Not just to see, but also to feel!

2013., kormendigaleria.hu


Everyone – whether they are conscious of it, or not – is always confronted with themselves, with their own personality that day, with their opinions that are valid just then, with their mental state, their sensitivity or insensitivity, and their actual problems, in the picture they are intensely regarding. Consequently, if someone talks about a picture, or The Picture, it is simply the question of a sensitive and receptive ear, that the other hears, that in fact, they are talking about themselves. The picture meanwhile only serves as a pretext for bringing this to the surface. Judit M. Horváth’s newer and newest pictures are immeasurably suited to proving this theorem. The title of her newer pictures is Deceiving Appearances, but in a certain reading, this might be misleading, because the appearance is not in the least deceiving. To the contrary. They are instead very powerful, emotional, and truly existing. That is to say, they are not deceiving, because they are authentic – and they are not an appearance, or façade, because they appear. These pictures concern the childhood of a sensitive woman, or even earlier: the fairytales and stories that are known, heard, experienced – or if we call them myths, we haven’t stretched it too far – in other words, she was able to charge these feelings living within her, eddying, not easily materialising, with long, hard work and searching into a form from which the material for an exhibition and a photo album could be created. Which should not only – or not primarily – be seen, or evaluated with the intellect, but should be felt. And then there are her newest pictures... But let’s not run too far ahead of ourselves!


It has already been more than thirty years since, resigning from her work as a paediatric nurse, influenced by her husband, György Stalter, she began to photograph. This, of course, was not without its antecedents: as a high school student in Sárvár, she painted and drew, and recited poetry, but she closed the door on school, on her parents’ home, and on all these endeavours, when at the age of 17, she came to Budapest, and moved into a nurses’ dormitory. Things came to pass, and then suddenly there on his white steed appeared Stalter, who worked in the same hospital as a porter; he would move her not only out of her accommodation, but also out of her previous life, offering her a new one that was better, more suited to her. As to whether this was really true, nothing other than the three decades passed since, their successes attained in photography together and separately, and their children, can attest to this. Judit’s path until now, of course, is more similar to the service road to the tiny village of Füzérradvány, than to Madison Avenue, but we know that for each, one’s own path is designated… “I was at home on child care support with Ancsa, when I began to photograph. Gyuri decided that I should photograph. At first, my relationship to photography was quite ambivalent, and it all evolved with difficulty. Gyuri worked for Magyar Ifjúság (Hungarian Youth) at the time, and he gave me certain work to do. There were minor works under his name that I did. It was a tough school – and it lasted for years. My career had a difficult start, as I began working with various magazines on a freelance basis”. (Szarka: Fotográfia nőnemben [Photography from the Woman’s Point of View], pp. 274-275) She has only been photographing professionally since 1985. After her freelance work, between 1990-95, at the Roma magazine, Amaro Drom, she began on a contract, then as permanent photojournalist, then photo editor, and then for three years she was editor-in-chief. Together with Stalter, from this point on, for seven years, they photographed the Roma inhabitants of Hungary’s gypsy settlements and the ghettos in Budapest. This was not at all a simple thing, mainly because Judit had to fight the most serious battles with herself. Don’t say now that, of course, it’s difficult for everyone. Because the case of Judit M. Horváth is special in many aspects. “My parents’ was the first generation that would not become musicians. My father learned to be a baker and pastry chef, and my mother to be a seamstress. Our family suffered all the nuisances and problems of assimilation. Our mother raised us, telling us that we were not gypsies. Every day, I awoke and I went to sleep saying that we are not gypsies. Naturally, we still knew that we were gypsies, and it is hard to know what to do with this, if one is not taught where their place is... It was very hard to coexist with this breach. So hard, that at the age of 17, I left home”. Influenced by Stalter, she turned toward the exploration and resolution of her suppressed feelings of identity. “From then on, with the same amount of strictness that I was brought up with, it began to solidify within me, that I had to tackle my own background; in fact, it was my duty to take it on, because I was in a situation in which it was possible for me. Though it would not be easy for me to accept that someone could accept me from head to toe, together with my background”.
I have already mentioned that for years, together with Stalter, every month they went to the gypsy settlements at all points of the country and produced reports that were published in the magazine. But already from the first, it was clear that for one of them, this was not a simple task that had to be solved: one way or another, it had to be accomplished. Many more pictures were made than could be used in the magazine: a much deeper, coherent, organic material was born. After a time, these pictures compelled them to arrange an exhibition and a book. With these photographs, they were awarded the grand prize of the photo essay category in the 1994 Press Photo Competition, and in the following year, The Visible Present National Photo Biennial Budapest Award. From this point, it was only a mere three years until their joint photo album, entitled Más Világ [Another World], could be published, for which Árpád Göncz, the Hungarian President, and no less a sensitive, good person, and a good writer and translator, would write the introductory text. “Judit M. Horváth and György Stalter have been travelling the shantytowns for years. That world, in which windows are made of newspaper instead of glass, where just one or two dilapidated chairs, a table and a few shabby beds comprise all the furnishings, where it is luck if the furnace provides warmth and not only smoke, and where the sour stench of poverty emanates from every nook and cranny. Judit M. Horváth’s portraits from this world show their fate, while György Stalter’s pictures also show their inevitability. The pictures have a historicity, and a vista that is hopelessly sentenced to failure. The lyrical hues of the former are exaggerated by the severity of the latter to nearly infinite proportions”. These words spoke to my heart. Whoever leafs through the album and looks at the photos can see that this is truly another kind of book, about another world. It is not a photo expedition to some exotic place travelled to from outside; nor is it the meticulous, methodical sociological, anthropological observation by scientists of another group of human beings; nor are they reproaching, blaming pictures, born out of an impulse that wants change; they are something else – while naturally, they might also have such momenta. Those who do not know the author couple, and do not look for the data in the list of images while looking at the photos, might feel that this album is the result of a very unified eye and approach. But in actual fact, it is not this way, as Árpád Göncz also recognised. “It is interesting, that even if we think in the same way, our photos are still different. Perhaps mine are more feminine, softer. Gyuri’s are harder, more conscious, with more of a sense of purpose. At first, he was angry with me, because instead of photographing, I would talk with people. At the first settlement we went to, he chastised me: I could do my weeping at home, but here we needed to photograph”. I once had the honour of opening the Another World exhibition in Vienna. There I spoke long about just what made this world so different. At the time, I think I knew; but now I’m not in the least sure – is it really different? Because if it was different more than 15 years ago, when the pictures were made, then is it exactly the same now as it was then? Because if it isn’t, if it is just as different now as it was then, then it is not another world, but just the same. And this is very sad. The children in these pictures are now mothers and fathers, if they are still alive at all. I might word the new question in this way: would Judit be able to take the same kind of pictures in this next generation? Because if so, then there is a real problem.
Judit M. Horváth no longer photographed those living on the gypsy settlements. “I still have love inside me; it’s just that now I know that they will not get anything from this. And then, do I have a right to them at all?” (K. Szarka: Harcok, sebek, könnyek, képek. Gyorsportré Horváth M. Juditról [Battles, Wounds, Tears, Pictures: A Snapshot of Judit M. Horváth])
Once again, she was not in an easy situation, if she wanted to continue her career that had started off full of great promise. Everyone had categorised her as the author, together with Stalter, of the gypsy pictures full of emotion, of another world, photographed in black-and-white, and this was fine – up to the point that she appeared with the aforementioned 2009 exhibition, Deceiving Appearances. Which then blew a fuse in many, who didn’t understand, or didn’t tolerate, how Judit M. Horváth, whom they had categorised in one way, then appeared with a completely different world at her show arranged at the Mai Manó House of Photography. She detached herself as a photographer from Stalter, and instead of joint exhibitions, they each set off on their own path. Judit unequivocally took a direction within, into the deep layers of her own consciousness. She furnished a dream world woven from memories, and emotional and sensual experiences, from the tales lurking within, from stored literary or other texts, from the traces of memories of life experiences, and from the inanimate objects and puppets collected from here and there. “Arising from my background, my mental constitution, and not least, my female nature, is the fact that Reality and Tales are closely interwoven for me, and the narrow borderland between them is traversable. I easily step from one into the other, and my pictures are born from my uncertainty springing from this duplicit state of existence. Magic, the capacity for transforming reality, begins with collecting, and my objects envelop me, I live with them sometimes for long years, and a personal, strange connection develops between us, and then one day, using the tools of photography, the picture living within me is unexpectedly and uncontrollably born. I weave into the figures of my pictures the desires and elements of my own, real life, around the representation of a fictive life”. If one tries to orient themselves in this private, self-ruled world, they should be firm on their feet. Here, nothing means what it seems in the pictures: instead, what will become important is what we will become while looking at them. Or afterwards. Of course, it is also possible that this will not appeal to someone, and nothing at all will change within them. And then s/he for whom it does not, can rightly pout, because the s/he doesn’t know what on earth to do with all the – rubber dolls, plush deer, glass-eyed monkey, metal dog, baubles and knick-knacks, all the loathsome and kitsch objects, and moreover, mostly dried-out plants and branches – in the nice, masterful, colourful pictures. S/he sees and understands – but does not feel anything. And this can also – must also – be accepted as a valid point of view. S/he is this way. S/he has the right not to become immersed in the world of tales, not to be overcome with emotion, and not to think of the figures of stories that happened long ago and have disappeared into a fog. S/he is this way. These pictures then surely are not meant for her/him. But for the others, very much so. For those who are capable of developing a personal relationship with the pictures. Those who, with their collaborative work, in which the author, the viewer and the picture must all take part, each in their own way, to establish the force-field, in which the photos can set forth their effect. Time of adequate quantity and intensity for contemplating the pictures, concentrated attention, a pinch of empathy and a measure of inclination toward playfulness are preliminary conditions for the reception of these photos. Because they are capable of taking effect not primarily on a conceptual or intellectual level, but much rather on the emotional, spiritual level. Stories live in the pictures. Not one, but many. Naturally, the photographer also has her story – we can listen to it, it’s nice, we hem and haw, how interesting – but we all have our own tale, and let us admit, everyone’s own story is what is really important. The objects that in themselves are insignificant if they are in a context divested of Judit’s emotions, talent, the applied lights, the choice of shooting angle, the lens used, the dimensions of enlargement, and everything else that overrides the primary – and not too interesting or attractive – material attributes, and they will be visually strong, attractive and effective. All those objects that only were produced at the time, so that they would enter JMH’s path, and made themselves found and preserved, so that once a photograph could be realised from them, have become symbols. These lifeless objects model a quite Surrealist situation; what’s more, the entire album, and the exhibition proceed through a life process that is compulsorily prescribed for us all, from birth until death, from creation until passing. It is a simple narrative, familiar to everyone: it does not need to be contemplated; one only needs to take part in it, and to recognise the personal message in it. The pictures help those who turn to them, who accept them, and who do not preclusively reject them – to confront their own life and death experiences, and to evoke the turning points of their own destiny. There is no life in the pictures. There are objects. Colours. Lights. But looking at the photographs, our own lives might be vivified, in which we are playing the leading roles, and the supporting roles; we are the participants and those reflecting; we are in it, and not; we are also viewers, but we might also experience it. And let us admit, this is truly what art is for, and this is what Judit M. Horváth can offer us by way of artistic abstraction. And there are still a few of us who have a need for this.


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Horváth M. Judit