Personal distance

Photographs of Éva Besnyő

12. September 2020. – 11. November
MegnyitóOpening: September 11, 2020, 6:00 pm
KurátorokCurators: Judit Csatlós, Juhász Anna Mária
In Hungary, Eva Besnyö (1910-2003) is usually associated with the “sociophoto” movement, which aimed to explore and document social problems in the period between the two world wars. In her second homeland, however, the Netherlands, she was renowned for her architectural photography and – in the 1970s – for her photographic record of the women’s movement.

The Kassák Museum’s exhibition, opening in September, presents Eva Besnyö as a distinctive representative of modernity, and her career as the model of how a woman can live a free, independent life unshackled by convention. By establishing herself as a professional photographer, she attained a financial independence that enabled her to choose her own way of life.

The exhibition therefore presents her life’s work as a synthesis of artistic activity and photographic commissions. Pervading Besnyö’s work is a social sensitivity towards those who lost out in the sociocultural changes of the time. At the same time, her pictures from the 1920s and 1930s document phenomena such as female emancipation and innovations aimed at shaping the human environment.

Besnyö was introduced to the new ways of seeing in photography at the private school of József Pécsi in Budapest. In 1930, she moved to Berlin, where the buzzing intellectual life of the Weimar Republic – which she experienced together with György Kepes, Robert Capa and many others – had a decisive influence on her subsequent career. That was where she met her first husband, the Dutch filmmaker and photographer John Fernhout, with whom she soon moved to Amsterdam, like many other intellectuals who were obliged to leave Berlin because of their origins or political convictions.

Following the success of her first solo exhibition, her modern way of seeing soon made her a sought-after photographer and brought her many prestigious commissions. She became one of the defining figures of modern Dutch visual culture. She visited her homeland several times during the 1930s. Her output from that time, in addition to work in a personal vein involving close family and friends, includes many of her iconic photographs on social themes. In the 1970s, she joined the street demonstrations of the Dutch women’s movement Dolle Mina, and became its main photographer.

The Kassák Museum’s exhibition goes beyond the thematic highlights of her oeuvre to explore Besnyö’s artistic methods and way of seeing. A recurring question throughout her life was the changing relationship with the photographed subject and the photographer’s participation in the situation. She frequently described this in terms of the concepts of distance and proximity. The exhibition title – Personal Distance – reflects the approach to photography that developed as she moved on in space and time.