Monday, 29 January 2018

The Blind Musician and the Voyeurs 5

Escher: Bank Manager at the Public Baths, 1938

I want briefly to look at two more Escher images before passing on. This is the famous Bank Manager at the Public Baths of 1938.

Neither seal nor merman, this corpulent figure is, nevertheless, something other than a portrait. He is a stereotype but so perfectly pitched that he transcends stereotype. He is not merely a concrete example of a lay figure, one likely to have found his way into one or other concentration camp where he might have been exterminated some four years after the photograph was taken but, as with the young soldier, he is also a symbol at a deeper level. Of what, I am not sure. Not merely mortality. Symbols are not easily definable, but it seems clear that, at some level beyond the vulnerability associated with mortality, he symbolises money and its offices,  a mixture of power and vulnerability. His arms are stretched out either side of him as in a crucifixion but he looks out at us, confronting us directly, even pulling a face for us, with an expression that is part comical, part contemptuous. His face, body and position arouse feelings in us that lie close to the root of who we are and what we are. I last saw his image on the Gents door of the Budapest restaurant that used to be the bank of which our floating banker was manager. Like the Dude in the film, The Big Lebowski, the image of the banker abides.

And lastly this image of a blind musician in 1944, the year the Germans marched into Hungary and the year the Holocaust deportations began in earnest.

Károly Escher: Blind Musician, 1944

That information is not in the photograph of course. Information of that sort rarely is nor would I want to pile too much baggage on the poor musician’s back but his wide open mouth seems to be bellowing something we almost hear. The angle at which he is shot, and the framing, destabilise him as much as they do the viewer who is effectively tipped sideways into his world. Once again, as in all great photographs, the photographer has seen or sensed a field beyond the subject. He too has been tipped over. We are not sure whether to call this a portrait or a social document. It is much more than either.

I would like this photograph to act as a bridge to another photographer, possibly the greatest of Hungarian photographers, in fact more than that, possibly the greatest photographer of all, André Kertész.

[to be continued]


Rudi Konrath said...

Lovely to see these pictures again. Just wanted to say, there are so many Hungarian photographers, all of whom would qualify for the “best”! Difficult to pick out one, for me at least!
Bless you.

George S said...

Indeed, Rudi. The two major exhibitions of Hungarian photography in this country - both curated by Colin Ford - confirmed that for me. But I have a special love for Escher. Apart from him there is not much to choose between an excellent crop of photographers.