So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Through an American Lens, Hungary, 1938: Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White

Through an American Lens, Hungary, 1938: Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White edited by Katalin Kadar Lynn
Katalin Kadar Lynn edited and wrote the introductory essays of this collection of photographs from Margaret Bourke-White's 1938 visit to Hungary. Many of the photos are of the leaders of the country, while others are landscapes and common people.
Each full page black and white photo is accompanied by a one-page essay written by Karoly Szerences whom Dr. Kádár Lynn describes as "a man of baroque sensibilities and deep erudition." She goes on to say that "in his essays Professor Szerences takes on the guise of Margaret Bourke-White's personal guide into the essence, the Hungarian essence, of each of her photographs. Steeped in the long, turbulent history of his country, his stream-of-consciousness narrative reflects the soul and conscience of the nation. Looking at the photos of Hungary's long-dead leaders, would-be leaders and citizens, he seems almost to channel each person's spirit swhile situating that person within the framework of Hungary's history. Some of the quotations in these essays may seem to the modern-day reader like flights of fancy, tailored to support the 'story'; each is, however, historically accurate and verifiable."
These essays are quite astonishingly descriptive. He starts by referring to post-Trianon Hungary as Potato Land and Budapest as Chameleon City. He calls Hungary's Parliament "crazy." One Prime Minister he calls a pirate and another a gambler. The Minister of Defense he calls a clown. They seem to be written to the cognoscenti and presume a lot of the reader. At the end of the book each picture has a "brief history of the places and people" written by Peter Strausz "to orient readers unfamiliar with twentieth century Hungarian history." I have found reading these histories along with the essay and viewing the pictures is the best way to get through the book, even though it means flipping back and forth.
Dr. Kádár Lynn has done a marvelous job of bringing these never-before published photos to the public eye. Bourke-White's portraiture of the leaders of the country is amazing and the large format (10"x12") pages show them in a wonderful way. However, they are a specialized treat for those who have an interest in 20th Century Central European history.


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