Progress report

Just before Christmas 2020, I found my literary calling. I had been looking in the wrong direction all along, and then, something just clicked: the outlines of the book I’m to write finally came to me. The subject was so obvious, constantly surrounding me—yet subtle enough to linger on the sidelines for 36+ years.

I was about to turn 37 and I gave myself the deadline till my 40th birthday to finish the first draft. The discovery gave me a purpose and slowly lifted me out of a post-breakup darkness that had consumed the better of me for a little more than a year. Ever since I have been reading book after book on writing, and even attended a few workshops to immerse myself in the trade.

This past Saturday, I joined a day-long online class (Writing Photography), carefully orchestrated by the wonderful Lewis Bush. It was not the first time I got the chance to learn from him, I’m a regular when it comes to his virtual seminars. This one was a breakthrough for me, however, as now I feel confident in my approach. Until now, I have tried to force my thought process into existing structures and that suffocated the work. Now I know that experimental means are just as valid as classic methods. As long as things make sense, I’m on the right path. Hearing this from someone I look up to is definitely a game-changer.

I am still not sure how much of the process I am going to share with the public: on the one hand, I would love to—on the other, it is wiser to keep most of it to myself at this point. I will need to find the right balance between using this space* as a comfortable sounding board and over-sharing. I do like a good challenge though!

Should you be on the search for Saturday-worthy (online) courses related to photography that do not cost you an organ and are given by an excellent teacher, do take a look at what Lewis offers. Highly recommended.

Réka Szentirmay. Structure v5. 21st February 2021.

*Or, it is probably time for me to start a newsletter.

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If I have…

…counted how many times I stated here to return… And then nothing happened.

The other blog where I and my dear friend post about photography is alive and well, however. We have just turned one year old!

My focus on writing has shifted a bit, sadly. But now at least on Mondays I do write. And that is a win! Maybe next year I will join NaNoWriMo again. Even though I still do not think that there is a novel in me at this point, the community is amazing.

In the meantime, I have a few new ideas on what to blog about here. What would you fancy more, Dear Reader, if I have decided to put in more effort here? I have an ever-growing collection of film stills I take while watching movies. (Sometimes I even create GIFs.) Or would you appreciate old photographs I find in online archives? Or is it (photo) books that make you tick? Do let me know.

The return

It’s been more than two years since my last post here. A lot has changedand at the same time, nothing at all. The perpetual existential crisis of what-I-will-be-once-I-grow-up remains a constant companion while life goes on, for better or worse.

Last year, I decided to quit most of my side activities to focus on writing. Discipline is a hard genre but my dear friend and I finally started the blog we had been in labour with for years. Every two weeks, we publish a pair of posts about items in our own collections, or photographs in the public domain. In case you are into vintage stuff, I proudly recommend our new baby to you: mintandginger.home.blog.

Other than that, I will try to revive this blog as well. I would like to post something weekly, even if only a short something about nothing particularly exciting. This is to be a safe space where I allow myself to be even less focused on perfection. It’s going much better than, say, a year ago. Here, I’m planning to exercise my rights for imperfection a little further.

This reminds me of the absolute perfection that Amélie is. I have seen it quite a few times but yesterday was my first on the big screen. Thanks to its 20th anniversary, the gem is now being screened in many cinemas. Go and treat yourself to this fabulous piece of cinematic genius. It’s so worth it, even the only-god-knows-how-manyth time.

Photo London 2019

I’m a lucky woman and my other half is arguably playing a major role in this. In May, for instance, his job took him to London and I had the chance to tag along. There is always loads of photography related stuff going on there and it’s a wonderful city, especially when someone else pays the price of your stay. Also, his work trip coincided with Photo London.

While I strongly dislike this sort of pretentious, money-craving fairs, wherever they happen to be, I was sure to find a few satellite events that are worth a visit. In the end, however, I was asked to write about the happening itself for Fotóművészet and also scored a free VIP ticket, so I did participate. Not that my free ride makes my conscience clear; there are many issues with such festivals: their elitism, their occasionally questionable finances, and so on. (If you are interested in the latter one, do go for Lewis Bush‘s 8-minute-read on Disphotic.)

Thus, in spite of my usually overpowering moral compass, I freeloaded around and saw all of it. In about 6 hours, I passed through 100+ exhibitors and tried to absorb as much as humanly possible. At the end of the day, my super-saturated mind felt like a numb torso after Christmas. All in all, there is a lot of bullshit going on in the domain. When it comes to contemporary creations, most of them appear to be pointless to me, aiming for some sort of beauty–and nothing more. That being subjective and fleeting, I’m becoming more judgemental of the practice day by day. Photography’s commercialization is nothing new though, so I will keep my mouth and focus on the good stuff.

On the positive side, Photo London did their best to elevate women out of their banishment from the art world: about 40% of the exhibited artists were female.* Marina Black‘s dark and beautifully represented fine art prints definitely made an impression on me, just to mention one of the talents.

I have also become a fan of Tom Wood’s bubble-pricking skills masterfully depicting what it’s like to be a human.

Tom Wood, Between Birkenhead and Wallasey Liverpool © galerie Sit Down

And here come my absolute favourites, Aho & Soldan, naturally including the wonderful Claire Aho as well. Brilliant stuff from Finland–also those that do not include any shapely butt.

Aho & Soldan, 1930s

CLAIRE AHO 1951

Claire Aho, 1961


* Their Master of Photography Award went to a man again, Stephen Shore, but one step at a time, I guess. (The one and only female awarded with this very award in its short history was Taryn Simon in 2017.)

Confession(s) of a bookaholic

I have a few serious issues when it comes to discipline—or the lack of it. Namely, I just cannot resist stuff I love. I could write about cheese here, but let’s stick to photography.

I live in a tiny studio apartment that I’ve been growing out quickly. Not so much because of the crap that I have been accumulating in the past decade, but books. In general, I have a fairly strict rule: I buy no book without needing it. Need is a tricky concept, however, as for my work many titles can be categorised necessary. Another rule is that a new book can only pass the threshold if there is no second-hand option to choose for. OR, if it’s ridiculously cheap; this could mean pretty much whatever up to 15 Euro.

This week, I bought a Kati Horna book for an article I am working on. Fair enough… But then I walked into Huis Marseille to see their latest show, and I sinned. For those lovely, yet inconsiderate, people working there had Life is Strange on sale: a book I had had on my radar for a while. It’s all about archive imagery. And it was one of the awarded publications amongst The Best Dutch Book Design (Best Verzorgde Boeken) back in 2015. In earlier posts, I shared already that my dream is to work on photo books one day, so collecting the best (and the worst!) examples is sort of a mission of mine. So now you see: I did need this book indeed. [But then again: did I?]

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Beyond this constant struggle in my life, the book is everything I could wish for. At the bottom, most of the pages are uncut. The captions are to be found within these hard(er)-to-access pockets, beautifully symbolising the work of the researcher, looking beyond the image. And I am a sucker for symbolism, of course.

This post is not to serve as a review for the book, it’s simply a teaser. In case you are in love with archive images and good design, go get it. It’s a beautiful object. In the meantime, I will go flip through my new Kati Horna book, that has just been delivered, a few more times.

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Archive-obsession

I have always appreciated old objects, even as a child. Sneaking into abandoned buildings was a hobby of mine as a little girl—and there is no better ground for such adventures than a small Hungarian village. Forgotten treasures like spinning wheels, religious artefacts or old suitcases full of toys under a silky dust blanket were almost guaranteed. [Once I also found an incidentally-mummified tabby cat but that story is for another day.]

Growing up, I was a regular to the antique shops in the nearby town, spending a serious part of my allowance on books of my grandparents’ age. And, of course, there was also our very own collection of tokens of fading family memories, carefully placed in lavishly decorated bonbon boxes grateful for a second life: discoloured photographs of long-dead relatives and their friends. I’m the first one to admit that I’m rather obsessed with this archive—so much so that they inspired an entire master thesis.

Given this, I have a soft spot for initiatives that have something to do with archival photography. One of these wonderful organisations is Europeana Collections, working hard to provide free access to its ever-growing assortment of digitized items, be it music, books or visual arts. Currently, one can easily access about 50 million items through their website with approximately 3.5 million photographs amongst those. [Just imagine the major amount of chocolate cartons they could fill!]

Now, for me, archives provide endless fun. While finding good stuff is time-consuming, it also is terribly rewarding. And quite a good way to make sure I always have something to write about.

To warm up, here is a gem from Girona, Spain, thanks to Photoconsortium:

Dolls from a catalogue [Or else ‘The envy, the smug and the absentminded’. ]

This glass plate from the 1930s or 1940s never fails to make me smile. I come from a big family: I’m familiar with the pictured dynamics. Being the youngest, I usually played the role of the ‘absentminded’. (Although I have considerable experience in the other two parts as well.)

The first catalogue in history was published in 1498. Its purpose was to help Aldus Manutius, founder of the famous Aldine Press, to introduce his books to the people of Venice. A few centuries later, prospectuses became part of everyday life, largely helped by the introduction of photography. As printing techniques improved, better and better images could illustrate publications. By the time the creator of this negative was hired for the job, photographs were pretty good-looking in printed matters.

Whether this image was meant for wholesalers or consumers, I cannot know. I can imagine a clumsy photographer, however, trying to make the most out of the situation. They probably had to follow strict guidelines set up by the client—or they simply possessed no creativity whatsoever. And yet, the way the dolls are placed, how their glances meet, their facial expressions tell me a story. If I were a little girl once again, up in an attic, discovering these toys, I would for sure feel my maternal instinct awaken: an urge to save that baby on the right from the other two that are clearly conspiring against their little mate. The universe must have sent me there to intervene, after all!

I wonder what happened to these very playthings. Burnt in a fire? Destroyed by the war? Ended up in a museum; or the ocean? And all the others these three helped to sell: where are they now? Were there any little boys that would have given the world for a chance to play with them in peace? How many little girls hated them secretly? How much joy they must have caused!?

God bless all those people who work in archives, enabling me and the like-minded to rant about an imaginary past. Thank you!

The season has started—again

Every year I go to Rotterdam during the Art Week. Not so much for the fairs but to see the photo festival. In 2018 it was a rather convincing event—this time, however, it disappointed me once again.

My problem is not so much the quality of photography, no work made me question the integrity of the commission. (The fact that it’s an all-male group is interesting though, to say the least. It’s 2019, People. Do something about it. There are many capable females in the world of photography who could join in.) What I find problematic is that after the selection process the artists seem to be left alone, without guidance in editing/curating and setting up their mini-expos within the containers.

Some did wonderful things, like Karlijn van Diepen. You entered a beautifully designed little world filled with just enough quality prints tastefully placed all over the walls, not to mention the nicely executed project itself: A box of roses, a tree and a plastic chair. There were a few other okay attempts, like that of the Willem de Kooning Academy, but in general, some more effort could have been put in the presentation.

When it comes to the photography itself, beyond the fact that I would have enjoyed seeing more visual diversity, I truly liked Stijn Belle‘s dark and moody work and Laisa Maria‘s delicate approach to documentary photography. Vergeten Voordeuren [Forgotten doors] is a project to keep an eye on. (And it’s analogue!)

The hunter and gatherer

Ever since my childhood, I have always admired old books. I was a regular in the tiny antique (book)store in the closest town. Back then, I was into novels and poetry—and outdated lexicons.

Despite my long-time obsession with aged objects, only recently I have started to collect photographs. Mostly vintage vernacular snapshots by anonymous makers, randomly found in secondhand shops, on fleamarkets or online. My theme is rather specific*, therefore I have no more than a couple of dozen images so far. Beyond that, my only criterion is that it has to be cheap. (Like really cheap: not more than a couple of Euros.)

What I enjoy the most about this new pastime is that it has turned my trips into (strictly harmless) hunting expeditions and opened up new worlds. There aren’t many things that I find as rewarding as scoring a long-forgotten moment capturing my imagination. As a cherry on top, the places where I find them often are wonderful encounters themselves.

Now I know that Argosy Books Store is the place to be for all book-lovers and print-hunters in Midtown, Manhattan. Oh, girl, the pleasures of a long-established spot in a mysterious building that, most possibly, hasn’t changed a bit for decades! I wouldn’t call Argosy inexpensive but the experience is precious. In the end, I left with an overpriced trophy from New York and a large smile. (Now, I’m notoriously stingy indeed, but 5 Dollars for the kind of photographs I collect is a lot.)

I also popped into Bauman Rare Books, where pretty much everything was out of my league. It did feel great however to flip through a signed Weegee autobiography worth 2500 Dollars and a few other wonderful first editions that I will never be able to afford. Lovely people working in both stores, by the way. An important detail.

*If things go according to plan, I will highlight some of these findings on a new blog very soon.

The prodigal daughter returns

It’s been almost an entire year since I have written a post here. Not that I had nothing to share, I had seen a lot of good (and bad) photography. 2018 was busy—and writing came last. (A thing that has to change.)

Currently, I’m in the glorious city of New York,  sitting in a hotel room on the 15th floor. What I see through the dusty windows is pretty inspiring. Far from the fantastic view I experienced yesterday on the Top of the Rock, nevertheless, refreshing with all its water towers and reflected lights. I’m a corner away from a major bucket list item of mine, MoMA, waiting for it to open in about 30 minutes. Life keeps on treating me rather well.

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New York is beyond my expectations. It doesn’t feel as big as it is: people are friendly and the streets are clean. Sure, I have been sampling Manhattan only. Still, let me be biased for a little while.

Update, one museum of modern arts, a rather good quiche and two amazing bookstores later: I can officially declare that New York is my cup of tea.

Tomorrow, I will go into details.

The season has started

I’m pretty sure I picked one of the best possible migration targets a decade ago when I moved to The Netherlands. There is so much photography going on here that I could easily fill a full-time job visiting all the related exhibitions, fairs, talks, etc. The palette is so rich that it’s almost frustrating – as I clearly cannot afford just quitting my job(s) and devote my life to these events, no matter how much I would like to do so. [#firstworldproblems]

The new year started only a few weeks ago and the winners of Zilveren Camera, thus the best photojournalists in the country, are already announced. However, for me, the party only begins when I can finally go to Rotterdam for Rotterdam Photo – and this year also Haute Photographie; two completely different approaches to the medium. The earlier is a rough street event open to just anyone, the latter is a fancy art fair targetting art collectors. About Haute, I have written a somewhat longer review for Fotóművészet (in Hungarian). It is going to be published in March, so here I won’t say a thing. Go buy the magazine, whether you speak the language or not. ;)

Rotterdam Photo was a real player this year! The previous editions had never really convinced me, but now I’m a believer. It got slightly bigger and significantly better. And even though the quality of presentation per container still differs a bit too much for my taste, I saw quite some wonderful stuff. (There were very well done displays, but some other simply caused me hallucinate huge question marks.)

Container #16, titled Camera Works (belonging to Todd ForsgrenMichael Meyer and Marc Redford, curated by John A. Tyson), was definitely one of my favourites. Their unorthodox approach to photography and cameras is inspiring. They like analogue and they like digital. They like including images of their visitors in potential future projects and they mess with their cameras to take pictures of sounds – I don’t need much more to be happy.

I also ran into Naomi Modde‘s beach photographs. I’m a fan of her imagery ever since New Photography 2018 came out. Her pictures remind me of Martin Parr somehow (a moody Parr in a parallel universe, bared of his sarcasm and flash).

In general, I’m into black-and-white, also when it comes to my own photography. Nevertheless, Modde’s photographs make me grateful for the existence of colours – and they trigger me to burn through those neglected colour roll films in my fridge.

Talking black-and-white, I’m a proud owner of Katja Poelwijk‘s Sivar now. (Minimalistic and gorgeous design by -SYB-.)  A book built on beautiful, sensitive pictures of a boy who was born into a girl’s body. I do have questions – but it is an impressive series, no matter what. I’m looking forward to Poelwijk’s future works.

(I’m working on a larger post on questions I have been contemplating lately so you will hear more very soon.)