Interview with Tamas Dezso, 2011 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize Winner

Interview with Tamas Dezso
Winner and Jurors’ Pick (Darren Ching and Sasha Wolf), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize

How did you become interested in photography? How did you decide it was to be something that you wanted to pursue seriously?

Following the political changes of 1989 when the Russian army withdrew, having been stationed in Hungary for more than three decades, the feeling of freedom of speech and ideas became the most prominent experience. The cessation of a double world, the fact that things could be pronounced in and outside your home, were things I felt strongly as a teenager. Coming from an intellectual, very liberal family, this form of journalism and expressing my opinion in this way came naturally to me. Since the written word is important to me primarily as a reader, I decided for the world of images. After I qualified, having learned the profession on a basic level at the school of photography, I began working for Hungary’s leading liberal daily and it was there that I got an inkling of the inspiring energies of image communication and became hooked for life. In four or five years I changed—I began thinking in terms of deeper, more thorough longer-term series instead of a hurried daily job. With regard to the subjects, I have always been interested in East European existence, the condition of the periphery and the anachronism of continuity beyond the apparent changes.

Why did you choose to photograph the places and people in the poverty-stricken regions of Budapest? Did you consciously avoid places that showed wealth and privilege?

The series Here, Anywhere doesn’t primarily explore the stations or locations of poverty-stricken existence. Rather, it examines the particular East European character of a poor, existentially marginal world falling behind, a world formed in a specific geographical and historical situation, while arbitrarily highlighting society’s less visible but symbolic segments— social and physical enclosures left untouched by the changes of recent decades, although they are strikingly close to blocks of houses, districts, and whole towns trying to catch up convulsively and sometimes clumsily. Like an eyewitness, the series immortalizes the residents of decaying housing estates, former buildings reduced to bricks, and the nowhere land at the edge of cities yet embedded in them, silently enduring the lack of change and an annihilation deferred to an uncertain future.

How did you approach and plan how this project was to be organized?

When the images in my mind assembled into a unified world, when it was clear to me that I wanted to express East European existence in the new series, I continued my earlier wanderings in the peripheries and other distant locations of Budapest. I returned to places stored in my imagination, hiding places of my childhood, and lined up new sites with my later discoveries. The pictures in the making made my sight sharper and, as if obsessed, I began looking for places, objects, and people that do not exist for many of us: the fabric of a former upper-middle-class district of Budapest, Józsefváros, with its empty plots between buildings, a reinforced concrete building, begun but then abandoned—recalling the atmosphere of ancient ruins—the anarchist who left society behind, the boy rearing mangalitsas [a breed of Hungarian pig] and the lieutenant colonel who is sticking out his chest stiffly even in his awkwardness.

What does [the photo] “Lieutenant Colonel Istvan” represent to you?

To me a uniform and the military appearance in this region do not represent actual military force or the professionally equipped successors of soldiers in romantic patriotic wars, rather they are reminders of the former presence of the communist system’s oppressive nature, whether originating outside or established inside the country. The uniform functions as a fancy dress, it does not become an inseparable identity of its wearer. The erect yet shy lieutenant colonel is an insecure and absurd player of Hungary’s 20th-century history.

Read more about Tamas Dezso’s work

CDS undergraduate student Chelsea Bright conducted this interview as part of the “Multimedia Documentary” class in the fall of 2011. 

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