Some photographs are burned in the collective imagination, the original piece of art on paper reproduced on bags, posters and notebooks. Their photographers are household names, whose exhibitions draw crowds of experts and amateurs alike. Others disappear into the archives of less-well-endowed museums and private collections.
It is precisely the latter that the Hungarian House of Photography – Mai Manó House’s latest exhibitions, running throughout the summer, seeks to revive with its “Journey through the Photographic Treasures of Hungarian Museums”.
Arriving from Debrecen, Szigetbecse, Pécs, Székesfehérvár, Nyírbátor, Kecskemét, Szeged and Nyíregyháza, the 200 or so items covering 130 years from 1864 have a variety of authors, some unnamed, some bearing the imprint of Hungary’s most famous photographers: László Moholy-Nagy, André Kertész, Brassaï or Martin Munkácsi.
The photographs are arranged in little themed plots along the walls of the exhibition rooms – here boats, there artisans, further again a series on the First World War at home and at the front. Small-town and rural Hungary are well illustrated, but scenes from Morocco, Italy, Paris and the USA add to the travelling theme.
Some are quaint but nevertheless, for the duration of the exhibition, serve the purpose for which they were taken – immortalising a moment someone, somewhere, once thought important. The arrival of the first car in Szeged is depicted in a 1904 photograph by József Auer, featuring a car so flower-bedecked it cannot be imagined in motion. A serious, uniformed chauffeur sits at the wheel behind the shiny brass horn, while two children in their Sunday best look out from the back.
Others seem of more fleeting interest: rows of early-20th-century moustached officials gaze at the camera while further away a party of six enjoys a riverboat trip. The year is 1914 and the woman in a man’s three-piece suit, hands in pockets and cigar at mouth in the centre of the group looks confidently ahead under the benevolent grin of a uniformed official sporting cap and bayonet.
Yet others record small pieces of history – the 1959 snapshot of an itinerant knife sharpener at work with his whetstone – or small parts of larger pieces of history, such as the man brandishing a sign reading “I will go away forever” as a statue of Lenin is carted away in 1990s Debrecen.
Not all photographs share the same artistic merits but most will catch the eye or raise a smile.
Rarely Seen Photographs – A Journey through the Photographic Treasures of Hungarian Museums
Runs until 16 September
Entrance HUF 1,000 (students, pensioners: HUF 500).
Hungarian House of Photography – Mai Manó House, District VI, Nagymezõ u. 20