Orban’s Hungary seen through the lens of a Polish photographer
“Today, I think of it as a universal story. One could transfer it to any other country where citizens are stripped of their freedoms. Many people I show these photographs to say they look like they were taken in Poland. Poles and Hungarians are not all that different, though not in the sense that politicians think of…” according to photographer Michał Adamski, the author of the book and exhibition titled „Pies o dwóch ogonach” / The Two Tailed Dog, a photographic story about a country grappling with tensions and the rule of Viktor Orban.
Why did a Polish photographer travel to Hungary?
I went out of curiosity when I heard a certain Polish politician announcing they were going to build a new Budapest in Warsaw. I decided to go see what it is about Hungary, how people live there, what causes it to be a model example for Polish right-wing politicians to copy in a sense. The project took me two years, between 2017 and 2019…
I had previously thought about going there with my camera. The first time I went there was in 1997, when my girlfriend – and now my wife – was studying Hungarian literature. I remembered Hungary from the days gone by, and though today my wife is involved in other things, that country was always fascinating for us and so we kept on watching to see what would happen to it.
What did a Polish photographer find and capture in Hungary ?
Our first impression upon entering Hungary is that we are dealing with an ordinary European nation, developing no differently to their neighbours. New highways being built, Budapest gleaming, tourist attractions and people all over the place. It’s only when you turn off the main road networks that you see what Hungary is really like. This was a surprise, as I had remembered my visit at the end of the 20th century when I was delighted by Hungary and impressed by Budapest which seemed like a West European city, more developed than neighbouring capitals. During my trip in 2017, I was surprised by changes which give the impression that Poland has moved ahead while Hungary has remained static. This is very noticeable. In the 1990s, the opposite was true.
Did you take pictures in the provinces?
Not only there. I was surprised by Budapest which is Orban’s creation. All those tourist attractions, the places where most people visit, are beautifully restored and maintained, while the side lanes look a lot different. It’s enough to wander off the beaten track and not far from the center to see if not abject poverty then people who are evidently poor. In 2017, it was possible to meet many who were living on the streets, but the homeless situation has changed because Orban has amended laws and people who have nowhere to live have disappeared.
In Budapest, I also went looking for places which were scenes of protests, seeing as the capital is where the opposition groups gather and are most active.
Is this photographic tale all about Hungary? About society? About manipulation?
The vision for this project evolved, and going there I wanted to rediscover this land, capture the place and its people, see what life is really like. This was to be a story about Hungary in a broad sense, and then while creating the photographic album and looking for a narrative form this notion of manipulation appeared, of how politics and politicians can draw us into their world and create a reality which we are meant to buy into. Then, working in July on the show in Warsaw, I became aware that it is sort of a story about how the masses are seduced by politicians, but mainly it’s the story about freedom. About how it is lost, and how freedom is a fragile thing, something which can be taken away while we’re not actually looking.
This was the notion emerging as I kept visiting Hungary, an ongoing process which took on new meanings with each stage of development. Today, I think of it as a universal story. One could transfer it to any other country where citizens are stripped of their freedoms. Many people I show these photographs to say they look like they were taken in Poland. Poles and Hungarians are not all that different, though not in the sense that politicians think of…
How do you explain this mysterious title The Two Tailed Dog?
This is the name of a political party established in Budapest by a group of rather crazy artists who through performance and artistic activities are opposing their own rulers, ridiculing them. Rulers in Hungary, but also rulers in general – this is very much an anti-establishment political party. I used their name as a key, or rather wrench, to open up a story about Hungary and what is going on there. We are at times helpless, but we need safety valves – which are often found in comedy and the absurd.
Your book and the exhibition involve a sort of hidden game. These are micro-texts which accompany the images. What are these slogans?
Once I had the photographs and was trying to turn them into a book, I found myself looking for some sort of link. I knew the world I was covering belonged to Viktor Orban. I looked around and came across his speeches and some interviews. The texts included in the exhibition are quotes from his appearances and the election campaign of the Two Tailed Dog Party. I arranged them in a way which doesn’t clearly state who said what. It’s a puzzle. I only hint at a solution at the very end.
At times, you say it is a story about a system which destroys the individual, which uses the “Other” to frighten and strip away freedoms. Could such a photographic reportage be created in another central European country?
I think we could easily make a similar project in Poland. Our rulers are also using this idea of the “Other” to scare society – be it “LGBT ideology”, as stated by the president of Poland, or immigrants from Afghanistan which are being held at the Belorussian border. This narrative is constantly present. Politicians are only looking for new angles, while we are constantly being frightened by the same things.”
Have you shown these photos in Hungary?
I had some photos published there when I was publishing my book. I know how they are received by those who see in them the same existing reality as I do: sensing the mood, the atmosphere of slight terror and chaos. They think I have captured the things they think about. I do not however know how these images will be received by the other side – Orban’s supporters. I have not shown these images to a large spectrum of the public. Perhaps they would be received enthusiastically – Oh, cool quotes from Orban, someone has finally gotten to the truth.
Are you planning to create new projects in this part of the world?
I am working on a small publication which comments upon the reality in Poland, but I am keen on photographing the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this whole Visegrad cauldron at present. I see it all first hand, because I’m studying at the Opava Institute of Creative Photography [in Czech Republic, one of the best photography schools in Europe – ed.] so I will try to take my camera there next.
Michał Adamski’s Dog With Two Tails / „Pies o dwóch ogonach” show in Pracownia Duży Pokój in Warsaw is on until 9.9.2021 and is organised by Fundacja Picture Doc (http://picture-doc.org/) & Pix. House, Curator: Filip Ćwik. More info: www.duzypokoj.org
Michał Adamski – born in 1976, Poznan. Student at the Opava Institute of Creative Photography (Czech Republic). One of the founders of the PIX.HOUSE foundation, which runs a photographic gallery in Poznan. He is a member of the Polish Association of Photographic Artists and recipient of scholarships from the Minister of Culture & National Heritage and the Marshall of the Greater Poland Voivodeship. In 2015, he published an album titled „Nie mogę przebrnąć przez chaos” / I Can’t Get Through The Chaos, which deals with the theme of losing one’s parents. More info: www.michaladamski.com