

Varied subject matter will include ‘Magyar style’ rural images; urbanite ‘New Objectivity’ photography in Budapest and Berlin; vivacious fashion photographs; powerful photojournalism of war; and emotive social documentary in post-war Hungary.

Highlights include images from Brassaï‘s Paris by Night series, and such iconic photographs as Capa’s Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, 1936; Munkácsi’s Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika, c. 1930 and Kertész’ Satiric Dancer, 1926.

The exhibition will feature works from the Hungarian National Museum of Photography in Kecskemet together with the National Museum, Budapest and public and private collections in Hungary and the UK.

The Royal Academy will publish a 248-page catalogue to accompany the exhibition. The book includes essays by Colin Ford and Peter Baki exploring the biographies and practice of the photographers in the context of contemporary Hungarian history, and a piece by the Hungarian poet George Szirtes considering the significance of nationality to their work.

Tickets: £9 full price; £8 registered disabled and 60+ years; £7 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £4 12-18 years and Income Support; £3 8-11 years; 7 and under free. RA Friends go free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000