Károly Kincses: Taken in Hungary. A Country Mirrored by Foreign Photographers

It would be naive to think that the modern history of Hungary, the events of everyday life, the history of photography in Hungary can be fully understood through the works of Hungarian photographers.

When we look into the mirror in the morning we don't see ourselves, rather the image we think we are. Based on our current mood we see ourselves nicer or uglier but never the actual one. The case with photographs is something like that. There have been taken a lot of them, but all taken by us Hungarians and we would like to present, our country and the state of our affairs in this or that way. Better, worse according to our current mood.

For a little less biased photographic country-image at least two important ingredients are needed: the likeness seen or transmitted by émigré Hungarians or by photographers of Hungarian descent, and the summary of all the shots taken here by the incidental visitors: foreigners who come and go. Only this way can make the picture of ourselves comprehensive, and a bit more accurate.

The research and presentation of the works of Hungarian-Hungarian photographers has gathered momentum for a while. There is still a lot to do, but there are quite a lot of materials accessible by now. The works of emigrant Hungarian photographers is getting more and more known, owing partly to the activity of the Hungarian Museum of Photography entering its tenth year. However, nobody has an idea how many photographs have been taken by visiting photographers in Hungary during the past 161 years. In the most cases they are scattered among the pictures of some Hungarian photographer, in archives, on the shelves of public and private collections, on the pages of newspapers and books, between pages unturned. No doubt, though, that these pictures are an integral part of Hungarian culture, and ignoring them is gross negligence that may cast the shadow of bad manners on us Hungarians.

We first realized problem some eighteen months ago. We then set to work. Taking the limited resources of Hungarian Museum of Photography into granted, we divided the job of establishing a special collection of Hungary-related photography into stages. (A collection of "Hungarica", we came to call it, with a term borrowed from book scholars.) The first step is to present an exhibition, a catalogue, a CD-ROM and a web-site to attract the attention of professionals and of the public. We present 300 pictures of old and young, of photographers of world fame and less known, all together about 60 photographers, among others the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, Josef Koudelka, Werner Bischof, Inge Morath.

The lion's share of the research will follow. With the help of researchers helped by special grants, friends, acquaintances and the public (making use of the internet as well) we will start a systematic research, planned for two or three years. We aim to build up - through a data and picture collection as comprehensive as possible - a database and an archive accessible for everyone. We plan to include 200-300 photographers and 1500-2000 photographs. The last step - about five years later - would be to summarize the results and present what we will have done by then in a major exhibition - one that we would like to show the world.

We presume that it will be a bigger attraction than all the fireworks for the millennium.

This CD is the first one of a series. It is meant to be followed by two others that will show how visiting photographers raised in different cultures, have seen Hungary and Hungarians. Then we can start to realize our secret plan. (We share a cherished dream with you now.) We aim to compile a big picture tableau of Hungarian photography - one big book that will contain all the significant pictures of Hungarian, émigré and foreign photographers, all the facts, related information, collected by then, the ones together may tell the true story of Hungarian photography. This is our ambitious goal, nothing less.