The House of Terror: Budapest, Hungary

This year (technically last year) I spent Christmas in Budapest; a city I’ve been keen to visit for many years and having now been find it difficult to fully make sense of. Straddling the Danube, it was brimming with late nineteenth century architecture (both original and recreated), art-deco and art-nouveau (again both original and recreated!), littered with festive markets and the scent of mulled alcohol, and even snow on Christmas eve. Amongst all of this seasonal cheer I visited the less festive House of Terror which helped make sense of this interesting city and its need to restore, rebuild, and indeed remember. The museum focuses on the brutality faced by Hungarians under both the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and also acts as a monument to those who were imprisoned, tortured or killed within the building itself. You are greeted by a tank in an atrium three floors high with black and silver portraits of victims displayed floor to ceiling. The rooms leading away from this atrium outline the fear, chaos and inescapable presence of these regimes by illustrating the propaganda, secret police, uniforms, religious attacks, forced-labour camps and gulags of both the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis) and Soviets, as well as a mock polling station when there was a one-party “democracy” in place, and numerous examples of Hungarian resistance. A lift slowly moves visitors down to the basement, at the back of which a plasma screen shows a documentary revealing a variety of execution methods in a manner devoid of emotion. Once in the basement you are faced with a series of cells where prisoners were kept in a cruel, damp, confined conditions – one cell simply has a noose in it. Situated on a main boulevard, this museum provides a bleak and powerful image of life during that period and the horrors that openly took place within the heart of the city.

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C/O Berlin: Berlin, Germany

C/O Berlin’s current exhibition ‘Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography’ uses Oskar Barnack’s Lilliputan camera (later the Leica) as a focal point to tease out changes, revolutions and innovations in photography from its invention in 1914 onwards. In our current selfie-obsessed digital age, it is amazing to think that there was once a time when cameras were static and producing images was slow, expensive and inaccessible to most people. However the Leica changed that, and this exhibition uses over 300 photographs, photobooks, magazines, original Leica cameras and film rolls to explore its impact. Taking a loosely chronological approach, the exhibition discuses Leica’s effect on reporting, ideology, propaganda, social and humanist issues, street photography, fashion and celebrity amongst other topics. The earlier black and white images are very evocative of their era and capture either the buzz surrounding new inventions such as airships, planes and cars or the horror of war, famine and civil unrest very powerfully. Moving into colour photography, there are stunning images on display, however I was struck by how little it added to its mono counterparts. This is not to say that things have become stagnant, and the exhibition excited me about what Leica and other photographic technology will develop next and the reverberations it will undoubtedly have. Countless iconic images are on display (including ones by Cartier-Bresson, Capa and Eisenstaedt to name a few), but a standout photograph for me was Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara which has been reproduced countless times across the globe – becoming such a familiar image, but one that up until this show I would not have been able to name the photographer responsible. This portrait is also displayed alongside negatives of the rest of the photographers’ film roll from that day, beautifully placing the moment this image was taken into greater context.

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