Under the ominous title of I will be Wolf taken from a line in a poem Grief (1929) by the celebrated 20th Century Hungarian poet Józef Atilla and shot in1975, this selection of works by Bertien van Manen give a rare glimpse into everyday life in Hungary under the Soviet occupation. Working with editorial direction from British photographer Stephen Gill this book features works which may surprise. On occasion pictures that as less than perfect technically give us something else, the energy of the moment sometimes captured when in a rush, with a hand not quite steady, blurred, a little strange yet somehow familiar. A city bustling with commuters and street vendors move to the rhythm of a chaotic visual symphony. Bodies and buildings, parks and trains are all interconnected through her lens.
Copyright © Bertien van Manen
When approaching street photography taken over 40 years ago it is impossible not to compare the clothing of the period. However, many of the fashions on display could be mistaken for one or two decades earlier. An occasional hint of the era comes through, but more often than not we are reminded of the different economic and social climate of the country at the time. With a large focus upon the worker, an appreciation of the service industry and the products and services they dispense, fix or provide comes through. This is at a time when price hikes for many products were a regular occurrence. There is a level of respectability and respect of and for her subject. Occasionally van Manen’s camera is spotted by a stranger whom often smiles in her direction. The warmth of these smiles and glances gives us a hint to the relaxed response to her and a camera being pointed in their direction. I found this combination of a less prosperous but seemingly happy city more about the individual connections of the people photographed rather than a true representation of the era and its politics. A humanist approach if there ever was one. With no essay or captions to illustrate the details of the images, we are left with an invitation to narrate the landscape for ourselves.
Bertien van Manen