Author: Zoltán Jókay

Pondering

In my childhood I survived an alcoholic depressive mother who committed suicide when I was a youth.
I survived because there were moments of normality;
I survived because I was living in a cultivated middle class family with my own room to hide
and the possibility to forget about my surroundings burying myself into books.

The last four years I was working as an unskilled social worker in a quarter for the poor,
and then I was fired because management of the settlement wanted to save the money for this service.
What a shame.

Since then, for more than one year now I am parenting demented people in a senior home.
I got this job, because society is avoiding spending money for competent care for its demented citizens
and employs cheaper, hardly skilled people for doing what is necessary.
The better-trained male and female nurses simply don’t have the time and sometimes the personality
to meet the emotional needs of the seniors they are attending. They are restricted to do the bodily care,
which is hard enough, and we, the few unskilled ones, are in charge for the minds
and souls of these old and feeble people.
What a shame.

I was and I am confronted with alcoholism, depression, despair, craze, dementia, old age and death.

Now I scared as hell of becoming old.
I am afraid of illness and dementia.

It is hard to be confronted with all of this suffering.

But.

I am experiencing things I could not even think of before.
I am learning about life.

Life, as it is, or how it will be.

Gianpaolo Arena

 

The following interview with me was led by
Gianpaolo Arena somewhen in 2012.
It was published in Landscape Stories.

Looking back at this interview and the events of the last days,
I experience a deep feeling of gratitude for all the help and sympathy I have received and still do receive.

 

“Fragments of Memories”

LS: How important was it for your research to foster further cultural and aesthetic imagery through literature, art and music…? To what extent are still reality and life the most extraordinary sensorial experience?

ZJ: I was very lonely as a child and throughout my youth. Art and literature were my main companions. I can´t tie my photography to any work of art or literature that I loved or love now. My ties are emotional ones; they are rooted in my childhood and still form my work.

LS: Are there any photographers, movements or bodies of work that have influenced or inspired you? How much were “New Objectivity” movement or the lesson learnt from August Sander (Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts/People of the Twentieth Century) and Diane Arbus a source of inspiration for you when you started to search for your photographic style?

ZJ: Though I admired work of August Sander and Diane Arbus, as I admired the work of Winogrand, Friedlander and Goldin, these photographers were photographic masters and I never felt I could follow them in any way. The concept of “New Objectivity” never even reached my mind. My photographic development was formed by a deeply rooted, barely reflected set of “likes” and “dislikes”. I studied in Essen “Kommunikationsdesign”, and most of what was produced here I heavily disliked. I disliked any photographic language that was not bearing the mark of it´s author. I disliked any slick form without further deeper meaning. And I was very frustrated with my photography. A fellow student showed me work by Paul Graham, William Eggleston, Peter Frazer, Michael Schmidt and other contemporary photographers. This was the visual universe I was unknowingly looking for. There was an incident that also impressed me a lot: an university assistant was printing the photographs his father had taken. His father had been an amateur photographer and I couldn´t think but that this guy was doing better than any of us trying to become professionals.

LS: Do you have a method of working which you follow for each series, or does it vary for each different project? Please explain us the themes in your artwork and your working process.

ZJ: My work was for a long time basically the fight to overcome my shyness. For weeks and months I was walking around the streets not daring to approach the people I wanted to photograph. Only when the emotional impact of what I saw was big enough I made a step forward. While working on my diploma I encountered Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”. I felt that the “punctum” he was talking about was the same “punctum” that hit me when I was looking for images, pushing me to establish contact and to photograph. In these rare moments I reacted instinctively to an emotion that connected me to my past. As soon as I understood what was happening to me, I realized that I had to deal with my childhood memories. With “remembering” I’m actually approaching to my childhood, and my visual language becomes reminiscent of the past, the clothing and the colors, and my protagonists, everything looked like coming from times gone by. All my projects reflect my attempts to come to grips with life, trying to understand human existence, trying to understand myself. After having published my monograph I wanted to shed my photographic identity. I just couldn´t imagine to go on like this until the rest of my life. I started with a whole array of projects over the next years, all of them failed to meet my expectations. Meanwhile, for a living, I had begun to work with people, first as an unskilled social-worker in a low income quarter and then, after my job has ben cut as dispensable, I got an employment in a home for the elderly, caring for those suffering from dementia. I started to photograph the people I got to know in the quarter; subsequently I also began photographing seniors I care for at the home.

LS: How deeply are you influenced by the surroundings and places in which you grew up? To what extent is your childhood imagery still present in your photographs?

ZJ: I already mentioned that my childhood experiences formed how I relate to the world, it formed my way of life and all of this is reflected by my photography. “Remembering” was visually influenced by the colors and spaces I learned to love during the summer holidays I spent with my grandparents in Hungary.

LS: Looking at your latest and ongoing project ‘Mrs Raab wants to go home’… evokes a feeling of comprehension, an intimate space for memory, experience, contemplation, meditation, thoughts… Does this interpretation come close to your intentions going into this project? Could you explain about it?

ZJ: I never think in these terms about my work.
In the quarter I was confronted with helplessness, poverty, affliction, sadness and the uttermost loneliness. Here I understood that parts of my childhood traumata, in essence, I shared with a lot of people. That helped.
Moving to a home for elderly you loose even the last remains of the life you have lived. Your autarky has gone; you are depending on the help of people that are organized by shifts. Both my job in the settlement as working in the home for elderly people are important parts of my life. What I have experienced there and I am still experiencing now almost on a daily basis has impressed me deeply.

LS: Did you start this project with the idea of making a book? Could you tell us something more about the creation of the book?

ZJ: I didn´t start this project with a book in mind. I never know in advance if I will produce something worthwhile to print.
I started to combine my images with words when I was preparing for a portfolio competition. I wished to show my work without having to explain it. While searching for words I realized that I could add an other layer of meaning to my images with a text written out. Later on, for an exhibition, I had to transfer my portfolio to the wall. I was forced to find a new way to present my texts alongside the photographs. I wanted images and words to be read on their own, but still relating to each other. Now they are framed separately, and the words are printed out on color plates that refer to the colors of the photographs they belong to.
“Mrs Raab wants to go home” evolved step by step. At the outset there was no master plan. So if you ask me about my working method, it´s nothing but trial and error, working and learning. This happens listening to an inner voice, and it is an attempt to understand what is happening and which direction to go.

LS: What’s the ideal way to look at your work (book, exhibition…)?

ZJ: An exhibition is like a live concert. To visit an exhibition, to see the real prints, to move from image to image, and to share this experience with other people can have a bigger impact than looking at a book. On the other hand: I love books. I can touch them, open them, I can carry them home, and I can look at them again and again. I have the time to analyze what I see. A book is there to stay.

LS: What’s in store for you in 2012, photographically or otherwise?

ZJ: I do not know.
I would love to start working on a new project, but I am not through with this one. I am frustrated by my limitations. I want to say more than I am able to express.

MARIE LIVES IN A HOUSE WITHOUT WATER AND ELECTRICITY / 2017

Ausstellungsdokumentation.

Exhibition documentation.

 

“Artist in residence”  in Valparaiso, Chile 26.10 – 20.11.2017 

grant by the Goethe institute and the FIFV

 

here are the project images.

 

LÜTHI WILL ALSO CRY FOR YOU.

Sometimes I am suffocated by the limitations of photographers photography thus motivated to move to something different, to move to the wider spaces of art.

I was in this state of mind two days ago when I stumbled over
Isabelle Wenzel´s homepage 
(via the sonic blog)

While sending her a mail and wondering if an answer will come, the rough surface of her work and her playing with everyday elements to install an obviously constructed reality Urs Lüthi came to my mind and here we are now.

Once I was asked to define art, and I remember having hated the question, because I just couldn´t answer it, and I still can´t.

Art could be pretending to fly like the heroes in old fairy tales,
Art could be the deconstruction of reality.

Art could be magic or pure trickery.

Art could be dreaming of creation.

Art could be like a child´s game called hide and seek,

Art could relate to art and nothing but art.
Art could be communication.

Art could be your mirror.
And mine.

CHARLOTTE SALOMON/ A LIFE.

Charlotte Salomon was born 1917 in Berlin.
She was transported to Auschwitz on 7 October 1943 and was probably gassed on the same day she arrived there. She was five months pregnant then, only permitted to live 26 years.

She would have stayed anonym as most of the Jews, Sinti and Roma and homosexuals that were murdered by a well-organized Nazi regime and the countless Germans serving them but her extraordinary visual diary remaines as Charlotte Salomon´s trace in time.

I have never encountered a body of work like this: created in the short period of two years, her images breathe the freedom of imperfection without loosing visual quality.
Charlotte Salomon works with paintings overlaid with texts, as it probably wasn´t done this way before. Some of her pieces have the air of modern contemporary artistic comics, others remind me of some of Baselitz paintings. But she always uses a language distinctively hers.

She tells us the story of the time she lived in, and she allows us to sense how she experienced these years of turning from a girl into a young woman. She shares with us her observations of the world of grown ups as if seen through the eyes of a child. We see the life of a bourgeois Jewish family, we see them sitting around in a salon, we see well educated women playing piano and men smoking cigars, we sense family catastrophes and a child’s conflicts with her parents, we see Charlotte studying art, painting flowers and nudes in class, we see the brutal emergence of the Nazis and their immediate influence on Charlottes life, we see her in love and thrown into doubts, as it is when love enters the stage.

Charlotte Salomons tells us about the atmosphere of the times she lived in, she tells us of a life that was destroyed by a force that we tend to hold for inhuman. But it belongs to humanity as the budding love of a young woman.

The world could be different as it is, even if we are told we should forget about alternatives because they never will be realized. Charlotte Salomon’s work, as all descriptions of everyday lives and everyday hopes, remind us of that things could and should be different than they are now.

The best website to visit,
to get to know about the life and work of Charlotte Salomon,
and the source of these images
is the “joods historisch museum”.

MIKE DISFARMER/ HEBER SPRINGS PORTRAITS 1939-1946

image by
Mike Disfarmer
Bonnie Dell Gardner,1943

The name of that unshaved man with the jug ears was Meyer
until he decided,
that he was thrown by accident
into a family foreign to him.

The Meyers were of german origin,
a “Meier” being a farmer,
so Mike Meyer,
because he wasn´t a farmer, called himself “Disfarmer.”

In a little Arkansas town in the middle of nowhere,
Mike Disfarmer opened up photostudio.

No props, black backdrop,
just the northern natural light,
no say cheese,
no forced smiles,
but natural,
open moments.

Mike Disfarmer used glass negatives,
even in a time,
when everybody else already was using sheet film.

The contacts he sold
for 50 cents a piece.

For some years, it was fashionable
to visit his studio.

But times, they were changing,
as they always are,
and it is said,
that the last year
of his life,
Mike Disfarmer
survived on a diet of choclate ice cream and beer.

It is said,
that Mike Disfarmer
has been a loner,
no friendships,
never talking about his private life,
if he had one,
of course he had one.

It is said,
that the villagers
accepted him,
this strange guy,
keeping to himself,
avoiding church,
having broken
with a big family,
you remeber, Meyer,
living close by.

This odd man,
at least I imagine him to quite odd,
this man,
how was he,
to make images
like he did.

Disfarmers portraits look like
photography before photography.

There is something
very natural to his images
and his protagonists seem to be fragile, as we are all.
Fragility as a constitutive part of human existence.

More images by,
and information about Disfarmer
you`ll find here.

DIANE ARBUS/ SELF-PORTRAIT.

Diane Arbus with Doon, 1945



There is one asset of photography
you will primarily notice while looking at images depicting your life:
it opens the door for the intrusion of the past into the present.

When I saw the left image of this sequence of two,
I was reminded of a young woman, of her,
the mother of my son, and I remembered, how I,
actually still being a boy but in the same time also a young man,
unexpectedly and unprepared for, became a father.

I was startled by the passing of time.

This being startled was twofold:
the young woman on the photograph is Diane Arbus.
She is the woman who would produce photographs
that hit me in the stomach every time I see them
because of their extraordinary quality.
She is the woman who will,
somewhere on this long an winding road called life,
commit suicide.

Thus my perception connects with my emotions
and my knowledge and turns into the starting point to thread of thoughts,
not actually thinking but drifting randomly through bits and pieces,
musings about life, about what has been, about what is and what will come.

The young woman is not pressing this tiny creature to her body.
She draws her close to her body and draws herself nearer to the child.
She keeps a bit of a distance.
Thus she is not drowning in a wave of love and bewilderment,
but stays aware of her child as a person.

Again and again I look into the face this young woman.
That what I see, I can’t put into words.
Anything I could say would be too much or not enough.

BILLY MONK/ NIGHTLIFE.

image by
Billy Monk



I am drawn back and forth between my immediate impulse to reject what I see and the discovery that I do share something with Billy Monks protagonists: I reject the dirt, the shabby surroundings, I reject the potential disrespect of women, I reject boozy ecstasy and I reject this lack of privacy. But then I realize that these photographs tell the tale of some basic human needs, the need for sex, the need for contact and the desire to touch and to be touched. Though Billy Monks photographs seem to be honest documents of a certain reality at a certain place at a certain time, this assumption about photographic honesty is, as always, delusive. Billy Monks shows us what he wanted to see, and he expressed what he was compelled to express. He tells us a story about himself and the people he has met, and his images, if we take the time to look at them for a while, start to speak, or to put this differently, they are the starting point for our phantasies about these people and we might recognize, they are like us.

PHOTOBOOTH

source: These Americans.

A heart touching and unbelievably charming sequence of photobooth images, found at These Americans and the Lost Gallery.

Some of these people are sad, some coquettish, some lost in dreams, and most of the time the apparatus, the photo machine, seems to disappear, some kind of magic happens and we look into a face, and the face seems to say: nobody there, just me…

Yesterday our TV set died.

Yesterday our TV set died.

Behind its bulky corpse, lost in time but not in space,
I found some invitation cards I made for my diploma twenty years ago.

I look at them now,

and remember how I put up these self made cards on the walls and doors of my university,
inviting my fellow students to my diploma exhibition.

It was a design school, this university of mine,
and now it´s funny to see

how I broke the rules of professionalism with my amateurish design,
my intentional spelling chaos,
and the hand printed letters.

I was full of protest then.