One of the pleasures of being home is taking books from the shelf such as Gábor Kerekes Seventies·Eighties, a book in two parts, "The Place" and "Everyday". In the first, corrosive light vies with inky blackness swallowing it up; between these two forces objects take on a sinister presence. The second part is more enigmatic.
I only came across this Hungarian photographer's work at the exhibition Soul and Body [Lélek és Test] at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, 6 June - 24 September 2008 (here is a newspaper review), where there were five of his prints: Circle Game, Birthday triptych (1975) (which are reproduced in the second part of this book, picked up after the exhibition - although in Seventies·Eighties one of the parts of the birthday triptych does not appear), Aircraft cemetery (2007), Head cut (1993) and Arm (1993). Placed between the last two photographs was Zsolt Péter Barta's Eye (1993). There is an article by Lyle Rexer in Graphis May/Jun 2002 on Kerekes.
As explained in the introduction to Seventies·Eighties by László Beke, there are three layers in Kerekes's thirty-year output, this collection surveying his first. Kerekes deprecates his work of the late eighties as mere Reportage, but that which survives contains some quite eerie images such as those from Paris. His third, current, period engages in the alchemical erosion of boundaries that have evolved in recent history between science and art. With his images he demonstrates the subjectivity of perception, imbuing objects and instruments of scientific knowledge with a palpable uncertainty as to their nature and purpose. Distinctions between animal, mineral and vegetable are difficult to draw - for example, the leaf-like pattern of blood-vessels in Head cut and the sculptural attributes of the preserved severed Arm (which seems also to be poised between movements, in a sort of contrapposto of the arm.)
Kerekes also uses the photographic processes of the nineteenth century, such as the use of printing-out paper, where the image emerges not in a chemical bath but through exposure to light. All stages of the material aspects of image-making are important and one senses that he has successfully inhabited modes of epistemological discovery that were current in the nineteenth century, only now applied to the problems of this century.
Seeing one of the Aircraft cemetery series at the Budapest exhibition
reminded me of some of Paul Klee's watercolours, held by an abstract basis in repetition and variation yet also by an ancient basis in myth and sense of the unknowable. (In fact Kerekes has made explicit reference to Klee in his series Over Roswell-2 (2005) with the print entitled Paul Klee Land.) I was curious as to quite how the aerial picture had been made and subsequently found an answer in Kerekes' descriptions of his working methods for the project Over Roswell (2002).
The exhibition Soul and Body last summer featured work by mostly, but not exclusively, Hungarian photographers, including André Kertész, Brassaï, László Moholy-Nagy and Robert Capa.
Other photographs that made me look with attention were by Cornell Capa, Martin Munkácsi, Ilse Bing, Luca Göbölyös, György Tóth, Lenke Szilágyi, András Baranyay, Tamás Féner, Paul Almasy, Ferenc Haar, Ferenc Aszmann, László Fejes, Gueorgui Pinkhassov. [Transcribed from a scrap of paper on which I scribbled while going round the exhibition and which I can now throw away! - I do not have the details of the images, only occasional aide-mémoires - recourse needs to be made to the catalogue of the exhibition.]
Another book that I leafed through after this exhibition was one I would like to spend time looking through, Péter Nádas' My Own Death (tr. Janos Salomon), which features photographs of a pear tree over the course of a year, interleaved with a story of the passing of three minutes.