Angler by the lake with three rods

Péter Baki, director of the Hungarian Museum of Photography, on the international success of Hungarian photography

Twentieth-century Hungarian photography enjoys a high international reputation and names such as Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Munkácsi and Moholy-Nagy are well-known. The Hungarian Museum of Photography in Kecskemét, which was established by the Association of Hungarian Photographers and the former Photographers’ Cooperative, has held several successful exhibitions, though as a museum operated by a foundation its finances are limited. Historian of photography, Péter Baki, who has worked in the museum since 1998 and has been its director since January 2006, has been the curator of several exhibitions in Budapest and in major museums abroad. All have attracted large numbers of visitors. Yet the exhibitions held in the Kecskemét museum are visited by relatively few, even when the works of the greatest masters are shown. There has been a decline in Kecskemét in recent years. A Robert Capa exhibition attracted only 1600-1800 people, while in Budapest the exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts, Soul and Body, which I curated, attracted 70,000 and the Lucien Hervé exhibition in the winter drew more than 30,000 visitors. Museums presenting large exhibitions – the Ludwig Museum featuring Martin Munkácsi or the Museum of Fine Arts with Hervé – can spend on advertising. However, it is different for the Mai Manó House, although Károly Escher was no less talented than the aforementioned. If the retrospective of André Kertész were to be taken from the Jeu de Pomme in Paris to the Kecskemét museum it would become insignificant. However, it is good news that the Hungarian National Museum is apparently going to exhibit it in Budapest. Photography is beginning to find a home again in the National Museum, which owns many works by Robert Capa and Károly Hemző. An exhibition presenting the 20th-century history of Hungarian photography, our largest undertaking to date, is opening at London’s Royal Academy of Arts on 30 June 2011. One hundred photographs by André Kertész will be exhibited in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. The photographs of the five great masters, Brassaï, Kertész, Capa, Munkácsi and Moholy-Nagy, were shown in Tampere, while Abu Dhabi hosted a Károly Hemző exhibition entitled Only Horses and Washington presented the works of the most important Hungarian women photographers. The London exhibition will include nearly two hundred outstanding images and the Royal Academy is publishing a catalogue containing reproductions of all the photographs. The internationally acclaimed expert Colin Ford and I are the curators – he for “those who left” and I for “those who stayed in Hungary”. If successful it will allow us to make offers in connections with other photographers. The small size of storerooms and the condition of the roof in Kecskemét are the most urgent matters. The nitrate storage was recently drenched and several pictures by Rudolf Balogh made during World War I were destroyed. The failure to invest three million forints may ruin a value of tens of millions. Kecskemét could be Hungary’s capital of photography, as Bratislava has become in Slovakia.