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Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century

Continuing in the Royal Academy's Sackler Wing is the highly acclaimed Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century  Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi until  2 October 2011.  The exhibition is dedicated to the birth of modern photography, featuring the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. The juxtaposition of photographers suggests a reappraisal of individuals is overdue.  

Each of the key photographers left their homeland of 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, are also represented in the exhibition. Over 200 photographs from 1914 to 1989  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 explores 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 émigré 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 cofounded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger.  

The exhibition also celebrates the diversity of the photographic milieu in Hungary, from the early 20th century professional and club photography of Rudolf Balogh, Károly Escher and József Pécsi, to the more recent documentary and art photography of Péter Korniss and Gábor Kerekes.  Key works by over forty photographers show how major changes in modern photography have been interpreted through a particularly Hungarian sensibility. Varied subject matter includes ‘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’s Satiric Dancer, 1926.  The exhibition features works from the Hungarian National Museum of Photography in Kecskemét together with the National Museum, Budapest and public and private collections in Hungary and the UK.

The exhibition has been curated by Colin Ford, founding director of the National Media Museum, with Péter Baki, Director of the Hungarian National Museum of Photography together with Sarah Lea, Royal Academy of Arts.

Open to public: until Sunday 2 October 2011 between 10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30 pm) and Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30 pm)  Admission is £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. 

Tickets are available daily at the RA. Advance bookings: Telephone 0844 209 0051 or visit The Royal Academy of Arts is at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J OBD.

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