Károly Gink (1922-2002) Memorial Exhibition
These words were written in April, in the midst of the preparations for this anniversary exhibition, without any anticipation of the sad event to come. Károly Gink had read and approved of this text. We dicided to publish the text unchanged because of that, and because this was the last writing concerning his artistic achievement in his lifetime.
Károly Gink has celebrated his 80th birthday this year. The grey-haired doyen of Hungarian photography has remained an experimental and revolutionary artist up to this age. His anniversary exhibition will not lack surprises either: unknown photos unearthed from his vast archives. During the selection, curators and editors were astonished to meet many remarkable, yet forgotten works. There are photos that have never made to into any of his exhibition. Others might have been seen on exhibitions, but were’t chosen to be published at the time, leaving only a narrow professional audience to remember them. Even the time-span is impressive: its an oeuvre of more than fifty years.
At the time he started his photographical activity, in 1938, in the Ferenc Széchenyi Upper Economy School, where he launched his first photo-club, photography had not yet had museums. Photography was rarely featured in exhibition spaces. There were no copies of astronomical prices for the elegant photo-loving upper-class. There was no such tidal wave of photography drowning our magazines.
His half a century coincided with the half century that changed the place and function of photography in our world. In our country, Károly Gink was a champion of the changes with his exhibitions, prizes and albums, and all his manifold activities.
In the history of Hungarian photoalbums, Károly Gink’s Dream of Csunyinka was the first fairytale book, illustrated with photographs. The artist enlivened the nature with puppets. The open landscape, the smooth surface of water, and the tiny trembles and shivers crossling it, the shilouettes of gently touching hills, the streamrounded pebbles of the riverbed in the foreground or the leaf-covered forest floor. All build up to become an enchanting backdrop to the characters of the fairy-tale world. Different puppets in a different series of photographs, also live their musical lives on the stage of the forest. The costumed characters of Bartók’s „The Wooden Prince” danced and posed according to Gink’s invention, forming powerful and intricate images. Real settings, turned into stage become imaginary landscapes, and are still recorded by the documentary eye of the camera. This tension has vouched for the unusual, strange atmosphere of these pictures.
In one of his essays, Antal Szerb has drawn a distinction between nature and landscape. Nature is the pantheistically promising untouched land, while landscape has its cultural, historical connotations: it is enlivened by manmade buildings and artifacts. Gink’s oeuvre contains maily this latter type: he cathces bloomy-beautiful sculptures of Borsos in a strange garden (Ligheia), or a noble archaic torso on his photo of the Aegean Sea (Past ans Present, 1963). Other compositions contrast the ruined classic column with factory-chimneys. The cave-monastery of Geghardt decorated by intricately woven lace-like sculpting. At the same time, he has also made classic nature photography that ruminates on the connection of the basic elements, like earth-sky-sea. Stone and water, stone and hills, undulating dunes of sand, stormstruck, derelict lands, sullen rocks, flickering clouds. His landscapes make an effect by the contrast of the sharp shilouettes and the humid, blurred patcheshidden in the same composition. Their lyrical elevation is unquestionable, though landscape photography is a part of Gink’s oeuvre that has not been much talked about.
Many a word has been said about his human figures, considered to be his most important achievment. The faces recorded home or at exotic locations talk of their fates. Unforgettable are his portraits of exceptional personalities(Lőrinc Szabó, Milán Füst, József Egry, Gyula Illyés), and fictional portraits. One could go on talking about his still-lifes, early socio-photos, commercial photos that preceded the present hysterical thriving of images in the media.
The series of albums about far-aways lands (Ithaca, Uzbegistan, Georgia, Azerbaidjan, India, Armenia) can be considered a separate chapter in his oeuvre. Gink had an unsatiable intellectual hunger, that fuelled his search for images that give way for his artistic creativity, next to their documentary value. He shows „talking houses”, he shows Paris, with its night lights, he has chlochards, with his limping shadow frozen on film. He shows New York, with its vibrant evening traffic, and shows Budapest with its many delicate small towns hiding behind the great city. Beautiful Hungarian towns have showed their trueest, hidden faces to him.
He did not commit himself to one certain genre of photography, nor style or point of view. His talent, his inner flexibility has raced him constantly to new adventures. He could be sociologist, if needed, or ethnologist, if needed, or stage expert, or cultural historian, or if there was special need for it – he could become a lyric. Not free from human weaknesses and temperament in everyday life, he justified his reputation as a „difficult person”.
The foreword to a catalogue cannot possibly bear the burden of itroducing an entire life’s work. If asked what talks to us most deeply in his work, we would name his courage and his goghting spirit, with which he constantly runs for new challenges. Thus this many-faceted, rich oeuvre was born, to the end of which we could scribe the words of Milán Füst: „ This had all been me, once.”
Hungarian House of Photography in Mai Manó House
H-1065 Budapest-Terézváros, Nagymező utca 20.