“Budapest Will Have Its Own Museum of Photography”

In conversation with museum director Péter Baki

Ágnes Karácsony


Although Hungary is “the country of André Kertész, Moholy-Nagy, Brassaї, Robert Capa and Martin Munkacsi”, the tome on Hungarian photographic art is yet to be written. Besides the lack of historical research, there is no solidarity in the profession either, says photographer and photographic historian Péter Baki, the director of the Hungarian Museum of Photography and the president of the Association of Hungarian Photographers, who has been making every effort for the last ten years to have the unique collection of Hungarian photography moved from its present home in Kecskemét to a Budapest location.

The Association of Hungarian Photographers (est. 1956) began to accumulate its collection in 1958, upon which the Kecskemét museum was founded in 1991. Importantly, from the late 19th century onwards, there were calls in virtually every decade for a museum of photography be opened in Budapest, but after the change in the political system the collection was eventually taken to Kecskemét. The initial idea of preserving Hungarian photographs in a museum dates back to 1862, when Ferenc Veress, a photographer in Kolozsvár (now Cluj) announced a call to establish a museum documenting the history of Hungarian photography. His initiative was thwarted by the lack of funds at the time. Then, in 1895, during the organisation of the millennial celebrations, Veress again spoke out for the cause of a museum. Again, to no avail. It was in the interwar period that a collection suitable for founding a museum upon was created but no appropriate building was available then – nor later. Hence, until the late 1980s, the idea of a museum of photography remained just that, without any feasible plans being put forward.

In 2006 Péter Baki was placed at the helm of the museum in Kecskemét and faced a shortage of funds in the institution’s operation.

In 2008, for the first time in the history of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, an exhibition of photography was staged with the title Soul and Body, Kertész to Mapplethorpe, attracting more than 70 thousand visitors. Another breakthrough was the 2011 London show Eyewitness featuring 20th-century Hungarian photographers and pulling in 65 thousand visitors. Highly successful exhibitions of photography had been organised before too but these shows opened the eyes of the Hungarian public to the potential of photography.

The annual budget of the Robert Capa Center is more than 645 thousand Euros, but it is only 16 thousand Euros for the Hungarian Museum of Photography. In recent years the Mai Manó House was granted ca 97 thousand Euros of state support, while the Association of Hungarian Photographers received less than 6,500. In 2016 the National Cultural Fund of Hungary’s total annual expenditure on Hungarian photographic culture – including exhibitions and scholarships for artists – was 195 thousand Euros. To sum up, the Hungarian state finances Hungarian photography with an annual amount of ca 970 thousand Euros. Painfully little, indeed, especially if we consider the potential contribution of Hungarian photography to the national economy.

There is a shortage of theorists, art historians and aesthetics specialised in photography. Historical research on photography is also lacking, and canonisation –which museum visitors and people wanting to invest in photographs would equally benefit from – is badly needed.