Apparently pieces from Tamás Dezső’s Notes for an Epilogue were still arriving at the Photographer’s Gallery last Saturday, a few days after the show opened to the public. It’s still in it’s opening week but already receiving rave reviews.
The show consists of 10 pieces capturing varying subjects, landscapes and people in Romania and Hungary, taken from two of his ongoing collections, namely Notes For an Epilogue (begun 2011) and Here, Anywhere (2009). It’s a glimpse of his forthcoming work and revealing of a profound, engrossing style which has evolved from an editorial background in magazine publishing and exhibitions in his native Hungary. There’s an assurance to Dezső’s work – he has an eye for composition and punctuates subtle narratives with an arresting stillness.
The accompanying notes to the exhibition describe the photographer’s interest in capturing the ‘gap of time’ at transformational moments in history; in this instance, the dubious communist legacy in both countries. The leitmotif of disillusion common in art from this corner of the world has a twist here: it’s not entirely bleak, and in many ways even hopeful. There’s always a redeeming visual anchor present, be it the graceful birds flying above an array of rubbish in Dump or the rosy light which emanates from a forlorn-looking caravanette amidst equally grey and derelict surroundings in Night Watchmen.
Forest with Mistletoe is a simple shot of woods but has a cathedral-like quality; the mistletoe branches resembling pulpit-like nests punctuating the lines of trees. It’s in the larger pieces that Dezső’s sensitivity comes across most powerfully: in particular Sheep Farm and the aforementioned Dump, which are painterly and breathtaking (it’s worth the trek here for these alone). Sheep Farm is a shot of a herd of sheep slowly disappearing into a white snowy sky; their transient presence evaporating before our very eyes.
There’s a religiosity to these photographs. A sacred space exists within each picture – not exactly Zen, as there’s discourse here, the urban pieces reflecting the ideological and economic short-changes ex-communist countries have endured, while the landscape shots capture subtle nuances in the contrast between industrialisation and the natural environment.
Writer and academic Anca Pusca writes in the exhibition introduction; ‘Transitions are difficult to describe … the visual plays an essential role in defining the experience of people who are actually undergoing it, as change is often reflected in the immediate landscape’.
These philosophical ideas are present in the most impressive portraits, which seem to capture the cultural dissonance between past traditions and failed attempts at economic recovery. Ciprian, the Bear Dancer (the most psychological of the portraits), is a haunting photograph: a young boy (presumably a circus performer) stands inside a real bear-suit, his eyes impenetrable. Although the bear’s teeth gape open above his innocent frame, there’s self-possession in the boy’s stance. The image has a preternatural air – the presence of an old world amidst the new.
In The Carpet Sellers, an elderly gypsy-looking couple are shot against a white background of snow. They stand apart and look impassive, perhaps with a touch of defiance – but if you look closely you can see they’re holding hands tenderly. It’s a touching detail, which in many ways exemplifies Dezső’s work; full of charm and intelligence and biting realism. The show’s a great foretaste of the gems we’ll no doubt find in his forthcoming book – but if you can’t wait till September for it to be published, pop along to the Photographers’ Gallery now and see for yourself: it’s an impressive debut exhibition, and no doubt, the first of many.
Tamás Dezső: Notes For An Epilogue can be seen at the Photographers’ Gallery, Ramillies Street W1, until 13th June 2015.