27 July 2012

Eva Besnyo: Lines & Angles

 "  With  camera in hand I awoke.  Together we faced the world.  I was a rose among the thorns  (Doornroosje) and the camera was my prince." - Eva Besnyo

At first glance this wild-haired young woman could be our contemporary, but then you notice the antique Rolliflex.  Her name was Eva Besnyo (1910-2003) and she died less than ten years ago.  Why do we know  so little of her work?

The selection of images posted here reveals her impressive eye and mind at work. Besnyo used her camera to create images both razor-sharp and beautiful to look at.   From the beginning she seemed to see images as a series of diagonals.  There is much wit in her work, a quality that must have seemed natural to her when one considers the many difficulties she would experience throughout her long life.

Budapest, where Besnyo was born,  was home to a large number of  impressive photographers, including the boy who lived next-door to the Besnyo family: ndre Friedman who became famous under the name of Robert Capa. (It was at Besnyo's urging that that Capa took up photography.)  It may have been almost as much to shut out the pervasive pictorialism of the Budpaest photographers as to escape the repressive regime of Miklos Horthy that Besyno needed to get away.
She began her photographic education in the Budapest studio of Josef Pecsi, in whose library she first encountered microscopic photography and  the bird-like perspectives of  Escher.

Her father would have preferred to see her choose Paris instead of the Sodom and Gomorrah that was Berlin under the Weimar Republic.  "Paris is romantic" Eva admitted, "but think what you can learn in Berlin."  So, with a copy of  The World Is Beautiful by Albert Renger-Patsch in her bag, and the Rolliflex camera her father had given her, Eva Besyno left for Berlin in the autumn of 1930.
A friend from  Budapest,  Gyorgy Kepes, was already working  there as an assistant to the Moholy-Nagys.  Kepes was intelligent and full of ideas and Besnyo was quick to look him up for companionship away from home.  He introduced her to his new passion: the works of the Russian Constructivists.. The two fell in love.

Besyno rented a studio and went looking work.   She found it as a press photographer at Neofot, a job that required her to do what she had done at home in Budapest for fun:  wander the streets at all hours in search of subjects for her camera.   (Most of her work for Neofot was lost during World War II, as was the archive of her hero Renger-Patsch.)

During the summer of 1931 Besyno returned to Hungary for her family's summer svacation at Lake Balaton.  The photographs she took during those six weeks are like an explosion of beauty   This small group of striking pictures show how nothing was lost on her.  

With Hitler's rise to power in 1932,  Eva became conscious of her Jewishness.  The streets of Berlin were taken over by the brown-shirts who beat passerby with impunity.  Eva began to feel unsafe and decided that she needed to leave quickly.   An English photographer who was in love with her urged her to move to London but John Fernhout,   won out, convincing her to take her chances on Amsterdam - and on marrying him.  The son of painter Charley Toorop (and grandson of Jan Toorop), Fernhout had come to Berlin, capital of European film-making in the 1920s.  Besnyo  encouraged his interest in camera work and he won her away from Kepes.  . Although the marriage eventually failed, Besnyo's relationship with her mother-in-law, Charley Toorop, introduced her to a wider public for her work. Again, during the war her photo archives were mostly lost during the bombing of Rotterdam.

Eva Besnyo: The Sensuous Image is on exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris from May 22 through September 23, 2012.

 Eva Besnyo, photographer, from the collection of the Maria Austria Institute, Amsterdam.
1. Self-portrait in a mirror, 1931.
2. untitled - young man and boat, 1931.
3. Girl reading, 1931. 
4. International exposition - Paris, 1937.
5. Stadium at Grunwald-Berlin, 1931.
6.. Gypsy orchestra at Balaton,  1931.
7.. Pavillon d'Elegance - International Exposition Paris, 1937.
8.. Summer House at Groet, 1934. 
9. Amsterdam, 1951.


Tamborim Zim said...


Jane said...

Tamborim, Besnyo continued to photograph until health problems intervened in the late 1990s. Unfortunate that most of her early work was destroyed, especially when you look at the quality of what survived the war.