Karoly Szelenyi, born in Budapest in 1943, was encouraged by his family to make an early acquaintance with photography. He won a prize at a young people’s photography exhibition at the age of 13 and went on to learn his profession and the secrets of photographing works of art under Istvan Petras, Imre Berty and Kata Kalman. He then began his career by photographing great art works in galleries and museums at home and abroad, for book illustrations. The first album of his own photographs was Balaton and Its Surroundings?Landscape in a Changing Light (1978). This captured the reciprocal effects in an environment fashioned by landscape and man. Szelenyi worked for the publisher Corvina Kiado for many years. Latterly he has been with the publisher and photographic archive Hungarian Pictures. From 1970 to 1986, he also taught photography at the Hungarian College of Applied Arts, where he still takes courses. In 1992, Szelenyi set about converting a desolate old artisan’s house in Veszprem into a home and gallery, which made him a citizen of this county. This affiliation contributed to a succession of albums and illustration assignments in recent years, covering Veszprem County, the Kal Basin, Herend porcelain, the towns of Papa and Balatonfured, the Maulbertsch frescoes at Sumeg, the Archbishopric of Veszprem, and his adopted city. Szelenyi’s books have won him numerous prizes in Hungary and abroad, including Best Photographic Illustration of the Year on several occasions. In 1993, he received a high state decoration, the Gold Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. In 1995 came the Order of Merit of Veszprem County, and in 1998, the Gisela Prize from the City of Veszprem.

Selected works by Karoly Szelenyi

Art albums: Aragon’s Chagall (1973), Gaston Diehl’s Vasarely (1973), Sculptures by Italian and Spanish Masters (1977), Radocsay’s Medieval Murals in Hungary (1977), Kovacs and Lovag’s Hungarian Coronation Regalia (several editions), Arnold Gross’s Presentation Album (1985), Kresz’s Hungarian Ceramic Art (1990), Vadas and Varga’s Herend (1992), Balazs’s The Magyars?The Birth of a European Nation (1992), Toth’s The Holy Crown of Hungary (1996 and 1999)].

Original Albums: Balaton and Its Surroundings?Landscape in Changing Light (1978, 1980 etc.), Tokaj (1982), Colourful Moscow (1980), Pecs and Baranya County (1985, 1992), Hungary (1986, 1988 and 1992), Eger, Heves County (1987, 1994), Peace unto Israel (1989), Baroque in Szekesfehervar (1992), Baroque in Eger and County Heves (1992), The Kal Basin by Lake Balaton (1992), From the Balaton Uplands to the Bakony Foothills (1992), Chicago (1995), albums of towns and cities, including Veszprem, Balatonfured, Csopak and Papa (1995 and 1996), Szekesfehervar (1997), The Wines of Eger (1997), Garden Cities in Europe: the Wekerle Estate in Budapest, the Stockfeld district of Strasbourg (1997), Ajka (2000), The City of Budapest, The Coronation mantle of Hungarian kings (2002)

‘Karoly Szelenyi is among the outstanding personalities in Hungarian photography. Rather than taking any wantonly self-conscious, artistic stance toward his subjects, he is among the few to approach each place, work or object with humility. This has made him perhaps the most authentic interpreter of the material and architectural remains from the past.’ by Peter Kovacs (1995)

‘In these parts, we gain a sense of history, of the past, and in their villages, of an age-old peasant culture that the past is slowly claiming. There might seem to be no simpler, more poignant task than to capture this, but the appearance is most deceptive. The lake [Balaton] is fickle?wont to swathe itself in mist on the finest days. Its tiny ruined churches and ancient remains are reticent about displaying their character. The spirit of these parts is revealed only in the right places, and the multiplicity of lights sets the photographer the task of finding the one that fits best. And often the simplest is the loveliest and most characteristic. That lends enchantment to Karoly Szelenyi’s photographs. They are simple just were simplicity expresses the most. Yet he can compose in a coordinated fashion, drawing several elements into one picture, and if need be, lining up a range of special effects. Karoly Szelenyi has such a command of colour technique that he can play with it as he will. He has been known as a superlative photographer of works of art, able almost to bring inanimate subjects to life. Now he has felt called upon to go outdoors and find, beneath the open skies, works of art that are attuned to their environment.’ by Kata Kalman (1976)

‘Landscape in changing light?this is the subject central to the latest creative work of a photographer known hitherto for his photographs of works of art. The changes of light and its effect on the landscape and composition are what concern him in his pictures, whether they show the Balaton district or other parts of the country, or even the distant Cyclades of Greece. The changes of atmosphere transmute the landscape, altering the dimensions of form and colour. The effect of light on spectacle was the Impressionists’ discovery, so to speak, in painting. With the perfection and spread of colour photography, composition with light and colour offers ever more abundant and varied opportunities to those who know their craft, who can see in terms of images and shape into a picture what a district means to them. Szelenyi’s picture of Balaton places before us a timeless landscape at one with nature. The nature of the landscape as Szelenyi sets out to reveal it ensures that the overall image is picturesque.'

by Katalin Gopcsa (1979)


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