2022. Mar. 05. - 2022. Jun. 05.

Debrecen in old pictures and contemporary works

The joint exhibition of MODEM and the Déri Museum aims to present the museum’s Photo Gallery.

The exhibition is the first public display of the Photo Gallery, which has been formed into a separate collection over the last ten years by combining the growing stock of photographic negatives from the museum’s work from 1907 onwards and the positive images from the historical archives, which have been enriched from the point of view of urban and family history and ethnography. Since the thematic series of exhibitions on the history of photography held in several locations in the city in the late 1980s, the museum’s photographs have not been displayed as a stand-alone exhibition, with the exception of the exhibition at the Mai Mano House ten years ago, which featured selected material from rural museums; the photos have only been used as parts of installations of for illustrative purposes in other exhibitions.

Selected by the curators, the 90 photos now on display showcase the collection by bringing together the most powerful illustrations of urban history. The beginning of the selection process dates back to the appearance of studio photography in Debrecen in the mid-1860s, and one of the main aspects of the project was to exclude or minimize the possibility of personal memory, so that all viewers, regardless of age, could loot at them from the same position, enter an unknown, lost world, and the city’s fairy-tale-like side could be revealed to everyone alike. One way this was able to be achieved was by limiting the date of the pictures up to the 1960s, crossing the time line only for the sake of a few parallels; another was by narrowing the subject matter of the images down to little-known yet recognizable places, with particular focus on construction projects aimed at urban transformation, and sometimes surreal views. The recognition and identifiability of the spaces of the city as we experience it today in the black and white past of the images, the experience of the occupation of today’s spaces by the people of the past, may be able to arouse the visitors’ desire to experience their relationship to the past back to life, and to stimulate their attention and sensitivity to the built heritage and the historical character of the city. An important principle in the selection process was to avoid the dominance of the ethnographic aspect, since presenting the former life of the city as an exoticism would not create a connection with the past, but would alienate us from it. The stories associated with and embedded in the pictures can also enrich the knowledge of the city in aspects that can strengthen personal connection, but visitors who are not familiar with the city can also find help in these remarks where necessary.

In the other part of the exhibition, the familiar foreign perspective of the inhabitants of the city is complemented by the intuitively foreign perspective of contemporary artists, as six contemporary artists (Barakonyi Szabolcs, Bede Kincső, Chilf Mária, Fátyol Viola, Kocsi Olga, Koltay Dorottya Szonja) who have already dealt with photographic memory in their works, created artworks for this occasion by reflecting on images selected from the collection. Prior to the work, last fall, the artists first received a large selection of photos from the photo gallery, then they familiarized themselves with the history of the photo collection and the city in a full-day workshop led by local historians, and finally they had the opportunity to study the images individually from their own perspectives. The works produced partly use the lectures as a starting point, whether in terms of specific photographs and photographers, the photo gallery as an archive, or the historical character of the city, and partly seek parallels with the artists’ personal stories. The interpretation of the spaces and stories believed to be known by the people of Debrecen from the specific perspective of art, on the one hand, by holding up a mirror for them, can also encourage the city residents to introspect and draw their attention to certain sights, unexpected correlations, underlying meanings, and on the other hand, familiarity itself can help them to get closer to understanding contemporary art.


Barakonyi Szabolcs / Bede Kincső / Chilf Mária / Fátyol Viola / Kocsi Olga / Koltay Dorottya Szonja


Szabó Anna Viola / Don Tamás

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