After graduating from university in 1948, János Szász (1925-2005) intended to become a lawyer, but found himself ‘disqualified’ to practice law under the Communist regime due to his father’s army rank. Szász, instead, turned to photography and defiantly kept his title of “Doctor of Law” while supporting his family as a sign painter. Within ten years, Szász’s photographs were being widely exhibited and acclaimed among the Socialist countries. During the 1960s and 70s, Szász worked for the Pécs architectural office, documenting buildings in the region, and his 1975 publication on folk architecture won several awards including the Leipzig Book Fair prize in 1977. Szász’s picture-taking career was ended in the early 1980s from cataracts in both eyes, but he continued to teach and write about photography for decades.
Little known outside of his native Hungary, the body of work Szász created from the late 1950s through the 1970s, epitomizes the artistic vision and innovation of photographers active in Hungary during the years of communism. Featuring boldly graphic abstractions primarily drawn from Hungarian life and landscape, Szász’s images communicate through a universal vernacular. Working in the tradition of Hungarian greats such as André Kertész and László Moholy-Nagy, János Szász’s images are notable for their experimentation with radical perspectives, formalist compositions, and stark, black and white contrast printing.
Szász’s photographs transform ordinary scenes from his hometown of Pécs — snow-covered vineyards, stacked firewood, and rows of seating in a darkened movie theater—into bold and graphic compositions. By manipulating darkroom exposure and processing techniques, Szász often reduced his subjects to pattern. He utilized a darkroom process for high-contrast printing, which involved chemical over-processing, then painstakingly bleaching over toned areas with a paintbrush or sponge, to arrive at his dynamically graphic images.