“Photographers may be the most sensitive to criticism”
And to being photographed. Balázs Glódi reflects on festival life, gastro-photography, and communism.
If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be?
BALÁZS: There is an island at the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, technically the farthest point from everything on earth, Tristan da Cunha, where only 271 people live. I’d love to go and stay there for a longer period of time.
I would also love to go back to New York, or Tehran too.
You’ve been to some really amazing places – Burma, Bali, Singapore, Cuba. How do you choose where to go next?
There are so many things I haven’t seen yet. For some weird reason I’m drawn to tumultuous and totalitarian countries, such as Cuba, Cambodia, and Burma. My first trip like this was to Cuba. When I was born they held the World Festival of Youth and Students (1978) there, which was mainly a meeting for the youth of the Communist bloc, and my father went there when I was a few months old. He was a hobby-photographer and he brought back an incredible amount of film slides. Years later, when I was the photo editor for Wanted magazine, the Buena Vista Social Club craze started. I saw that movie and it reminded me of my father’s pictures; it was like looking at those images, although twenty-plus years have passed, nothing has changed. It just clicked for me then that I have to go and see it. Is cheap rum and warm weather really enough to be happy? It turns out, that if the climate is good, everything is so much easier. Without choices, life gets simpler.
How did you find out photography is your preferred form of expression? As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had the usual childhood dreams of becoming a fireman or a garbageman (because you can “surf” on the back of the garbage truck).
Early on, I think when I was in elementary school, I got a DDR (German Democratic Republic) made camera, and then later on I scored an old Praktica from my dad. You could change the lens on it. I was taking photos for the school newspaper in high school. Ever since the launch of the first issue of Magyar Narancs I was in love with not only their imagery but the liberal way how the whole thing was put together. My history teacher was the girlfriend of photographer Miki Déri, and very early on I started to push myself and eventually managed to get some of my photos to him, and to also meet him a few weeks later. He told me, “You can’t just give out photos like this”, and threw my photos in front of me. I had sent them to him in a plastic pocket. I got told off very badly, “What did you try to say anyway? And the whole thing is out of focus.. and just decide already what you want!” After that I didn’t even touch a camera for 2 months. I started to look at things differently from that point. I was still in high school when my first photo was published in the Narancs, and this basically determined my further education.
You recently worked with fellow Budapest-based creatives Eszter Laki and Kamilla Mihály to produce the beautiful book Menü. How did this experience compare to working on your first book Fesztivál?
Compared to Menü, Fesztivál is a school-project. My school, Práter, had a student photo competition and I entered a festival shoot I did in ’97 (for Magyar Narancs by the way), and I won. I realised that a festival is a very strange living organism. Wanted used to be the magazine of Sziget, and for a very long time I was documenting the festival, and even though I wasn’t the official festival photographer, they used my photos. Then I became an official festival photographer, and I spent a lot of time on and around the island. I loved it in the beginning. The book Fesztivál was the beginning of the end of that era. By then I didn’t like the festival that much. In the new digital era, I spent hours and hours just uploading, downloading, and sorting images. My to-do lists got very long and heavy. The first time I ever watched a concert from beginning to end was after I stopped working on the island. The Fesztivál book was a milestone for me, even though it wasn’t a successful project. Everyone has a different opinion why. I like those photos, but after the book I worked there for another 2-3 years and took a lot of great photos, so looking back now I would use completely different photos in it.
Menü compared to this is a large project. It wasn’t a one-man-show, but a group project. This was a big job which we planned properly for a long time, a result of well-planned work, and that one was only a compilation.
Gastro photography and videography has been trending over the past decade, starting with all the cooking shows on TV. We are now seeing a resurgence in food photography on Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr – do you think there’s a food photography renaissance going on now?
I wouldn’t really know, I’m not a media-psychic, so I don’t know how much we can still get out of Jamie Oliver. It’s hard to tell because there are different directions running parallel to each other. I don’t know where this instagram-food-photo-craze came from, or since when and why people want to share what and where they eat. Before photoblogs, there were a few bloggers on Blogspot that would write about where they ate, but now you can do it with a touch of a button on your phone.
I was already doing this (food photography) when I started my blog, Fnyrzkny. All my previous girlfriends told me that I bless the food when I take photos of it. I’m not saying that I started this, but there is definitely a demand for it. Food in general might be nice or ugly, but it’s a colourful thing that can be framed well. Which direction does it go? It goes parallel. If you look at the international scene now, it’s mainly this nicely-lit, shiny, over-styled thing. But Jamie’s approach for example, is less superficial, and lit more naturally. This isn’t the worldwide trend either, but we are going towards that direction at the moment and I think that this less-mannered, less-fake route is the best. Let’s believe already that we can actually make the dish which is in that photo. A cookbook shouldn’t show a photo which is clearly something we can only get at a Michelin-starred restaurant. It should be something we can make at home and serve it in a tasteful way without the need for 2 stylists and 5 photographic lamps. There is also molecular gastronomy, which is very cool and useful, but I don’t think that translates well for home-cooking.
What are your thoughts on the creative scene in Budapest?
There are things and moments that make me more creative, so these things have interesting results in the long-run. The scene, during good-times, is laid back. We pitch for something, we get it, and we do it. In bad times we don’t pitch because there is nothing to pitch for, and we don’t get it, because there is nothing to get. I think a lot of people can do much better things than just pitching but I’m not sure whether this is good or bad. It might be bad for us now, but who knows, this might be what creates an interesting terrain for the next generation.
As an independent photographer, do you feel some sort of internal or external pressure to be constantly creating?
Instagram affects me too in a way that I don’t take out my camera even if I have it with me, because it’s much easier to take a shot with the phone. I always have it with me. I believe photographs don’t always serve a purpose when you take them or show them to someone. If we just look back 20-30 years into the near past, we see the changes in clothing and places around us through photos of semi-professional photographers. These photos all have a purpose now. I can’t exist in order – it drives me crazy. This is why I’m a freelancer.
Is there any photograph you regret not taking? Any moment missed or image you didn’t capture that you wish you had?
Thera are a lot.. For example, I left a lot of pictures in Iran. I’ve been in many situations where I didn’t take out my camera – it’s not that kind of place…
Where do you go for inspiration?
Many things inspire me out of jealousy or envy (“I could’ve done that!”). Photographers may be the most sensitive to criticism. People inspire me too. Eszter (Laki), for instance, can drive me crazy when she stands behind me and murmurs. It brings out a state in me where I step outside of my routine and start to look at things from a different angle.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GÁBOR ZOLTÁN TÓTH