I would like to devote my today’s post to remarkable personality of Jewish and Hungarian born photographer Eva Besnyö. She was born in the capital of Hungary in 1910 in the family of Jewish lawyer Bernat Besnyö who was tortured to death in 1944 in Auschwitz concentration camp during the World War II.
Despite her father’s willing Eva wanted to be a photographer after graduating from high school. When she was 18-years-old she started to attend Advertising and Architecture Studio in Budapest. Later in 1930 she decided to move to the European center of arts, avant-garde, liberalism and freedom that at the time was Berlin. Eva wanted to leave her home also because of Horthy regime. Eva Besnyö admitted her staying in Berlin as the most important period in all her life. It is not surprising at all. Berlin of the 1920s and early 1930s was really sophisticated and innovative center of arts and culture. Love, freedom, independence, lust and even lewdness were in the air. Simply try to remember and immerse yourself into the world of everlasting joy and melancholy brilliantly depicted by Bob Fosse in Cabaret (1972) musical film then you would understand what I’m talking about.
In the 1930s Eva Besnyö started to work as the press photographer doing photo reportage of daily life. Her style and approach to work remind me pictures by the Soviet photographer Alexander Rodchenko. They really have a lot of in common if you compare the works of these two outstanding avant-garde photographers. Eva was literally captivated by street life, she was interested in very simple things and events. In 1931 she managed to found her own studio where she got a chance to work independently. As the rule as her style is described as poetic, but at the same time socially oriented that “describes reality, a reality that is at once multiple, fleeting, and sensitive”. Eva Besnyö gained recognition getting a lot of commissions but unfortunately she had to leave Berlin because of the rise to power of National-Socialism Party ruled by Hitler. And in 1932 Eva left for Amsterdam along with her friend and companion John Fernhout. Nevertheless Eva became popular in the Netherlands as well with the help and support of Charley Toorop, Joris Ivens and Gerrit Rietveld. She participated in the international exhibitions and got numerous commissions once again. After Nazis invasion into the Netherlands Eva Besnyö had to leave her social and political activities and went underground. But after the end of war things went much better and Eva got another chance to continue her work as a photographer. In the 1970s she participated in the Dolle-Mina feminist movement asserting female rights. As she commented once: “I started as a photographer, covering the Dolle Mina movement, but slowly, I became a Dolle Mina myself, to such an extent that I was no longer able to take pictures, but preferred contributing in the discussions”. She was rewarded several times in the Netherlands as well as in Germany for her contribution to the art of modern photography.
Eva Besnyö died in 2002 in the Netherlands.