10
May
15

Exhibition: ‘Nicolás Muller (1913-2000). Traces of exile’ at the Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2014 – 31st May 2015

Curator: Chema Cones, a freelance curator

 

 

Another artist whom I knew very little about before researching for this posting. Another human being who survived the maelstrom of the Second World War by the skin of his teeth – obtaining a visa for Tangiers which, at the time, was the destination for thousands of Jews fleeing from Central Europe.

After seven years in Tangier – “Tangier, in December 1939, was an international city, almost a paradise in the middle of a world war-crazed … My stinging eyes, hands and my whole being to want to walk everywhere taking pictures” – he moved to Madrid, in order to go back to working as a photojournalist, to explore the regions of Spain, and to publish books of his work. This seems a strange country of choice to move to after the freedom of Tangiers, especially with the Fascist dictatorship of General Franco in full swing until 1975. I wonder what were his reasons behind this choice? Muller obviously loved the Spanish landscape and its people and you can track his journeys across the Iberian Peninsula by looking up the places of his photographs on a map of the region. He travelled everywhere, from North to South, from West to East. Apparently, he was an active member of Spain’s underground intelligentsia, but why would you go to a country if you had to be covert about your intelligence? Was he in exile from Hungary or France, or from himself?

The strongest photographs in this posting are the images from Tangiers, although I would love to see more of his portrait work (the image of Susana, 1937, below is a cracker). Unfortunately there are very few of his portrait photographs online. The best of his work has an elegant simplicity with a wonderful control of people, space and light.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Château de Tours for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Carénage du navire. Canaries' 1964

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Carénage du navire. Canaries [Fairing the ship. Canary Islands]
1964
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Country House. Madrid' 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Country House, Madrid
1950
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

“La fotografía en España en el año 47 ofrecía un aspecto bastante original: por un lado Ortiz Echagüe, el venerado maestro que hacía sus libros y sus fotografías como si fueran pinturas o grabados preciosos y por otra parte… Campúa, el fotógrafo del Caudillo, Jalón Ángel, Kaulak en la calle Alcalá y Geynes que junto Amer Ventosa copaban las fotografías de ata sociedad.

Por lo demás la fotografía no estaba valorada en nada o en casi nada, mostrando una perspectiva desoladora.”

.
“Photography in Spain in 1947 offered a rather original appearance: first Ortiz Echague, the revered teacher who had his books and his photographs as if they were paintings or beautiful prints and elsewhere … Campúa, photographer of the Caudillo, Jalon Ángel, Kaulak in Alcala Street and Geynes and Amer Ventosa together photographs were permeating society.

Otherwise the picture was not worth anything or almost nothing, showing a bleak outlook.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Marché de nattes de paille' Tanger, Maroc, 1944

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Marché de nattes de paille [Straw mats at the market]
Tangier, Morocco, 1944
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Danseuse' Larache, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Danseuse [Dancer]
Larache, Maroc, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Portrait of Susana' 1937

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Portrait of Susana
1937
© Nicolás Muller

 

“En mis retratos, si hubiera algo de interés, no será por el retratista, sino por parte del retratado. Me gustaba hacer retratos para conocer al personaje.”

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“In my portraits, there was something of interest, it is not for the portrait, but for the sitter. I liked doing portraits to know the character.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Bajo la Lluvia' Portugal, 1939

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Bajo la Lluvia [In the Rain]
Portugal, 1939
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Descargando sal' Oporto, Portugal, 1939

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Descargando sal [Unloading salt]
Oporto, Portugal, 1939
© Nicolás Muller

 

“In Porto I liked the harbor full of bustle, with its vivid colors … women with heavy downloading caryatids necks baskets of salt and coal. Other women, always with baskets on their heads, downloading large bales of dried cod, and among both men lying or sitting in the sun, watching the clouds, playing cards …”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Chinchón II' Madrid, 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Chinchón II
Madrid, 1950
Chinchón II

 

 

“Although little known in France, Nicolás Muller (Orosháza, Hungary, 1913 – Andrín, Spain, 2000) was one of the leading exponents of Hungarian social photography. Like many of his compatriots – Eva Besnyö, Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész and Kati Horna – he spent much of his life in exile: born into a bourgeois Jewish family, he left Hungary shortly after the Anschluss in 1938, spending time in Paris, Portugal and Morocco before finally setting in Spain. This experience, and the situations and people he encountered along the way, did much to shape Muller’s work.

Like many of his fellow Hungarian photographers at the time, in the 1930s Muller worked in a humanist, documentary vein, evincing a strong sense of sympathy for the world of labour and the most modest members of society. His interest in the working man’s experience would remain a hallmark of his photographs. As the social and political contexts changed, he photographed agricultural labourers and dockers in the ports of Marseille and Porto, then children and street vendors in Tangiers, and life in the countryside. Later, he photographed cultural and social figures in Madrid.

The exhibition at the Château de Tours – the first show in France dedicated exclusively to this photographer – brings together a hundred images and documents from the archives kept by his daughter Ana Muller. This chronologically presented selection made by curator Chema Conesa follows the career and travels of this alert, curious photographer from 1935 to 1981.

Nicolás Muller was given his first camera at the age of thirteen, and immediately began to explore its capacity to express a certain idea of the world and of human beings. He maintained this passion for photography when studying law and politics at the Szeged University. His camera, and the feeling that he could use it to convey the adventure of living, were the formative constants of his life and art.

“I learned that photography can be a weapon, an authentic document of reality. […] I became an engaged person, an engaged photographer.”

During his four years at university he would also explore the Hungarian plains, whether on foot, by train or by bike, photographing men and women, the interiors of houses, scenes of rural life and the workers building the dykes on the River Tisza.

His early work is dominated by this rural aspect of Hungary – a country that had lost a significant fraction of its territory under the Treaty of Versailles (1920). It is also influenced by the avant-garde aesthetic of the day, with its diagonal perspectives and high- and low-angle shots.

When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss), Hungary aligned itself with the fascist regime and Muller decided to continue his photographic career elsewhere. He came to Paris, where he was in touch with other Hungarian photographers such as Brassaï, Robert Capa and André Kertész. He found work with periodicals such as Match, France Magazine and Regards, which published his photographs of working life in Hungary and Marseille. This theme continued to occupy him during his short stay in General Salazar’s Portugal, until he was imprisoned and then expelled.

Through his father, who had stayed in Hungary and had close links with Rotary Club International, Muller managed to obtain a visa for Tangiers – which, at the time, was the destination for thousands of Jews fleeing from Central Europe. The city roused him to a state of almost febrile creativity. “My eyes, my hands and my whole being are itching to go everywhere, to take photographs wherever I can.” His tireless portrayal of Tangiers also shows him learning to deal with a new challenge: intense light.

In Tangiers Muller contributed photographs to a number of books, such as Tanger por el Jalifa and Estampas marroquis, and did reportage work on the towns of the “Spanish Zone” commissioned by the Spanish High Commission in Morocco. After seven years in Tangiers – “the happiest years of my life” – Muller decided to move to Madrid in order to go back to working as a photojournalist, to explore the regions of Spain, and to publish books of his work.

As the reputation of his studio grew, so he frequented the writers, philosophers and poets who met at the legendary Café Gijón and around the Revista d’Occidente. An active member of Spain’s underground intelligentsia, he also made portraits of artist and writer friends, including Pío Baroja, Camilo José Cela, Eugeni d’Ors and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, and of figures such as the pianist Ataúlfo Argenta and the torero Manolete (Muller’s photo captures him not long before his death).

Nicolás Muller retired at the age of 68 and moved to Andrín (Asturias), where he died in 2000.”

Press release from the Château de Tours website

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Castro Urdiales (Santander)' 1968

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Castro Urdiales (Santander)
1968
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Aiguisage de la faux. Hongrie' 1935

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Aiguisage de la faux. Hongrie [Sharpening the scythe. Hungary]
1935
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'San Cristóbal de Entreviñas' Zamora, 1957

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
San Cristóbal de Entreviñas
Zamora, 1957
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller

 

 

“And in Spain, Muller, he found the picture of the war, depressed by the legacy of the war and destroyed by repression and losses, a strange climate where lived traditions and religion country, big cities and the inland villages, children and widows of war. In our country, there were few references of the new documentary that took place in the rest of Europe, not to say that they are almost non-existent except in the case of Jose Ortiz Echague. You could say that with Catalá Roca, Muller is one of the most important photographers of the era in which he portrayed the society of Spain…

His social photography is part of this new documentary, from a very specific perspective, where the photographer has to be absent from the picture, it must be maintained as an external agent. Under this premise, Nicolas Muller, is a hunter of moments immortalized through his camera. He observed from the outside, does not seek to intervene in the context, it seeks to be faithful to the situation, the purity of the image and emotions. The artist is absent on the scene and that allows you to create a picture where the main protagonists are the people who participate in the moment. The exhibition held in 1947 for the West Magazine which expresses the new artistic concepts which would give photography in the context of modernity. For this exhibition portrayed famous people of Spanish society, mostly intellectuals and cultural figures as Azorín, Ortega y Gasset, Menendez Pidal, Marañón or John Doe … With this starting point, Nicolas Muller discovers the Spanish geography and unleashes the photographic socialism, traveling through villages and cities. In this series, the photographer welcomes environments, customs and influences of the inhabitants of the places where he spent days or months…

If a photographer wants to be the chronicler of the time in which he lives you have to convey reality and not an image that changes or imagines himself.”

Text translated from “Nicolás Muller, Social Photography in the War,” on the Madriz website, 15th January 2014

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Séville' 1951

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Séville
1951
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Semana Santa (Cuenca)' 1950

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Semana Santa (Cuenca) [Easter (Cuenca)]
1950
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Tatoo' Bordeaux, France, 1938

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Tatoo
Bordeaux, France, 1938
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Arcos de la Frontera (Cádiz)' 1957

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Arcos de la Frontera (Cádiz)
1957
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Three men' Marseilles, France, 1938

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Tres hombres [Three men]
Marseilles, France, 1938
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Le Lévrier et la modèle' Tanger, Maroc, 1940

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Le Lévrier et la modèle [The Greyhound and model]
Tangier, Morocco, 1940
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Fête du Mouloud I' Tanger, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Fête du Mouloud I – Al Mawlid I [Mouloud festival I]
Tangier, Morocco, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Fête du Mouloud II' Tanger, Maroc, 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Fête du Mouloud II [Mouloud festival II]
Tangier, Morocco, 1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Tangier, Morocco' 1942

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Tánger, Marruecos [Tangier, Morocco]
1942
© Nicolás Muller

 

“Tangier, in December 1939, was an international city, almost a paradise in the middle of a world war-crazed … My stinging eyes, hands and my whole being to want to walk everywhere taking pictures.”

 

Nicolás Muller. 'Casares' Malaga, 1967

 

Nicolás Muller (1913-2000)
Casares
Malaga, 1967
© Nicolás Muller

 

 

Château de Tours
25 avenue André Malraux
37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2pm – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday: 2.15pm – 6pm

Château de Tours website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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