Contemporary Photography from Hungary 8.


Faur Zsófi Gallery and Publishing
2011, Budapest
68 pages, full color
ISBN: 978-6155206009

Cover options

Planned chances

You can never see elements of nature in Ádám Magyar’s images; people in his photos are always depicted in strictly artificial surroundings. What is more, the environment is not simply “not natural” but people seem to exist in an expressly constructed, artificial, sometimes even surrealistic world. This is a world with hardly any grips and reference points, at most vague indications of and subtle hints at the city and urban life.

Why is it important to exclude the natural in such a striking manner and emphasize the artificial? So that we see these images as urban images. And this leads us to one of the fundamental aspects of Magyar’s work: the role of chance. According to the ideals of city management, the city is governed by order and regularity. The life of the crowd and the multitudes of people are regulated by well-defined laws; traffic, city management, and individual rhythms are all strictly coordinated. Its perfect implementation is, of course, an ever-present problem; and while city utopians forecast a perfectionist system and operation, literary and cinematographic works criticizing them aim to demonstrate its impossibility. To organize the perfectly operating city – i.e. one that would exclude chance – is hardly feasible. And luckily so. If it would succeed, life-likeness would be lost, turning life into an eternally permanent and barren routine: it would always be the same cab to pick us up, the same people around us walking down the street or crossing the square. It is chance that keeps this from happening. And we should praise chance, since chance drags us out of the orderly, triggers changes, brings us encounters and surprising experiences that cause us to reflect. Chance often hinders us too, making things impossible or forcing us to reorganize things and find new solutions. In other words, chance upsets order. It is chance that makes a city special, appealing and mystical, and this is the chance, Ádám Magyar is trying to grab. The opportunity for seizing it could be named as planned chance.

Planned chance sounds like a self-contradiction, since some­thing is either planned and calculated, thoroughly considered and designed, or a chance where everything is
accidental and evolves unpredictably. There is only one way
to resolve this self-contradiction, and this is what Ádám Magyar
has been doing through his series over the past few years. Only when investigating chance itself is planned chance not a self-contradiction. Planning in this case is the method, a system of data processing, with which the artist is cross-examining chance. This is why Magyar creates closed and uniform series. He takes his time and does not alternate hastily, he does not return to a particular question but systematically answers it before taking the next step. Thus, the photos by Ádám Magyar in these series are not documents of concrete and momentous events, major persons and historical moments – but the recordings of chances of the most common kinds. Magyar has elaborated several approaches to chance, it is therefore worth following through the questions he has raised in his series over the last few years.

Urban Flow – as the title indicates – strives to depict the flow of people in cities. It is significant that the locations chosen for this series are major metropolises: New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo and London. Though the people in these images could be found in a country town or even in a village, the larger the city, the higher the chance of eventuality, of presenting open and surprising chance. The unusual fact that everyone in the image is heading in the same direction is the result of the image-making technique called the slit-scan. The image is recorded through a one-pixel-wide slit and the final image is constructed from a series of one-pixel wide images placed right next to each other. Thus, it is not the direction of passing by the camera, but exclusively the time of passing by it that matters. The only people who appear in the image in the opposite direction from the general ‚flow‘ are those who originally passed by the camera backwards, like the man carrying a couch in one of the Hong Kong images (247). In this drift of city life, people randomly passing by the camera are bound into a single flow of people heading in one direction. Here, everyone is of equal rank and value, irrespective of whether they are at the “beginning” or the “end” of the image – in other words, whether they can be seen on the right or the left side of it. It could be stated that the city’s standardizing power affects everyone. As if by losing the different directions of walking, the individual would also be lost, and a general course of life would emerge from the homogeneity of the faceless crowd. At the same time, it is crucial that we avoid easy answers and uncover cheap allegories of life from these images. Because “reading” the image is subjective, the indication is not direct, there is no value judgement here: walking into the image is not positive, and walking out of it is not negative.

In 2010, Magyar was commissioned by England-based Rhubarb-Rhubarb to create two gigantic photos for the Urban Flow series in Birmingham and London, which was a challenging task indeed...

Zoltan Somhegyi