|All by Munkácsi|
In some ways, the Eyewitness exhibition of Hungarian photographers of the 20th century at the Royal Academy wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. (Luckily it was other things instead.) I was interested to see the works I love by Munkácsi, Brassaï, Moholy-Nagy et al - I had never realised they were all Hungarian - but what I found was an exhibition putting Hungarian photographers and photography in the context of events of the 20th century. This meant that I missed out on seeing some photographs I love, but gained a better understanding of how events in Hungary contributed towards creating a distinctive Hungarian style, which then became internationally influential when the photographers left Hungary for France, London and New York. (Only one of the above Munkácsi images is in the exhibition I think: the one of the woman sprinting along a beach, which is noted as the first (as in the first ever) fashion photograph for Harper's Bazaar.) Those who stayed in Hungary forged another style, due to the restraints of having to photograph in the style of Socialist Realism - whereby works of art had to "depict and glorify the proletariat's struggle toward socialist progress." Cue a lot of technically superior images of farm workers and labourers with scythes looking aspirational - on first look at least. The photographers had to be inventive to sneak any sort of comment on society through. My favourite photo in the exhibition is by László Fejes (below) and shows a wedding party walking in front of a wall full of bullet holes. This image led to him being banned from publishing photography because it showed the bullet marked wall.
I thought I was going to see some of my favourite fashion photographs by Munkácsi and Brassaï's images of Paris - instead I got an unforgettable history lesson. Why don't schools teach history like that?