Q. First of all please tell me more about yourself. How did you meet with the photography itself? What sort of impact guided you to become that photographer, who you are today?
A. The first time I have taken a portraiture picture in my life, was around the the age of three or four. I have taken that picture about my father with his Zenit camera. I assume it was quite heavy, as the picture accidentally turned out in the golden ratio. Of course back then I didn’t have a knowledge about these rules, but later on I have self taught almost everything, without any education. Probably one of the main inspiration in my photographic life was my dad, whom I have seen taking pictures. Even though we have never taken any pictures together.
Through the cultural life of my dad and my mother, I have met with many artists whom shared their visual cultural views and knowledge with us. So a big thanks to these painters, graphic designers, photographers who were in a daily contact with my family. When I have turned seventeen years old, my secondary school teacher of Veszprem city has created this show exhibiting my pictures. Looking back at it, I would rather say, that it was my zeroth exhibition. I don’t consider it as a big deal, as from those pictures I wouldn’t dare showing more than one or two. I started to be more interested in photography during my university studies, wherein I have been taking photos for the student journal.
The huge step for me in my photographic carrier was when I have moved to Budapest; through photographing on the streets I got to know the broader city life of Budapest. I couldn’t stop myself not taking street photographs. In that way I have acknowledged and reflected on the feelings that the streets created inside me. Since then, I am still driven into this subject matter. There is this certain area, space on the street, where different people are moving in a different rhythm, from different environments. This continuously unknown and variable pattern sometimes captures a beautiful moment and often it captures rather some absurd situations. This is something you can enjoy as well, as a spectator, but even better, If you are able to show to other people too. I have also learnt during this process, how important it is to know the way, how I am approaching and communicating with the people, whom later will become my portrait subjects, probably for a close up. These kind of project never starts with only one click - or it is very rare, when it happens like that.
Interview by: Krisztina Mike
Q. Which photographers work do you consider as your role models? From whose work did you learn the most? Whom inspired you?
A. It is difficult to choose only one or two names from amongst a lot. Luckily enough, I had the opportunity to follow the photographic works of the international photographers and the Hungarian ones too and to learn from their classical works. Of course, I have to mention Capa, and his photographic style, the well usage of the field and the way how he dealt with his subject matters. Moreover Imre Benkő and his photographic world. His composition are so spontaneously perfect, that I wouldn’t change even a single pixel - if he would be working with digital technology.
Q. As far as it is visible on your homepage, you seem to prefer black and white photography. As a photojournalist myself, looking through your pictures the main thing which captured my eyes were the way how you are using the light and shadow, the strong contrast. Furthermore I got the sense, that you are very interested in social photography. Looking through your street photography pictures, I see that it comes together with the social aspects. What led you for the decision of photographing in Black and White?
A. That is right. My love towards black and white photography is not only because of the classical photographers. I think with shooting in black and white, you can make an impact on the feel of the space/place and the contrast. It is also easier for the image viewer to connect with and to imagine themselves into a black and white picture. It is rather a mysterious, secretive missing dimension from our world, which we cannot catch with bare hands - and interestingly enough; if the picture is good, the viewer can become the part of it.
That sort of social-street photography, which I like a lot, is very thankful, when captured in black and white. It is very rare, that I would see/imagine a face in colour before taking the picture. Budapest is a black and white city, isn’t it?
A photographer usually a bit more sensitive of the social issues, than a random person, so the photographer usually cannot leave out the social aspects of a photograph. There are certain situations which you cannot miss. I had many situations when we said warm goodbyes at the end, ending up as friends with the person I haven’t take the picture yet, or I have already taken it. It also happens, when your subject matter lies on the ground - not just literally - and in times like that, the best thing that you should do instead of taking a picture and move on, is to ask the person whether he/she needs help. There are interesting situations, when you cannot really divide this two. Sometimes only a thin line separates them.
Q. Reflecting on some of your pictures, we can say, that you are driven into the homeless issue. When you took these two pictures, what were you aiming for in showing for the image viewer? What is your message behind the pictures? What do they want to represent?
A. The people are quick learner. They learn it immediately how to avoid and dodge the homeless people. Often we do cross over them, literally. Of course it is their fault and our fault too. I love to observe other people on how they react and interact in situations like this. During this times, what clearly comes out as well, whether the “homeless” person was someone who really in need or just the member of one of those “well known” mafia groups, whose leader at the end of the day arrives with his Mercedes and collects the money.
On my picture with the stairs, there is a person who breaks the structure of the lines, which in a sense represents the act of breaking the silence. You cannot ignore and look away, you drawn into looking at it instead. It is there. It doesn’t disturb you, but again: you feel the urge of looking at it. In moments like this, something happens in the mind of the viewer. It is rather a complicated question later on, whether this thing will affect the way of his/her way of thinking or he/she will just press the “move on” button.
However the look on the little girl is quite frank. Her mom is trying to pull her away quickly but the little girl slows down, she looks back, she doesn’t understand why does the lady on the ground lays towards a paper cup. You cannot stage a picture like this. You can barely understand the meaning of it. Moments like this draws my attention the most: the moments, which will never ever repeat itself, though they have an enormous message. For capturing a picture like that, you don’t only need a good spot but a lucky timing too.
Q. How do you deal with these issues? In the 1930’s, during the great depression period in the United States, a photo agency were created, the FSA (Farm Security Association). The photographers of the agency were all aiming for capturing pictures, which moves out the viewer from their comfort zone, and draws their attention into solving the problems and issues which led to making actions. From this point of view, how do you see this issues?
A. It is not a secret, that I am trying to drawn the attention of the image viewer of certain issues through my pictures. Not the issues of being a homeless, as that subject matter is a much more complex field and I think I am a bit powerless for that, at the moment. Rather my aim is to create an awareness on how people generally react on situations like this. Sometimes I help them to understand, but also I got positive feedbacks after one-two of my photos. At the moment I am working on another photo project, a series, near the Saint Gellert square and around that territory. With that project I have a bigger goal for long term. To achieve that, I have to create those communicational channels, which fits here well. Now that is a bit difficult and long process.
Q. How consciously are you using the universal messages, which you could easily convey through your pictures?
A. Since the most effective tool which can affect our visual sensibility comes through the eyes, we have a certain “antenna” that is capable of capturing different signals. Even though the photographer him/herself not necessarily thought about it. But you can also lead it to a certain direction - taking pictures itself is the leading. And so amongst all this messages, how much is a “universal message”, that depends from the dimensions and on the situations.
Q. Another thing which I saw on your pictures. Your strong usage of the light. The pictures on the train and near that how the light comes through the glass, white, overexposed light. The light at the end of a tunnel, and the anonymous person with his back away from the viewer, disappearing at the end. For me it conveys a message about life and death, questions of existence and its symbolic meaning. How conscious was this decision in your composition?
A. In my pictures with the tunnel, I am often showing the person with the back, walking away. Here it is a clear message, but it also may depend on the body language of the person: if on the same picture like this, someone walks towards us, the whole message will change its meaning. And if this person has a stuffed animal on his shoulder, it will be even more different message. From these sort of pictures, there was this one, where I knew before shooting, that I will be proud of it and I knew exactly what message I want to represent with it. And I am delighted, because everybody can easily read this photo, it doesn’t need any explanation. If something, than that is a universal message, in my opinion.
Q. Moreover I noticed how you are playing with the traffic signs, letters and texts on the wall. Both of these pictures became stronger, more active with the appearance of one or more person on the same picture. How do you usually prepare these images?
A. Mostly I don’t have any preparation. I am walking by the area. Sometimes I am waiting a bit, because I sense that my frame is waiting for something to happen, so from time to time I tend to wait a couple of minutes, until someone turns up and walks through my frame in an interesting way. And then my picture will be better. And with that expectation in mind, of course someone turns up, though in a slightly different way, which I can still use in my frame. I am not taking any staged street photography, there is no point in that. But I will tell you one thing, I tend to go back to certain areas of the street, where I am familiar with the graffiti, text on the walls - but of course in various times.
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté
Q. On your Facebook page, you were posting pictures taken in the Keleti Railway Station, during the Autumn of 2015, when we had many refugees from Syria. The most of this pictures were shot in colour. Why did you choose this time colour photography? What was the reason behind it? What motivation drove you to go to that field? What sort of connections did you have before going there and afterwards?
A. First of all I was very curious of the situation itself. I have had enough of listening the opinion of the so-called media channels of Hungary, saying this and that, which felt like when you are squeezed in between two ‘sandwiches’. Visiting the site was an interesting and very pleasant experience, where I ran into some of my friends too. Maybe the reason why all my pictures stayed in colour, was probably because the aim was to give back the real situation behind the pictures and not creating some artistic work. Of course some of those pictures would look even better in black and white, but I didn’t want to break the continuation of the colour photography this time, so it stayed like this.
Q. As being a photographer yourself, what sort of inner ethical rules are you following? How do you decide about a picture whether you will publish it later or not? For example when taking pictures about the homeless people. How hard or easy it is to ask for permission for taking a picture, for instance when you are photographing on the street and you see a spontaneous situation which you want to capture?
A. It depends from the situation. Sometimes you can feel it after taking the pictures. In some occasions you have to have long talks even before or after taking a picture. Once I had a homeless person telling me that he has his superb camera back home, with his mother, in a small village. I have asked him, if he would sell it to me, of course he didn’t, there weren’t any money for which he would give it up… It was a great 20 minutes of my life. I gave him the two apples which I had in my pocket and then I asked his permission for taking a portrait of him. And the result ended up in a beautiful picture. I always go back to this spot, but since then, I never ran into him. I feel sorry for him and I do hope, that he found a better place to live, then in a hole, in front of the Parliament. In situations where I see immediately that it would create a false picture about the person, I would rather stop myself of taking that photo. My aim is to create documentary pictures.
© Oláh Gergely Máté
Q. Some technical question. Which camera do you usually use? Digital, or film camera? What sort of things are you watching out when editing your pictures?
A. I am not that interested in the technicalities, but it is a fact, that you need a better camera. I am shooting digital pictures, because I can have more experiments with it - in my backpack, I do have an analogue panoramic camera with me all the time, but it is more like a toy, I barely take any pictures with it lately. The interesting aspect of the film camera is that from time to time it surprises me, when I realise that; o yeah, I had this film roll in my camera and I shot this and that picture with it. It always cheers me up.
Q. As a final, ending question. What is your next project? Where do you want to develop your photography?
A. I have mentioned a series about the homeless people, but I love to work together with Artists. I would like to show their environment, and I want to be part of their spontaneous life more and more; for example many times just having a coffee with them somewhere in randomly created situations, where I cannot stop myself of pressing the button on the camera. We already organised this with some writer friends - Gábor Németh, Lajos Jánossy and Gyula Zeke - we decided to work on a series: we are wondering around Budapest, trying to get into the forgotten places and save the hidden values. We are also constantly looking out for the beautiful coincidences of black and white. Our series called; At the edge of the city (A város peremén) are created together with their written work. They are the ones writing the text, poem or prose under my photos. One of Gábor Németh’s prose is readable here, after one tracking in “népsziget”.
Moreover I am photographing for magazines, articles and I am also taking pictures at different events. During this shootings as well I am drawn into the interesting situations. I always keep an eye on that. At the end somehow all this pictures end up in Black and White.
© Oláh Gergely Máté
© Oláh Gergely Máté