An interview with Daylight's 2011 Photo Awards Project Prize Recipient, Tamas Dezso
Tamas Dezso is the recipient of Daylight's 2011 Photo Awards Project Prize. His body of work, Here, Anywhere explores the remnants of the Hungarian political shift twenty years ago. Of the work, Tamas comments in his artist statement:
"The map of Hungary is speckled with capsules of time. During the political transformation twenty years ago, as the country experienced change it simply forgot about certain places – streets, blocks of flats, vacant sites and whole districts became self-defined enclosures, where today a certain out-dated, awkward, longed-to-be-forgotten Eastern Europeanness still lingers. There are places which seem to be at one with other parts of the city in a single space, but their co-existence in time is only apparent; places which decompose in accordance with their own specific chronology, determined by their past, such that what remains would then either be silently reconquered by nature or enveloped by the lifestyles of tomorrow’s generations. Of the inhabitants, who have never fully integrated with majority society, soon only traces will remain, until they, too, disappear in the course of time."
Kate Levy: Tamas, what is your connection to the remnants of the Hungarian political shift? What was the impetus in choosing to make a body of work on this specific landscape?
Tamas Dezso: The condition of the remnants and mementos of the political era which has vanished is a mirror of the present age. In an absurd way it says more about the present era than even the past, which has lingered impotently over the physical and spiritual remnants of its heritage during the twenty-two years following the end of the communist regime. Parts of cities have been bulldozed, communities have been enclosed and quarantined – or simply ignored. Since the systemic changes in Hungary no political entity has reckoned with the past. Not having been processed, the past is having an effect to this day and this phenomenon leads to the present period’s anomalies: to the derailment of the mutually desired democracy of 1989 and the emergence of a wreckage of democracy, damaged in its basic elements, to the introduction of dictatorial power principles, the forging ahead of extremism and neo-Fascists gaining ground. These photographs can be mostly interpreted as a criticism of the present age and are made from the perspectiveof these observations.
Lieutenant Colonel Istvan (Josvafo, North-East Hungary, 2011), Copyright Tamas Dezso
KL: Can you talk about any challenges you faced in photographing and compiling the series?
TD: Primarily my own limitations presented a challenge. My attitude, language and technique changed with this series, leaving behind press photography that had become a narrow world for me. A more abstract intention supplemented the documentary perspective. I have sought a more abstract approach with the unity of the horizon, homogenous colours and arbitrarily chosen topics, leaving entirety behind. Despite appearances, searching to find locations is not difficult – these islands destined to be forgotten live embedded in the sphere of society and although those in power would like to write them off by ostracizing their participants they receive ‘visiting strangers’ with pleasure, opening up their communities in response to real interest.
Petya (near Budapest, 2011), Copyright Tamas Dezso
KL: You describe the people you photograph as inhabitants of sites where "a certain out-dated awkward, longed to be forgotten Eastern Europeanness still lingers”. You comment that they "have never fully integrated with majority society, soon only traces will remain, until they, too, disappear in the course of time”. Can you describe their lives in more detail? Who is Lieutenant Colonel István, Petya or Peter? How do you know them? What do their lives look like outside of the frame?
TD: Often I just happened to meet the characters in my pictures while undertaking commissions from magazines or during times connected to my other photographs. For example, I met István, the lieutenant colonel, at the unveiling of a military monument. He was doing the military honours at the ceremonial event. To me his character symbolises the anachronistic power or rather infirmity of Hungarian military presence with his uniform projecting a theatrical appearance, giving the impression of a prop. I met Petya in an underground cultural meeting place in the city centre. He worked there. Maintaining a low profile, he slept in a rear corridor of the former school building. With the homelessness of a philosopher outside society, Petya symbolises the social status of thinking people, the low level at which they are accepted and appreciated in this social environment. Peter works at a mangalitsa farm in northeast Hungary, one of the EU’s poorest regions where unemployment is 90% in some villages. As a member of the gipsy minority, Peter has taken ‘refuge’ emotionally and physically far away from the intolerant and mostly racist society among animals which, as unique Hungarian products, represent Hungarian culture in the world’s top restaurants.
Johanna (Zsámbék, North Hungary, 2009), Copyright Tamas Dezso
KL: "Johanna (Zsámbék, North Hungary, 2009)," feels ghostly and surreal; it’s certainly not your traditional documentary portrait. What were the circumstances surrounding the making of that image?
TD: There was a magazine commission to photograph nuns in Hungary. Johanna lives in the convent of a Premonstratensian community in Zsámbék, a village near Budapest. Besides leading a religious life their order also performs an extremely important secular service – taking on a state duty, they provide local gipsy and mentally disabled children with clothes, school equipment and food, and teach them in school. Johanna also teaches history in the Zsámbék Grammar School and the photograph was taken as we were walking back to the convent after one of her lessons there.
KL: What have you been working on since winning the Project Prize for last year’s photo awards? Can you talk about any new bodies of work or endeavours?
TD: Besides continuing with the series Here, Anywhere I am working in Romania again. I used to visit the country frequently as a press photographer, but now I have begun photographing that special region from a completely different perspective. In this neighbouring country, which like Hungary is burdened with a grave political past, formerly had a dictatorship and was industrialised with force and without sense, I am also observing the transition period – as isolated mini-universes of villages try to discover the exhausting means of survival, humbly co-operate with nature or, for example, search for the means of obtaining daily necessities by dismantling the sellable iron frames of former industrial monsters. I photograph the symbolic landscapes and characters of this world, which recalls a fairy tale despite its hard life – shepherds, metal-collecting gipsies, the horizon crowded to the full with sheep.
To see more of Dezso, visit http://www.tamas-dezso.com/
To enter the 2012 Daylight Photo Awards, visit http://www.daylightmagazine.org/content/daylight-photo-awardsShareThis