When I decided to open Pour une écologie des images (For an Ecology of Images) with a tribute to my great-uncle, Imre Kinszki, a photographer who died in 1945 aged 44 years old, I was by no means familiar with all of his photographs and writings. In the meantime [entre-temps] — and the entre-temps will undoubtedly play a central role here — I have collected many others, primarily by gleaning them from journals to which he contributed and also from various archives. Of course, they merely represent just a small portion of his works. But they allow me to offer a glimpse into the importance of his photographic work and of his thinking, which, on so many levels, speaks to us ahead of its time — in an entre-temps, more exactly, which we will pay heed to — about ecological and iconomic issues that we are confronted with in the present day1.
For this tribute-montage, I have collected and translated various excerpts taken from Imre Kinszki’s writings in order to accompany on each occasion, in the manner of intentionally oblique or discordant captions, a diptych of images of which he is the author. Between these and the words which appear to annotate them, there is therefore, deliberately, what could be called a ‘motion blur’ effect. As if a gap or a leap had slipped in between the picture and what appears to be its commentary — an entre-temps, in fact— a temporal discrepancy.
In what appears to us in retrospect as startling foresight, the writings of Imre Kinszki speak not only of the times to come (the extinction of endangered species, major environmental changes) but also of the different durations of the photographic iconogenesis (the patient wait for the opportune moment in taking the naturalist shot, the slow process of developing the photos). His images also conjugate heterochronous temporalities, as if suspended in a frozen differential of speeds: what they offer to the observer is the ephemeral nature of a ray of light or a shadow, the movement of a swing or the Zeppelin airship passing over Budapest, the demolition of a building, blocks of ice amassed on the frozen Danube or the slumber of a deliveryman while his horse is eating…
All of the photographs that I have gathered together in this tribute album form part of the collection of the Ervin Szabó library in Budapest, which preserves a great many views and scenes with the Hungarian capital as their subject or setting. The excerpts of Imre Kinszki’s writings that I have translated from Hungarian in the form of out of phase captions are taken from an essay, A természet háztartása (“The Domestic Economy of Nature”), published in January-February 1919 in Huszadik század (“Twentieth century”, an important sociological journal which played a prominent role in the social-democratic revolution of 1918, before it was banned the following year); and from three articles illustrated with the photographs of Imre Kinszki himself and published in Búvár (a popular science magazine, whose name means “diver” or “deep-sea diver”, but also, in a more figurative sense, a researcher who immerses themselves in the exploration of a topic): Mikor jó a textiláru (“What Makes A Good Fabric”) in February 1935, Természet fényképezés (“Nature Photography”) in August 1935 and Természetfényképezés egyszerű eszközökkel (“Nature Photography with Simple Methods”) in July 1937.
I would like to extend warm thanks to Judít Kinszki for having given her permission for me to reproduce these photographs as well as the excerpts of her father’s writings. The definitive study on the life and works of Imre Kinszki remains that of Marianna Kiscsatári, “Kinszki Imre (1901-1945)”, Fotómüveszet, vol. 28, n° 5-6 (1995).
Translated from French by Jacqui Chappell
The era of raw and primitive anthropomorphism is, without any doubt, a thing of the past in science. Not one serious researcher still believes that trees exist to provide shade for Man, or animals to offer him a flavoursome meal, or the sky for his wonderment when he sees it bedecked in purple and violet at dusk. This anti-anthropomorphism goes even further: it removes Man from his pedestal as “master of nature”, and it exhorts him to be humble by explaining to him that he is no more than a speck of dust within creation, that his importance within the totality of life on Earth is minute. (“The Domestic Economy of Nature”, p. 56)
In the vast domestic economy of nature, the wind, the rain, each little stone, each tiny plant, each animal species, has its “role”. And this significance that they hold endows them with a corresponding objective value which contrasts with our narrow, subjective and meagre evaluation, based on how useful or dangerous they are to us. (“The Domestic Economy of Nature”, p. 56)
Of course, the disintegration of the old order would be all the more extensive when the living beings disappearing together from the earth’s surface were more primordial and widespread. It would be all the more consequential given that the system of adaptations which had been established on these beings would be more powerful and more complex. But events have shown that, even when relatively new animal or plant species are concerned, the effect of their rarefaction or extinction can be considerable. (“The Domestic Economy of Nature”, p. 58)
The “value” of the living being in question, supposedly conferred by its “role” in the “domestic economy of nature”, merely expresses how desirable its preservation is for Man. This anthropocentric founding principle can be hidden, but not erased by the whole conceptual edifice that has been built upon it.
Our brief analysis has thus shown that the ideology of “the domestic economy of nature” is nothing else than the compromise of the earlier concept of nature with that of today: namely, the survival of theistic elements under the guise of a tendency towards objectivity. And it is not the former which, within this compromise, is the most ill-served, because the latter simply provides the form of the anti-anthropomorphism, while the former has succeeded in smuggling in two important elements of its content: the fact that nature tends towards a goal, which is none other than Man.
(“The Domestic Economy of Nature”, p. 58)
We bought some material, silk, a fabric. Did we strike a poor deal? Is there perhaps some inferior quality substitute in the “cheap but excellent” fabric? Will the “finest” material bought at great expense adequately serve its intended purpose? Although some limited amount of information will not, of course, turn anyone into an expert who could never be deceived, some of the most important notions can be discovered in the following.
(“What Makes a Good Fabric”, p. 89)
Photographing plants and flowers is not particularly difficult, but in a sense, it is not particularly satisfying either, because the images lack movement, the element of the event, the representation of which is precisely one of the most important tasks proper to photography. (“Nature Photography”, p. 559)
Plant photography cannot be practised “any which way”, in the form of some kind of entertainment whilst on an excursion, because it demands much free time, stamina, and patience. It suffices to remember that, in the open air, the wind blows constantly and often one must wait hours for a period of respite to occur. The most astute plant photographers thus get up at dawn and take photographs of their flower of choice (especially if it is a long-stemmed specimen) in the hours that follow sunrise, before the wind has picked up. (“Nature Photography”, p. 559-561)
The fundamental principle is not to “pursue” the bird and run the risk of it flying off; but rather one needs to let it gradually become accustomed to the apparatus, something which can sometimes be achieved with remarkable ease. […] To photograph more cautious species close to their nest, a remote shutter release is normally used. The apparatus is correctly positioned close to the nest; if possible, it is carefully hidden, and either the photographer triggers it from a distance using a suitable wire or electrical device, or it is fashioned so that the bird itself triggers it if it settles on a specific branch that has been prepared for this purpose, etc. (“Nature Photography”, p. 560)
These shots must be developed with great care, and only using a soft solution with equalising effects, firstly because, when the photograph is taken from very close up, the oppositions and luminous contrasts – are very great; and secondly because, if the photograph is enlarged, any grain that isn’t fine enough would have a highly disruptive effect. (Nature Photography”, p. 561)
Using a scientific term, we call ecology, that is to say the science of habitats, the branch of life sciences that examines the relationships and links between living beings and their environment, their habitat. Immortalising the gaps and the variations in these relations is also the task of the nature photographer. The expansion of inhabited areas and towns has a strong impact on the region’s flora and fauna, often forcing the species that inhabit them to adopt new behaviours, to adapt. […] In England and the United States, nature photography has now become almost a mainstream sport and those who practise it are virtually unable to find any unexploited areas that are left; whereas in our country, it remains, you might say, an unexplored area, where even the beginner can have an enriching experience with interesting discoveries at every step of the way. (“Nature Photography”, p. 562)
To conclude, let us say a few words about falsifications. Ambitious amateurs are those who commit a certain type of falsification when they want to achieve a remarkable, “beautiful picture” at all costs, and in their great effort to achieve it, they pin a large swallowtail butterfly on a dahlia or they “catch” a stuffed bird at the exact moment it swallows a giant grasshopper. […] Usually, the end of the matter is that someone among the public will identify the image as a “fraud” and thus deliver it to the public’s contempt, which the photograph in question — despite everything else about it that remains inoffensive — is well and truly deserving of. At the end of the day, photography’s mission, while it might not be the servile representation of reality, consists in at least an interpretation of reality, its explanation; however, it could never renounce reality itself. (“Nature Photography”, p. 562)
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Dork Zabunyan for his invitation to expand upon the overview of the works of Imre Kinszki that can be found in the introduction of Pour une écologie des images (Minuit, 2021)
1 See Peter Szendy, The Supermarket of the Visible, “Toward a General Economy of Images”, trans. Ian Plug (Fordham University Press, 2019).
For each photograph, I have indicated its entry number in the catalogue that can be found on the website: hungaricana.hu
1a. Imre Kinszki, A piarista gimnázium alatti átjáró (“The underpass beneath the Piarist Secondary School”), circa 1930. Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény ; bibFSZ01497088, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki.
1b. Imre Kinszki, Járókelők egy villa díszrácsos kapuja előtt (“Pedestrians in front of the ornamental gate of a villa”), 1933. Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498682, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki.
2a. Imre Kinszki, Pihenő szállítómunkás fekszik egy lovas kocsi szállítmányán (“A deliveryman rests, lying on the load of his cart”), 1934; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497114, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
2b. Imre Kinszki, Járókelők esőben (“Pedestrians in the rain”), 1932; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497071, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
3a. Imre Kinszki, Feltorlódott jégtáblák a Dunán (“Blocks of ice amassed on the Danube”), 1928; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497744, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
3b. Imre Kinszki, Az Orczy-ház bontása (“The demolition of the Orczy house”), circa 1932; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497801, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
4a. Imre Kinszki, A főváros köztisztasági vállalatának víztartályos lovas fogata (“The horse and cart drawing the tank of the capital city’s cleaning company”), 1936; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01499763, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
4b. Imre Kinszki, Az Állatkert közönsége (“Visitors at the zoo”), 1931; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498546, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
5a. Imre Kinszki, Mikor jó a textiláru (“What Makes A Good Fabric”), p. 1 – detail, 1935. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
5b. Imre Kinszki, Utca ellenfényben (“A street in backlight”), 1935; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01500119, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
6a. Imre Kinszki, Elöntött utcán (“In a flooded street”), circa 1930; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497073, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
6b. Imre Kinszki, Fénycsíkok a Lánchíd budai villamos-aluljáróban (“Streaks of light in the tramway underpass at the Buda Chain Bridge”), circa 1930; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498939, black & white, 9 × 6,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
7a. Possibly a self-portrait. Kinszki Imre fényképezés közben egy erdőben (“Imre Kinszki taking photographs in the forest”), 1936; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497058, black & white, 6 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
7b. Imre Kinszki, Lámpagyújtogató (“Lamplighter”), 1931; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01499571, black & white, 9 × 6,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
8a and 8b. Imre Kinszki, Fénykép készül a parkban, sétáló emberek (“Setting up a photograph in the park, pedestrians”), 1935; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497736 and bibFSZ01497739, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
9a. Imre Kinszki, Friss újság (“Hot off the Press”), 1932; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498937, black & white, 9 × 6,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
9b. Imre Kinszki, A Keleti pályaudvar várócsarnoka (“The waiting hall of the East railway station”), 1934; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497791, black & white, 4,5 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
10a. Imre Kinszki, Gyerekek egy vízfolyás mentén (“Children playing by the edge of a stream”), 1934; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01499759, black & white, 6 × 6cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
10b. Imre Kinszki, Vízmederben játszó gyermekek (“Children playing in a canal”), 1932; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498538, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
11a. Imre Kinszki, Hajóhinta (“A swing boat”), 1933; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01497205, black & white, 6 × 4,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki
11b. Imre Kinszki, Zeppelin léghajó Zugló felett (“The Zeppelin airship above Zugló”), 1931; Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár, Budapest Gyűjtemény; bibFSZ01498941, black & white, 9 × 6,5cm. Courtesy Judít Kinszki