KÁROLY HEMZŐ (11 June 1928 – 5 November 2012)
Born 11 June 1928 in Budapest, yet he would have liked to be a forester or an agronomist: he loved nature, but first and foremost, horses. He attended civic school in Josefstadt, however, instead of an agricultural school.
Hemző’s parents were servants to the Zserbó family in Vörösmarty Square: his mother was the chambermaid to one of the daughters, while his father was the family chauffeur. This led to their marriage and two children. Hemző’s younger sister was a great film lover, and in 1942 she read an advertisement looking for a laboratory assistant for the Hunnia Film Studio. This was to be one of the defining experiences of Károly Hemző’s career, as, alongside the majority of monotonous work, he made the acquaintance here of film, lighting, scenic design, and of course, of defining photographers – Tibor Inkey and Károly Ráth.
His family survived the siege in wartime, but due to deprivation and the physical circumstances of hardship, Hemző’s constitution was attacked by TB. For three years, he struggled with the disease, and the “after-effects” accompanied him throughout his life.
In 1949, he was employed by the Atheneum Printing House as a photographer and retoucher. Here, once again, he could make the acquaintance of such figures as Károly Escher, Oszkár Pelbárt and Pál Bence. He remained at the printing house until 1952, then joined the Honvéd S.E. (Military Sporting Association) and, as an external associate, the weekly paper, Béke és Szabadság (Peace and Liberty).
In the 1950s, sports became an emphasised political and “mental” sociological factor; moreover, the Honvéd was the most illustrious association. Károly Hemző signaled the start to his career as a sport photographer here: in this genre, he was one of the Hungarian reformers. This is how he described this time period: “As a sport photographer, beyond the exciting spectacle of the game, everything was more exciting. So much drama on the turf and in the pool.”
An unfailing sense of rhythm and above average technical knowledge are needed, alongside a perfect knowledge of the sport branch, in order for good, authentic photos to be made.
From 1957, for ten years, Hemző was the leading photojournalist for the popular Képes Sport (Sport in Pictures), with a large circulation.
From 1967 until 1989, he was a reporter, and then photo editor, for the magazine published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs exclusively for foreign countries – at first in three, and later in five languages – Magyar Szemle (Hungarian Review). Here he worked together with the best in the field, among others, Péter Tímár and András Bánkuti (both also featured in this volume). He travelled the country and the world, photographing “life” – building up in this way, alongside his photos recording sport and horses, the other significant portion of his oeuvre: city genre pictures, and compositions of subtle human flickerings.
In 1989, he became a retired freelance photographer. At the same time, from 1982, with his wife, Mari Lajos, they had brought successful innovation into Hungarian gastronomy, which was unique, novel, and became extraordinarily popular. In their thematic books, they published 99 masterful writings on food, nuanced in terms of cultural history, and accompanied by 33 colour photos, as well as 66 recipes with 66 photos (up till now, a total of 33 of these volumes were published). Their photos of food appeared in a number of periodicals, and over the last 12 years, were published weekly in the columns of the magazine, Nők Lapja (Women’s Pages).
He had his first solo exhibition in 1972 at the Fészek Club, followed by a show in 1973 at the Fotógaléria, and then three years later a show was arranged in the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle Budapest, entitled Találkozásaim (My Encounters). Lódobogás (A Clatter of Hooves) was presented not only in Hungary, but also in Moscow and a number of cities in Poland, to great interest (the album of the same name was published in 1978). His show, entitled “Ez a város…” (This City…) was organised at the Vigadó in Budapest, and likewise became known in Europe, just as the exhibition of his life oeuvre, shown at the same venue. In 1998, a volume of his selected life oeuvre was published under the title Fotográfiák (Photographs). His album, entitled Csak lovak (Just Horses) was launched in 2005 at the Mai Manó House of Photography. The Hungarian National Museum undertook the exhibition displaying nearly 100 photographs, entitled Hemzőváros (Hemző-City) – while the artist donated a part of his collection of several tens of thousands of photographs, documents and cameras to the archive. In the autumn of 2012, Károly Hemző lived to see the large-scale exhibition of his most important sport photos presented at the Hungarian Sport Museum, honoured by his friends and colleagues.
Tending his life oeuvre – and sadly now processing his legacy, photo-historian Klára Szarka writes in his heart-wrenching obituary: “Hemző was not the ‘grey-haired master’ type. Despite passing the age of sixty, seventy, and then even eighty, those who were much younger were not inclined to address him in the polite form when they met with him.”
He was named Artist of Merit, Master Artist, received the Táncsics Mihály and Balázs Béla awards, and was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary; he was a member of the most important professional organisations, among others, the Hungarian Association of Photographers, the Hungarian Press Association, and the National Association of Hungarian Creative Artists. According to his colleagues, friends, those who respected him, and to professional opinion, he left behind an essential, model legacy.
His works are found in the Historical Photographic Archive of the Hungarian National Museum, in the Hungarian Museum of Photography, in the Budapest Collection of the Szabó Ervin Library of the Capital, the National Széchényi Library, the Hungarian Sport Museum, and in the Körmendi-Csák Collection of 20th Century Hungarian Photography.
His memory, and the unique lyricism of his photographs will live on eternally in the lovers of Hungarian contemporary photography!