The lifework of the Hungarian-Jewish photographer Eva Besnyö spans more than six decades. Following training in the Budapest photographic studio of József Pésci, she resettled in Berlin in 1930 and, inspired by ‘Neues Sehen’, swiftly mastered the aesthetic language of modernist photography. She experienced her artistic breakthrough in Amsterdam in 1933.
Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.
In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, e.g. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera. Jeu de Paume
Edited by Hannelore Fischer for the Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln | Texts by Marion Beckers und Elisabeth Moortgat | 128 Pages | 101 Illustration | 22 x 26,5 cm.
Current exhibition at Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen (Germany), January 20 – April 22, 2019.
Video: Eva Besnyö The Choice Collection 2003 (with English subtitles) (Vimeo)