Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century (Royal Academy)

Hungarian Photography  is presented in this exhibition as being highly influential and it certainly does reveal a golden age in which its photographic talents flourished and provided different genres of photography with some world class imagery. The photographers who grab the limelight are Brassai, Capa, Kertesz, Munkacsi and Moholy-Nagy

 However for those familiar with their work it is a joy to see more work by the lesser known lights such as Karoly Escher. Bank manager at the baths,1938 is one of his better known works but there are many here that match the quality of the headliners. He elected to stay in Hungary, so whereas the others enhanced their reputations abroad Escher remained at home using his camera to explore radical viewpoints, shadows, silhouettes and also the challenges of capturing movement.

Bank manager at the baths, 1938 Photographer Karoly Escher

The two photographers who had perhaps the longest lasting effect on their particular genres were Munkacsi and Moholy-Nagy. Four boys at Lake Tanganyika, 1930 by Munkacsi was admired by Henri Cartier Bresson. “It is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to is only that one photograph that influences me”. Indeed the movement he captured was translated into his fashion work were it was hailed as groundbreaking freeing the world of fashion from the studio into the outdoors.

Four boys at Lake Tanganyika, 1938. Photographer Martin Munkacsi

Moholy-Nagy was perhaps more of a maverick although he started in much the same vein as the others. He slowly became absorbed by form and abstraction in the world around him until the point where he turned to the darkroom to develop his vision. His photograms, montages and solarisations are masterworks striking out in a new direction. He was associated with the Bauhaus and became a teacher and designer. At one point he lived in London as a design consultant for Simpsons and even worked with the film director Alexander Korda.

The later 20th century works suffer by comparison with the golden age photographers emphasising a unique time in the development of a group of extraordinary visionaries.

It is refreshing to find a major art institution such as the |Royal Academy curating a photography show although why it should be unusual is a valid question. Certainly in other cities such as Paris or New York it would not be such a big deal. Photography remains segregated in this country and it needs influential people like  Charles Saumarez Smith to help it join the mainstream in galleries and museums.

Royal Academy, London W1 until 2nd October 2011