It takes a pretty enticing exhibition to get me into the Royal Academy, but Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century was just that. To my relief, I wasn't disappointed. Unlike some previous RA exhibitions, this one held a decent amount of material -- and a show consisting of only half these stunning images would have been worth the ticket price.
The exhibition includes photography of all types: scenes of everyday life; photojournalism from the World Wars, the revolutions and the fall of Communism; Surrealist photomontages; fashion and advertising shots. In Tibor Schoen's Ravens (1915), the eponymous birds surround a dead soldier on a snow-covered battlefield. Ravens scavenge flesh, but these particular ravens appear to be just hanging around, perched on bare branches or settled contentedly in the snow: life going on despite human horrors. The wide veils of the nuns in Ernö Vadas's Procession (1934) form an almost abstract geometric pattern: you have to look twice to be sure of what you're seeing. In György Stalter's Tólápa (1982), a Gypsy woman seems to be observing a cheerful gaggle of geese inside an abandoned house, while Sylvia Plachy's tragicomic Fallen Worker (1993) shows a heroic Communist sculpture toppled on the ground.
But two photographers really form the core of this show: Robert Capa and André Kertész. The Capa photographs here span from 1936 (the famous, and possibly staged, Death of a Loyalist Militiaman) to 1950 (Refugees in Front of the Sha'ar Ha'Aliya Refugee Camp, Haifa). Kertész's photos, meanwhile, span his whole career, from tiny prints made in the 1910s (farmers gathered by a cattle trough, a child playing with a cat) to semi-abstract Polaroids taken in New York in the early 1980s.
The Academy has reprinted poems by George Szirtes to accompany some of the photos. Otherwise, it largely sticks to its typical minimalist labelling. This has been a drawback in some previous shows, but it works well here, allowing viewers to form their own response to the images. It was especially effective with the two pictures that stayed with me most: Kertész's Mr & Mrs Rosskam, where the subjects look upward at the camera, seemingly surprised while playing with their cats; and Capa's Woman, Who Had a Child with a German Soldier, Being Marched Through the Street. Apparently a film was made last year in Ireland that tried to trace what had happened to this woman and her child; but I haven't seen it, and I don't know what they found.