Royal Academy of Arts Presents Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century

. July 8, 2011 . 0 Comments

The Royal Academy of Arts presents Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century, on view 2 October 2011.

The Royal Academy of Arts presents an exhibition dedicated to the birth of modern photography, featuring the work of Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi. Each left their homeland 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, revealing 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.

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 best 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 the Second World War. In 1947, he co-founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger.

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 explore 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 USA 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 were to become his hallmark.

The exhibition also celebrates the diversity of the photographic milieu in Hungary, from the early twentieth-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 war journalism; 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, Kecskemét, the National Museum, Budapest, and public and private collections in Hungary and the UK.

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century – Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Munkácsi has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts on the occasion of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU 2011.

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

Image: Martin Munkácsi, “Nude in Straw Hat” (detail), 1944. Silver gelatin print, 1994, from original negative, 35.5 x 27.5 cm. Hungarian Museum of Photography, Kecskemét. © Estate of Martin Munkácsi, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J OBD

More information 020 7300 8000 or

Category: Fine Art

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.