Posts Tagged ‘Eva Besnyö

15
Nov
19

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘The Photojournalist Robert Capa II’ at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

September 2019

First gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

 

I didn’t have time on my European photographic research tour to post about this exhibition at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest.

Let me say right off bat, that I’m not a great fan of Capa’s work and the larger, 1990s non-vintage prints presented in this exhibition were unimpressive.

I admire Capa’s courage in order to get the shot (“If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”), but his photographs leave me cold. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his objectivity, his reportage, is just that. Looking back 80 years later, we must remember how raw, how radical and confronting these photographs would have been when viewed in Life magazine and Picture Post at the time: authentic representations of war and death straight from the front. But in terms of the image, what you see is what you get. The framing is not particularly good, the angles are pretty conventional and front on, the occurrences direct and focused. The immediacy of the image, that is their strength.

For me they don’t leave a lasting impression, never have done. Yes, the D-Day landings because he was there; The death of a Loyalist militiaman because it is so famous; the shaving of the women collaborators heads because they are so vile … but you wonder, does his greatness come from the fact that, time and time again, he got the job done and produced the goods (as in a saleable image). That and the reality that he was a great self promoter: labelled the ‘Greatest War Photographer in the World’ by Picture Post in 1938. But was he a good image maker?

They are what they are. That’s really all you can say.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

"La Guerre Civile en Espagne,' in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

"La Guerre Civile en Espagne,' in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

 

 

“La Guerre Civile en Espagne,’ in Vu Magazine No. 445 September 23, 1936

Caption: “Le jarret vif, la poitrine au vent, fusil au poing, il dévalaient la pente couverte d’un chaume raide.. Soudain l’essor est brisé, une balle a siffle – une balle fratricide – et leur sang est bu par la terre natale … ”

“His step quick, his chest to the wind, his rifle in his hand, he hurtled down the steep slope. Suddenly the boom was broken, a bullet whistled – a fratricidal bullet – and their blood is drunk by the homeland … ”

The caption as published in LIFE magazine: “Robert Capa’s camera catches a Spanish soldier the instant he is dropped by a bullet through the head in front of Cordoba.”

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa. 'September 5, 1936. The death of a Loyalist militiaman' 1936

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
September 5, 1936. The death of a Loyalist militaman
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

“The Spanish War Kills Its First Woman Photographer,” in LIFE magazine (Gerda Taro, July 1937)

 

 

Gerda Taro (1910-1937)

Gerta Pohorylle (1 August 1910 – 26 July 1937), known professionally as Gerda Taro, was a German Jewish war photographer active during the Spanish Civil War. She is regarded as the first woman photojournalist to have died while covering the frontline in a war.

Taro was the companion and professional partner of photographer Robert Capa. The name “Robert Capa” was originally an alias that Taro and Capa (born Endre Friedmann) shared, an invention meant to mitigate the increasing political intolerance in Europe and to attract the lucrative American market. A significant amount of what is credited as Robert Capa’s early work was actually made by Taro.

Coverage of the Spanish Civil War

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Taro travelled to Barcelona, Spain, to cover the events with Capa and David “Chim” Seymour. Taro acquired the nickname of La pequeña rubia (“The little blonde”). They covered the war together in northeastern Aragon and in the southern Córdoba province. Always together under the common and using the bogus signature of Robert Capa, they succeeded in publishing through important publications (the Swiss Zürcher Illustrierte, the French Vu). Their early war photographs are distinguishable since Taro used a Rollei camera which rendered squared photographs while Capa produced rectangular pictures using a Contax camera[citation needed] or a Leica camera. However, for some time in 1937 they each produced similar 35 mm pictures under the label of Capa&Taro.

Subsequently, Taro attained some independence. She refused Capa’s marriage proposal. Also, she became publicly related to the circle of anti-fascist European and intellectuals (such as Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell) who crusaded particularly for the Spanish Republic. fr:Ce Soir, a communist newspaper of France, signed her for publishing Taro’s works only. Then, she began to commercialise her production under the Photo Taro label. Regards, Life, Illustrated London News and Volks-Illustrierte (the exile edition of Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung) were amongst the publications that used her work.

Reporting the Valencia bombing alone, Taro obtained the photographs which are her most celebrated. Also, in July 1937, Taro’s photographs were in demand by the international press when, alone, she was covering the Brunete region near Madrid for Ce Soir. Although the Nationalist propaganda claimed that the region was under its control, the Republican forces had in fact forced that faction out. Taro’s photographs were the only testimony of the actual situation.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

“So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world” (epitaph in French and Catalan on her tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

“The Spanish War Kills Its First Woman Photographer,” in LIFE Magazine (Gerda Taro, July 1937)

 

 

Robert Capa

(Endre Ernő Friedmann)
22 October 1913, Budapest, Hungary – 25 May 1954, Thái Bình, Vietnam

He never avoided challenges – he brought his restless, adventurous spirit and toughness from Hungary. He hardly had anything else in his luggage when he left his native country in 1931. He made photo-history with his war reportage on the Spanish Civil War, WWII, China, and Vietnam. His stories and, in particular, his slogan – “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – made him a legendary person. But he made a mistake in Thái Bình. He went too close.

His brother wrote about him: “He lived a lot and suffered a lot during his short life. He was born poor and died poor. He bequeathed us the chronicle of his unique career along with the visual proof of his conviction: not only can mankind endure a lot but it is able to win every now and then.”

His parents – Júlia Berkovits and Dezső Friedmann – were tailors, who ran a prosperous show-room in Budapest. Their first child was László, followed by Endre and five years later by Kornél. After a Lutheran elementary school, Robert Capa went to study at Madách Secondary School. Inspierd by Lajos Kassák, he became interested in journalism in 1929, one year before his matriculation. After 1930, he was a photographer.

He was a good friend of Suzanne Szász, i.e. Székely Zsuzsa, already in Budapest. He lived at the same house as Éva Besnyő, who was his first childhood love.

He was shortly imprisoned because of his leftist connections and his participation in a leftist demonstration on 1 September 1930. In prison, he learnt the methods of the infamous investigator Péter Hain, who beat him so hard that he lost consciousness. He was released through his parents’ connections and he almost immediately left the country.

According to one of the legends, he only had a stick of salami in his luggage when he left. His train ticket to Vienna was paid by the Jewish Community of Pest, from there he went on to Prague through Brno and somehow he eventually arrived in Berlin. He left in July 1931 and it took him two or three weeks to get to the German capital. He studied journalism at the German Political College (Deutsche Hochschule für Politik). Since his parents were becoming poor and were not able to support him, he went to work as a photo lab assistant at the photo agency Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst). In the beginning, almost everybody spoke Hungarian at Dephot. No wonder since it was founded by Simon Guttmann and its financial manager was László Fekete, known as Ladislaus Glück at that time.

There were László Czigány (Taci) and György Markos among his fellow-workers and friends. He received his first camera at this time, a Voigtländer 6×9 from György Kepes. Later he got a Leica from Guttmann to carry out smaller assignments.

In 1932, he was sent by Guttmann to make the report which made him famous: he took the photo of Leon Trotsky at the Socialist Congress in Copenhagen. He was the only one to succeed in taking a photo of Trotsky, since photography was strictly forbidden at the meeting. The photo was published by Weltspiegel on a full page.

He was assisted in adapting himself to the foreign city and culture by his friends from Budapest, György Kepes and Éva Besnyő. They often invited him for dinner at their home, actively contributing to his subsistence besides his spiritual development. (At this time he stealthily ate the everyday roast-meat chop of his landlady’s dachshund.) He had to leave Berlin in 1933, which became more and more dangerous for left-wing Jewish intellectual immigrants. He went to Vienna and from there to Budapest by boat. He went to court schoolgirls at Lajos Pécsi’s studio in Dorottya Street almost everyday with his friends from the Munka-kör (Work Circle), among them Lajos Kassák. He worked for photographer Ferenc Veres in Budapest, taking photos of Budapest for touristic leaflets and publications. But he did not do it just howsoever! He did it by the metre. The photographer bought the exposed and developed Leica-films by 26 frames, i.e. by the metre from Endre Friedmann. We do not know what happened to these pictures or those he made in 1933 at the World Scout Jamboree in Gödöllő. Some of them were certainly taken to Paris, where a photographer friend of his tried to sell them to French photo agencies – without any success.

He moved to Paris in September 1933, still not as Capa, but neither as Bandi Friedmann any more; he tried to sell his photos under his new name André Friedman – with little success. He was starving more often than eating well. The young Hungarian with many names yet being actually an unknown photographer was helped by André Kertész with work, connections, his friendship and – knowing Capa – certainly with some money, too. (Later – already in America – he designed Capa’s book titled Death in the Making [Így készül a halál] from Gerda Taro’s and Capa’s photos taken in Spain.) He came into contact with Gisèle Freund, Hans Namuth and Chim at this time. Soon after he made friends with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

His first photo report was published in 1934 in Vu Magazine. He changed his name to Capa around this time almost together with his girlfriend Gerda Pohorylle, whose name became Gerda Taro. Foreign literature wrongly put together the name of Robert Capa from those of Robert Taylor and Frank Capra, but, to our knowledge, he was called Cápa (shark) because of his big mouth and pushy behaviour already at secondary school in Budapest. All he did abroad was to make it sound English by dropping the accent. The change of his name was also motivated by financial interests, since Gerda was able to sell the photos of a successful American photographer at a price three times higher than those of André. His appearance was also significantly transformed together with the change of his name. He had his long hair cut and he began to wear well-ironed suits, believing that it would be the seal of his success. However, it was difficult for him to work up the change of his name and the radical transformation of his appearance mentally.

He went to record the Spanish Civil War in 1936/37 together with Gerda Taro (whom he taught photography), assigned by Regards, a leftist French weekly magazine. And why should he not have received accreditation when his commissioner, Regards had a Hungarian editor, Pál Aranyossy writing under the name of Falus? Dezső Hoffmann was also working here at this time. Gerda died during an air-raid, but Spain became the springboard to world-wide fame for Capa since his photo titled “The Falling Soldier” irrevocably became a classic.

He worked in London, Paris and returned to Spain to take photos at the fall of Barcelona. He was everywhere where the sky was resounding. Besides the weekly magazine Regards, his photos were also published in LIFE. A countless number of his photos were published by Stefan Lorant in his journals, in Weekly Illustrated and in Picture Post. Lorant coined the slogan “The Greatest War Photographer in the World: Robert Capa,” which accompanied him all through his life.

He spent six months in China with film director Joris Ivens and cameraman John Fernhout during the Japanese occupation. He learnt English from the Dutch in the middle of China and he taught them songs of Hungarian highwaymen in exchange. By the way, Fernhout was Éva Besnyő’s first husband, whom she met earlier in the Spanish Civil War.

Capa returned to Paris, then went back to Spain again to take the series of photos published on 11 pages in Picture Post, two pages in LIFE and five pages in Regards.

After his father died in Budapest, he had nothing else binding him to Europe, so he moved to the United States in 1939 following his mother and his younger brother. Not only his photography, but also the typical Hungarian “lecho” (lecsó) dish cooked by Júlia Friedmann became a legend in the larger group of their friends. He preserved his Hungarian bonds: in his writing “Why have I left home?” he wrote about the conspiracy with his secondary schoolmates under the pillars of the Chain Bridge in Budapest. At the time, he mostly made reportage for LIFE, for example about the presidential elections in Mexico, where he met Kati Deutsch again, a former pupil of Hungarian photographer Lajos Pécsi.

He authored a book in 1941 together with writer Diana Forbes-Robertson about the air battle of London, entitled The Battle of Waterloo Road. After Hungary’s declaration of war, for being a citizen of an enemy state, he was not allowed to leave a ten-mile range of New York and he was also forbidden to take photos. However, in a rather short time, as perhaps the only alien enemy, he achieved to be accredited by the U. S. Army. He only had these personal documents at that time: U. S. residence permit, a Hungarian passport and letters of assignment from various journals. It did not pose an unsolvable problem to him, since he already succeeded in crossing international borders with an expired passport and a nicely decorated Hungarian restaurant menu – and with his big talk – already ten years earlier.

He took photos in England, North Africa, Sicily and in other parts of Italy. He landed with the first American troops on D-Day. He covered the last German offensive in Belgium and took photos about the fall of Leipzig. In the last day of the war he was asked by the Paris correspondent of the American Army’s radio to read an appeal in Hungarian on the air to persuade the population of besieged Budapest to turn against the Germans. Capa accepted to do it; however, by this time his Hungarian had become so rusty that he had to give it up in disgrace. After this incident, his friends were teasing him unmercifully about being a fake Hungarian. At this time Hemingway’s saying became a classic: “Capa speaks seven languages, but all of them poorly.”

At the end of the war, he was about to have a business-card printed with the title “Robert Capa, war photographer, unemployed.” Being aware of the course of world history since that time and Capa’s life story, he could hardly have distributed a lot of these cards. He received U. S. citizenship after the war, officially under the name of Robert Capa.

He went to the Soviet Union in 1947 with John Steinbeck, who wrote about him: “Capa was able to see and use what he had discovered. He was able to show the whole population’s hatred on a child’s face… Capa’s work is the proof of his great heart and his exuberant compassion… I frequently travelled and worked with Capa. He may have had much closer friends but nobody liked him as much as I did. He liked to seem to be easy and carefree in his work. But he was not. His photos are not accidental.”

In the same year, he founded Magnum in New York with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, Maria Eisner, William Vandivert and his wife. Organising the agency, getting clients and making money took much of his time. He wrote to Maria Eisner around 1950: “I enjoy so much to be able to take photos again that I think I will get into to the habit.” After his death, Magnum was taken on and managed by his younger brother, Kornél Friedmann – or as he is better known: Cornell Capa.

In 1947, Robert Capa went to Turkey with a 16 mm film camera. A little bit later he covered the birth of the State of Israel. In Tel Aviv he met a lot of Hungarian acquaintances and then, guided by Paul Goldmann, a photographer of Hungarian origins, he took pictures of the heroic defence at the Kibbutz Negba in the Negev Desert. He also recorded the immigrant Hungarian battalion fighting for the liberation of Jerusalem.

In 1948, he spent six weeks in Hungary, taking photos of the war-torn country with the more and more evident signs of communist influence. At this time reconstruction works were implemented under the first three-year plan. He was accompanied by György Markos, his friend in Berlin and then in Paris. He took photos at the Ganz Shipyard, he recorded the first rice harvest in Békés County and the city of Budapest reviving from the ruins. “The day before I left, I went to get my exit visa. The sergeant who handled foreigners studied my passport very thoroughly. After stamping my exit visa, he asked me which school I went to. I told him the name of my secondary school in Budapest and he promptly listed my teachers and found out the year of my matriculation. He attended the same school, which he finished two years later than me. He gave back my passport and said: “If you had been born two years later with your talent, you either would not be alive today or you would be a secretary of a minister. This way, however, you are only a troubled Western liberal. This is historical materialism.”” This story, entitled “Conversation in Budapest” was published a year later in Holiday Magazine.

Until 1952, he mostly reported about his travels on assignment by Holiday Magazine, often writing the articles as well. Although he never grew rich, he was always full of ideas hiding opportunities to make a lot of money. Once he said: “I will never make millions. You make millions if you have one good idea. When you have twenty a day, you have to share them.” He was proud of his shrewdness that he attributed to being Hungarian. He reversed the well-known slogan from Hollywood, quoted earlier. In his version he said: “It is not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian.”

In 1954, he was sent to Indochina by LIFE to cover the French colonies. On 25 May, he stepped on a land-mine and died. He was honoured with a posthumous Croix de Guerre by General René Cogny.

Capa’s memory has not faded – neither in Hungary, nor abroad. This is, not the least, due to his younger brother who, after the deaths of Capa, Bischof and Chim, felt that he did not have a more important task in his life than ensuring eternal life for these geniuses of photography. His zeal is attested by several exhibitions and books. His work was not without success: almost thirty years after Capa’s death, one of the best Hungarian writers, Ferenc Karinthy wrote about the photographer in his book The End of the World (Vége a világnak). Also András Simor wrote a poem as an homage to the photographer and to the soldier he made immortal. Film director Miklós Jancsó wrote an essay for the fortieth anniversary of Thái Bình. And above all: there is no photographic history or textbook without mentioning both of their names with Robert Capa on the top.

Károly Kincses (2005) “Robert Capa,” on the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center website [Online] Cited 03/11/2019

 

Please note: according to Capa’s birth entry his fathers name was Dávid Friedman (one n) and he was named Endre Ernő Friedman (one n). According to my friend György Németh whom this information came from, he later used his name with two N. As György says, it’s a bit of a mess as he used all kind of spelling throughout his life. Thank you György!

 

Robert Capa's birth entry

 

Robert Capa’s birth entry

 

Second gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Fountain rubble in city square, Stalingrad, USSR' August 1-31, 1947

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Fountain rubble in city square, Stalingrad, USSR
August 1-31, 1947
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Student civil-defense volunteers assisting the wounded, Guangzhou, China' July-September 1938

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Student civil-defense volunteers assisting the wounded, Guangzhou, China
July-September 1938
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Funeral procession for victim killed on the day of the presidential elections, Mexico City, Mexico' July 9, 1940

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Funeral procession for victim killed on the day of the presidential elections, Mexico City, Mexico
July 9, 1940
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Man and cat outside an air-raid shelter, London, UK' June-July 1941

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Man and cat outside an air-raid shelter, London, UK
June-July 1941
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Medical transport craft for men wounded in the first wave of American troops landing on D-Day, off Omaha Beach, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France' June 6, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Medical transport craft for men wounded in the first wave of American troops landing on D-Day, off Omaha Beach, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
June 6, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'German soldiers captured by American forces burying some of the men killed during the D-Day landings, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France' June 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
German soldiers captured by American forces burying some of the men killed during the D-Day landings, near Colelville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
June 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'American soldiers guard a group of captured Germans, southwest of Saint-Lð, Normandy, France' July 26-30, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
American soldiers guard a group of captured Germans, southwest of Saint-Lð, Normandy, France
July 26-30, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Cow in the middle of a street lined with ruined buildings, Normandy, France' June-July 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Cow in the middle of a street lined with ruined buildings, Normandy, France
June-July 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'Soldiers leading a French woman who had collaborated with the Germans to the Préfecture de Police to have her head shaved, Chartres, France' August 18, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
Soldiers leading a French woman who had collaborated with the Germans to the Préfecture de Police to have her head shaved, Chartres, France
August 18, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
40 x 50 cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Photojournalist Robert Capa II' at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Photojournalist Robert Capa II at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954) 'German soldiers captured by American forces during the Battle of the Bulge, south of Bastogne, Belgium' December 23-26, 1944

 

Robert Capa (American-Hungarian, 1913-1954)
German soldiers captured by American forces during the Battle of the Bulge, south of Bastogne, Belgium
December 23-26, 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
50 x 40 cm

 

 

Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest
8 Nagymező Street, 1065 Budapest, Hungary
Phone: +36 1 413 1310

Opening hours:
Monday – Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm

Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, Budapest website

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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.

 

Addendum November 2017

I received a wonderful and unexpected email from Dania Muller, whose grandfather was Nicolás Muller. Dania explains the “enigma” of Nicolás settling in Spain:

He was asked by the intellectuals who weren’t dismissed by Franco, Spains dictator at the time, to exhibit in Madrid. He was living in Tanger at the time. And so he went to Madrid to expose his work… only to encounter a beautiful lady who he felt a strong attraction too, and told his friend that he would marry her. She was my grandma, they fell in love and eventually he moved to Spain, had four kids and took in the Spanish way of life, where he lived peacefully and happily.”

Dania Muller email to Marcus Bunyan 25/11/2017.

.
What a joyous, happy ending! Dania is sending me a book on her grandfather’s work and I hope to do another posting in the near future.

Marcus

.
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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21
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Eva Besnyö 1910-2003: The Sensuous Image’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 23rd September 2012

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“Ranging from the experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, July 1940, Besnyö explored the different terrains that photography was opening up, while at the same time helping to define them. The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

John Yau. “Something Special About Her, Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume” on the Hyperallergic website, July 8th 2012

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin photograph
Private Collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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One of the purposes of this blog is to bring relatively unknown artists into the spotlight. Eva Besnyö is one such artist. Leaving the repressive atmosphere of Hungary in 1930, Besnyö joined László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa) in Berlin before, sensing the danger of National Socialism, she moved to the Netherlands in 1932. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 Besnyö survived four long years in hiding before obtaining false papers in 1944 that allowed her to emerge into the open. She was Jewish.

Exploring elements of the New Vision and New Objectivity in her work, Besnyö explored “the different terrains that photography was opening up” through various bodies of work: “ranging from experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam.” As John Yau observes in the quote at the top of the posting, “The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

Continuing the conversation from my recent review of the work of Pat Brassington (where I noted that curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work – and that the work produced in this style is not necessarily their best), Besnyö can be seen to be a transmogrifying artist, one that experimented and investigated the same themes through different subject matter – hence no signature body of work. One of my friends observed that this kind of art making could be mistaken for a strange form of nihilism (in which nothing in the world has a real existence). It could be argued that the artist keeps changing subject matter, just dabbling really, pleasing herself with the images that she took, without committing to a particular style. Without seeing the 120 vintage prints it is hard to make a judgement.

From the work posted here it would seem that for Besnyö, observation and exploration of the lines of sight of life were the most critical guide to her art. In other words her shifting viewpoints create a multi-dimensional narrative that coalesces in a holistic journey that challenges our point of view in a changing world. As Victor Burgin notes in Thinking Photography, “The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’)” (1982, pp.146). The frame of mind of our points of view…. this is what Eva’s work challenges, the reproduction of our own ideology. Her morphology (the philosophical study of forms and structures) challenges the cameras and our own point of view. As Paul Virilio observes,

“In calling his first photographs of his surroundings ‘points of view’, around 1820, their inventor, Nicéphore Nièpce came as close as possible to Littré’s rigorous definition: ‘The point of view is a collection of objects to which the eye is directed and on which it rests within a certain distance.'” (Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.19.)

Besnyö changes the collection of objects to which the eye is directed as she also changes the distance and feeling of the objects upon which the eye rests. Notice how in most of the photographs the human subjects all have their back to the camera or are looking away from the instrument of objectification (or looking down into it). Even in the two self portraits Besnyö – formal in one with bobbed hair and skirt, wild in the other with a shock of tousled hair – she avoids the gaze of the camera. Like most of her subjects she remains hard to pin down. What Besnyö does so well (and why she isn’t just pleasing herself) is to construct a mythology of the city, a mythology of life which resonates through the ages. She creates a visual acoustics (if you like), a vibration of being that is commensurate with an understanding of the vulnerability of existence.

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

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [boy with a violoncello, Balaton, Hungary]
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 24.3 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Gypsies
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Der Monteur am Ladenfenster
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
20.1 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam.
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Starnberger Straße
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Shadow play]
Hungary 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [dockers on the Spree]
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Vertigo #3]
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö (1910–2003) is one of those women who found in photography not just a profession but also a form of liberation, and of those cosmopolitan avant-garde artists who chose Europe as their playing field for both play and work. Immediately after her photographic training in the studio of József Pécsi in Budapest, Eva Besnyö left the repressive, antiprogressive environment of her native Hungary for ever. Then aged 20, she decided, like her compatriots László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), to go to Berlin. As soon as she arrived in autumn 1930, she discovered there a dynamic photographic scene, open to experimentation and placed under the double sign of the New Vision and the New Objectivity, whose modern language would allow her to develop her personal style.

Of Jewish origins, Eva Besnyö, who foresaw the threat of National Socialism, moved to the Netherlands in 1932 where she met again her companion the film director John Fernhout. There she was welcomed into the circle of international artists around the painter Charley Toorop, and rapidly became known in Amsterdam, where she had her own photographic studio. A solo exhibition at the Kunstzaal van Lier in 1933 gained the attention notably of the Dutch followers of the “Neues Bauen” (New Building), whose architecture she recorded, in a highly personal manner, over a long period. The invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 marked a dramatic turning point in Eva Besnyö’s life. If she managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy, the traces of this experience would remain acute throughout the postwar decades. During the 1950s and 60s, her family life led her to abandon street photography for commissions. Finally, in the twilight of her career, the photographer militated in the Dolle Mina feminist movement, whose street actions she chronicled in the 1970s.

With more than 120 vintage prints, some modern prints and numerous documents, this first French retrospective devoted to Eva Besnyö aims to show the public the different facets of her work, which is situated between New Vision, New Objectivity and social documentary, at the crossroads between poetry and political activism.

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With other eyes

In 1929, during her second year of apprenticeship to József Pécsi, portrait and advertising photograper in Budapest, Eva Besnyö received the book of photographs Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), published a few months earlier in Munich. Its author, Albert Renger-Patzsch, is the precursor of New Objectivity in photography. While pictorialism reigned in Hungary, Eva Besnyö discovered the world with other eyes: from up close and under unexpected angles. With these new models in mind and her Rolleiflex in hand, she strode along the banks of the Danube in search of subjects and daring viewpoints, showing concern for a precise, close-up description of the most diverse objects, as well as a taste for fragmentation and for the repetition of the motif in the frame.

As soon as she finished her studies, Eva Besnyö went to Berlin on the advice of the painter and photographer György Kepes – and against the wishes of her father who would have preferred that she chose Paris. The Berlin years, between 1930 and 1932, were for her those of a political and aesthetic awakening. Besides the influence of the revolutionary aesthetic of Russian cinema, she came under that of the New Vision, which took off with László Moholy-Nagy and his book Painting Photography Film (1925), using a whole stylistic grammar, advocating downward perspectives or low-angle shots, a taste for the isolated object and its repetition, as well as optical manipulations revealing an unknown, but very real, world. The activity of the town or the empty crossroads of Starnberger Straße, portraits and images of summer on the banks of Lake Wannsee count among Besnyö’s most successful compositions.

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Worker and social photography

At the Marxist Workers’ School in Berlin, Eva Besnyö schooled her social and political conscience. In her circle of friends gathered around fellow Hungarian György Kepes, she discussed passionately the role of the workers’ movements. In Berlin, as earlier in Budapest, Eva Besnyö took her camera to the principal sites of trade and business, where she photographed labourers hard at work: dockers on the Spree, coalmen in the street, fitters perched on ladders; in the city centre, she followed the workers at Alexanderplatz, in around 1930 the largest construction site in Europe. In Hungary, where she returned from time to time from Berlin, she carried out an extraordinary documentary project on the people of Kiserdö, in the suburbs of Budapest. Blessed with a heightened political awareness, she had already understood by 1932 that, as a Jew, her future was not in this country, and left Berlin for Amsterdam.

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New Vision and New Building

In 1933, the solo show devoted by the Kunstzaal van Lier to Eva Besnyö just one year after her arrival in Amsterdam aroused the enthusiasm of numerous architects – her principal clients in the years to come. Mostly members of the group de 8 in Amsterdam and the radical abstract collective Opbouw in Rotterdam, they discerned in her images, which emphasised the functional side of objects, their structure and their texture, a suitable approach for explaining their buildings.

Equipped with a Linhof 9 x 12 cm plate camera acquired especially for the purpose, Eva Besnyö went to building sites and photographed public and private buildings, notably the studios of the Dutch radio station AVRO at Hilversum, the Cineac cinema in Amsterdam and a summer house in Groet, in the north of the country. Become, in the 1930s, the preferred photographer of Dutch New Building, Eva Besnyö made most of her income at the time from architectural photography.

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Bergen and Westkapelle

From Amsterdam, where from 1935 to 1939 she shared a studio at Keizersgracht 522 with the photographer Carel Blazer and the architect Alexander Bodon, Eva Besnyö went regularly to Bergen and Westkapelle, two villages where many artists gathered. In Bergen, north of Amsterdam, Charley Toorop, Expressionist painter and mother of the film director John Fernhout, whom Eva had married in 1933, held an artistic salon in the De Vlerken studio. It was at Westkapelle, a centuries-old village built on a polder in Zealand, that the family often spent their holidays. In this landscape shaped by the natural elements, Eva Besnyö returned to a free photographic practice, with views of vast beaches of white sand, of black silhouettes against a background of old windmills and cut-out shadows.

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Rotterdam

In July 1940, Eva Besnyö photographed the old town of Rotterdam destroyed by German airforce bombing. Far from classic photo-journalism, these images of ruins and traces of devastation – from which, in retrospect, she distanced herself – are today silent, bare statements of the wounds and scars of history.

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Dolle Mina

The Dolle Mina feminist movement gathered both men and women, mainly from the student protest movement. In the 1970s, Eva Besnyö militated actively within it, alongside sympathisers of all ages. In a second phase, she focused on photographic documentation of the movement’s actions and activities, taking responsibility for sending out images daily, like a press agency.

Text by Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat, curators of the exhibition

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
1934
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Summer house in Groet, North Holland. Architects Merkelbach & Karsten]
1934
18.2 x 24.2 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Stadion, Berlin, 1931
1931
16.8 x 23.9 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Lieshout, The Netherlands]
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
25.3 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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“In 1930, when Eva Besnyö arrived in Berlin at the age of only twenty, a certificate of successful apprenticeship from a recognised Budapest photographic studio in her bag, she had made two momentous decisions already: to turn photography into her profession and to put fascist Hungary behind her forever.

Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.

Eva Besnyö had a keen political sense, evidenced by the fact that she fled in good time from anti-Semitic, National Socialist persecution, leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in autumn 1932. Supported by the circle surrounding woman painter Charley Toorop, filmmaker Joris Ivens and designer Gerrit Rietveld, Besnyö – meanwhile married to cameraman John Fernhout – soon enjoyed public recognition as a photographer. An individual exhibition in the internationally respected Van Lier art gallery in 1933 made her reputation in the Netherlands practically overnight. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing.” In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, eg. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The invasion of German troops in May 1940 meant that as a Jew, Eva Besnyö was compelled to go into hiding underground. She was attracted to a world view shaped by humanism in the post-war years, and her photographs became stylistically decisive for neo-Realism and immensely suitable for the moralising exhibition, the “Family of Man” (1955). The mother of two children, she had experienced the classic female conflict between bringing up children and a profession career as a crucial and very personal test. Consequentially, Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera.

This first retrospective exhibition, showing approximately 120 vintage prints, aims to introduce the public to the life and work of this emigrant and “Berliner by choice”, a convinced cosmopolitan and the “Grande Dame” of Dutch photography. “Like many other talents, that of Eva Besnyö was lost to Germany and its creative art as a direct consequence of the National Socialists’ racial mania.” (Karl Steinorth, DGPh, 1999)”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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Eva Besnyö
Narda, Amsterdam
1937
Private collection, Berlin
40 x 50 cm
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [The shadow of John Fernhout, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands]
1933
25.3 x 20.4 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
Berlin, 1931
17.4 x 17.4 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [John Fernout with Rolleiflex at the Baltic seaside]
1932
44.2 x 39.5 cm
Private collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Magda, Balaton, Hungary]
1932
40.5 x 30.6 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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