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1910 – 2002

Eva Besnyö photographer and photojournalist was born in Budapest on April 29, 1910. Her father’s wish that she continue studying after completing high school was not to her liking; she wanted to become a photographer. In 1930 she decided to move to Berlin, metropolis of the avant-garde, not only in order to get away from home but also in order to leave the Hungary of the Horthy regime. Later she referred to her stay in Berlin as the most important period of her life, meaning that it laid the foundations not only of her photographic practice but also of her political awareness.

When she was permitted to choose her own topics, she simply went out on the streets, where she always found what interested her. She became part of a circle of socially and politically engaged intellectuals and artists such as György Kepes, Joris Ivens, John Fernhout, Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Otto Umbehr (Umbo), Robert Capa and others, attended the Marxist Workers’ Evening Courses, went to productions by Erwin Piscator and was fascinated by Russian film. In 1931 she seized an opportunity to become independent by establishing her own studio. … in the autumn of 1932 she decided to move to Amsterdam with her Dutch companion, the cameraman John Fernhout, with whom she lived until 1939. … she participated in the association’s 1936 protest exhibition against the Berlin Olympic Games, the “Olympics under Dictatorship” and organized the internationally-oriented exhibition “Foto ’37” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, intended to enhance awareness of photography as an art form.

In 1942, when her sole source of income was a few private commissions, she went underground for two years. After the war she received numerous commissions for photo-documentation and remained professionally active

From 1970 to 1976 Eva Besnyö was active in the Dolle-Mina feminist movement for women’s rights and through her photographs became the chronicler of events. In 1980 she rejected the Ritterorden (knighthood) which was to have been bestowed on her by the Queen of the Netherlands. In 1999, in Berlin, the “grand old lady” of Dutch photography was awarded the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for her life’s work and at the end of the same year the Stedelijk Museum held an exhibition of her work.

by Marion Beckers

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