Lovers of photography who happen to be in Budapest will be spoilt for choice over the coming months when the capital is transformed into the "City of Photography". Now in its second year, the Budapest Photo Festival runs from March un-til April 20, with a couple of exhibitions continuing until early June.
I spoke to photographer Szilvia Mucsy, the festival’s director, about this year’s event and how it has moved on from last year.
Mucsy began her photographic career at Young Photographers Hungary, is a graduate of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design’s photography department and studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts. She’s also the chair of RANDOM - the Association of Contemporary Hungarian Photographers. Her work has been exhibited solo and in group shows in cities that include New York, Athens and Rome.
“We were very happy to see that last year’s programs and exhibitions generated such interest,” Mucsy told me. “This is also our goal in 2018. There are almost 40 exhibitions this year. We’ve involved the International Cultural Institutes and organized exhibitions in the biggest galleries, museums and art schools in Budapest.”
Alongside exhibitions, the festival includes public events such as lectures, work-shops, educational events, a photo-marathon, a portfolio review and photo-book show. All of these take place at Budapest Project Gallery’s Festival Center.
Entry to most of the programs and exhibitions is free, though you may need to pre-register for some.
“Our aim is to show the different styles and flavors of photography,” Mucsy explains. “But, every year, the festival will invite contemporary Hungarian photographers to think and create in a classical photographic genre as a way of expressing themselves. The theme for our first year was portraiture; this year, it’s still life. Our “Still Life” exhibition is presented in the context of the Budapest Spring Festival, with the cooperation of the Kiscelli Museum.”
The festival has been designed around four flagship exhibitions. American star-photographer Sandro Miller’s “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters” is the opening international show at Kunsthalle (Műcsarnok).
“Sandro” has been a key figure in American photography for over three decades. He has shot many celebrities, including his colleague and friend John Malkovich, and published nine collections of his work. The project is an homage to the iconic masters of cinema and photography, including Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol and Annie Leibovitz.
The exhibition is serious but also playful. Among other things, Sandro photo-graphs Malkovich as two little girls à la Diane Arbus, as Marilyn Monroe Warhol-style, and as Einstein sticking out his tongue. Not something you’d want to miss seeing in the flesh, as it were. “We’re very excited to welcome these fantastic, unusual photographs to Hungary,” Mucsy said.
Other notable exhibitions are “Invisible Cities” and “Alain Laboile: La Famille”.
The Hungarian photographers showing their work as part of the “Still Life” exhibition were shortlisted from almost 300 applicants. Still life photography was one of the first photographic genres and has never lost its popularity. It is fitting that the exhibition is taking place in the atmospheric, eclectic surroundings of the wonderful Kiscelli Museum in the hills above Buda.
“Invisible Cities” is a selection of work by Portuguese photographers Paulo Nozolino and José Manuel Rodrigues. Nozolino is one of the central figures of contemporary photography. Using sharp contrasts, glowing light and profound darkness, his symbolist universe emphasizes the lonely aspect of the metropolis. Rodrigues’ art explores the nature of beauty, time and the correlation between what is visible and invisible.
Thanks to a collaboration between the festival and Institut Francais Budapest, the work of Alain Laboile is being exhibited in Hungary for the first time. The black and white photographs record the bucolic yet timelessly ordinary days spent by Labiole’s family – he is a father of six – and capture moments of childish freedom.
Children will also be the center of attention at the exhibition by Reismann Mariann Artphoto and the Ata Kandó Deák 17 Gallery. There will be several solo shows: Balázs Deim and Melinda Kovács at B32 Gallery; Marge Monkoe at Molnár Ani Gallery; Mátyás Micsetics at Várfok Projekt Room; and Miklós Gaál at Viltin Gallery.
Petőfi Literary Museum will focus on 19th century photography from the perspective of the poet János Arany, born 200 years ago. The Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism will exhibit the cover photographs of József Füles Tóth.
Although I’ve yet to establish exactly what it is, I’m pretty certain there’s a distinctive Hungarian photographic spirit. And I’m sure Hungary produces more than its fair share of great photographers. Apart from the obvious – Robert Capa, André Kertész – you also have Brassai, who I initially had no idea was Hungarian. His real name was Gyula Halász and he was born in Brassó, at that time in Austro-Hungarian Transylvania. Hence the nickname.
Of course, the best-known Hungarian photographers of the 20th century had to leave Hungary to succeed. Today, that’s hopefully not necessary. Who knows, the next great Hungarian photographer may well be among those who entered the “Still Life” competition.
At the very least, the spirit of photography is alive and well in Hungary. I’m looking forward to seeing it on display at the Budapest Photographic Festival over the next couple of months.
For more information, check out the festival website at budapestphotofestival.hu.