László Beke: Conversation with János Vető
Beke: We’re at one of the five Budapest exhibitions of János Vető which gives us the opportunity to review his
entire life’s work. I’d like to start with the fact that, as a little boy, somewhere at the end of the sixties, you began photographing
your friends and surroundings. Boys, girls, Budapest streets, apartments, kitchens… In that period, Gusztav Hámos was doing
something similar. From the beginning of the seventies, we could say that you and Hámos tried to lay the foundation of all early
Hungarian experimental photography – creating sequences, black and white transposures, “social photos” and a whole lot more.
Would you agree?
(HungarianTV, Adventures of Picasso, Prod: Gyula Július, Dir: M. Nagy Richárd. Produced
in conjunction with The Last Pictures exhibition, Vízivárosi Gallery, 1994)
Vető: I worked together with Guszti. The camera wove our friendship together. In fact, we also exhibited together. He
was an exceptional model, a great artistic colleague. He was more interested in how to make many pictures from a single photo,
while I was using many photos to tell a single story. Then I became interested in the mirror, and what one can do with a mirror and a
camera, and somehow…
Beke: After this what happened? For example, I remember a series exhibited in 1976, at a very nice exhibition
called Exposition in Hatvan, where, if I remember correctly, you composed yourself in four different versions, in black and in white,
the white was primarily with paint, and the same shots in negative versions. This was four, then there was a self-portrait series of
you in different pairs of sunglasses.
Vető: Yes, so after the mirror came staring into the mirror, and that’s when I did a lot of self-portraits. At that time,
the biggest influence of the art world on me was Jürgen Klauke and Urs Lüthe, and Arnulf Rainer.
Beke: I believe, and I feel free to say this now, that a hungarian name, Tibor Hajas, belongs in that group. He had
as big an influence on you then and you began collaborating around 1976. Please, talk about this a little.
Vető: Exactly December 5, 1975 it started, at the Ferihegy Airport where we had gone to wave goodbye to Szentjóby
Tamás when he was expelled from the country, and our friendship lasted until Hajas’s death. You know, we collaborated to the very
end. He was my master and friend. I happened to understand the camera better technically, so we complemented each other very
Beke: I think we’re going to talk a lot about that, recount that story later. For now just try to explain a bit about
the very strange part of your collaboration, the episode when a kind of a Hajas Tableau was first shown to an audience. Who did
what in that work? Did both of you make the whole thing, or was it your work, or his, or did you just help? How did that go?
Vető: He played out the concept of the thing, and we made the atmosphere of the photos together. I photographed, I
printed and Csöme [Istvan Csömöri] stuck them to the tableau.
Beke: However, certain works he authorised with his name and, aside from these, I believe you made a number of
photos originating from this work
Vető: This was such an early piece in our collaborative work, like the Flag, or the “completions” (Pénz, Huxley) that I
don’t think I should have put my name on it. However, he authorised the tableaux by marking on the negative with a blue felt marker
the shots he found suitable for “tableau-ization”. He always signed things with his name first then that I photographed them. All the
Tableaux are signed: Tibor Hajas, Date, Photo: János Vető.
Beke: This collaboration broke off in the beginning of the 80’s, but in catalogs of your later works you sometimes
mention him as still your master.
Vető: Just like I mentioned my previous masters, and … January Nocsa Prince also has master status for me.
Beke: Before you begin to talk about him, are there others who are among your masters?
Vető: Tamás Szentjóby gave me a significant shove, which made me go on strike in the art sector for a time.
Beke: We have January Nocsa Prince, who has other names, too. The hungarian audience knows him as János Baksa
Soós. What did you learn from him as a master.
Vető: Life technique. Life techniques. From all of them, really. I learned life techniques from all my masters.
Beke: Beginnning from the start of the 1980s, you collaborated pretty intensively with Zuzu Méhes [Lórant Méhes]
also, as well as working many kinds of things, because, up to now we’ve only been speaking about photography. In 1980, a brand
new period began.
Vető: The world turned colors when I started to work with Zuzu. It was great to work on white canvas with paint, for
about six years, meanwhile we started a bunch of bands, Trabant with Marietta [Méhes], and with Gábor Lukin, and with a lot of other
brilliant musicians here in Budapest. Then the Hymnus, the Aproprofimfotorajzfilmzenekar. I was in Európa Kiadó as a one-man
windpercussion section. Everybody else had their own bands, Mihály Víg had Balaton, Árpi Hajnoczy had Kontroll Csoport, and so a
lot of them came from different bands to play as permanent guests in our bands. Attila Grandpierre sang once for us, backing
Beke: Now what interests me is how music connects with photography, whereas I can clearly see the connection
with painting. I remember one large series’ of yours, when you painted your photos or perhaps you made a kind of painted book,
like a journal, and pasted photo montages in it. But music, how did it infiltrate the visualization?
Vető: So, Marietta figured out we should make a band because it turned out that Gábor Lukin taught her to play piano
despite his every attempt to talk her out of it, and I said I had a couple of poems to use. When we got it all together, Marietta said
she’d rather sing. This was my environment. I always concern myself with what is around me. Right now my main subject of study is
being a dad.
Beke: Being a dad because you’ve lived now for some years in Denmark with the artist Maria Lavman, your wife,
and during this time it seems to me you’ve been concerned with photos a bit more intensively, you both have, than previously.
And please let me say here that in the photos of the last few years a highly sophisticated vision has appeared, which contains what
was there before, that you love working with broken planes. Transparent and non-transparent planes. And while other
photographers are interested in the world and three dimensions and motion, it seems as if you have trifled with little pieces of
paper, photographed them, photographed the end result again accompanied by some found objects and actually this exhibition is
similar. Perhaps I should say that transparencies are playing an ever larger role nowadays.
Vető: Yes, this is true, because they always say photography is objective, and they say the world is a creation, and
these are the kind of subjects or experiments which reveal this volatile world.
Beke: Of course, I see something else, indeed very many things in these photos. For example, somehow you ended
up very close to Laszló Moholy-Nagy, who had a universal vision of the world, and he tried to understand that with light, objects
and materials, too. And this is why I mention him, because if, for example, we look at your completely geometrical works,
considering their composition, they want to bring some kind of order into existence, but if we look at them up close, we see that
there’s a strange dramaturgy of glass panes, films, lights, shadows working in them.
Vető: These three are all the same, a white, a black and a transparent form and it’s positive and negative, and what
spins around it, around itself is visible in these pictures. There are I don’t know how many variations on this and lots of further
variations on those. This is all there are here, these were the most suitable to me. Their title is 3=2 x 8x ;“that is three equals two
times eight times”.
Beke: On the other hand, at this moment, I think the most exciting is the third picture, which we saw and the
title… which can only really be shown because they’re drawn, or rather the title is triangle, or circle, or square, but not spelled out
but instead, the titles are drawn too. Of course, it’s not that the title is unbelievably exciting, because in the last few years these
three basic shapes have gained attention in the world, the commercial world uses them often in logos, because, it’s possible that
they think it will be better for business, and philosophers have also dealt with them considerably, not to mention the arts. I see that,
in these forms, people are looking for some new spirituality. For you, I’d judge that you’ve placed many subtle little jokes, starting
with a construction that somehow was spatial and now appears as a photo, that in multiple transpositions a dove of peace cast
aside is visible in them, which naturally can be taken for an angel and for something else. There’s an indonesian princess in one, not
to mention, that this certain structure evokes an entire world in me, from János Megyik through Béla Kondor, to architecture and to
exhibition pavillions, everything.
Vető: This is a trianglular crystal made of bamboo, and there’s nothing magic in that. I made it for my own
entertainment, and for the pleasure of photographing it. More precisely, the photo is titled for my son Mila: almost unbreakable. (Of
course, he broke it but he kept it for a while, as long as he could.)
Beke: Here in front of us, the next picture seems unbelievably abstract, but almost immediately I can snap myself
out of this idea, and I’d rather say that it’s a portrait. Without a doubt it’s a portrait and even more strangely, it’s clear that it repeats
the theme of the entire series, that is, the circle, triangle, square and the whole thing is a circle. Since it’s a circle and the whole
thing a head. By the way the top is an agility game for kids in the negative. The third picture seems so abstract because it is reallly
completely figurative, and as one looks at it, one realizes that these special forms seem to belong to some kind of dental mold set.
Actually, they’re human faces and in a strange way these two mouths recall the figure of the square. How is that?
Vető: In actuality, this is three, because it’s a blown-up detail from a kaleidoscope, enlarged many times, nine times.
Three times three and then by two. I’m not a great mathmetician but the total number of pictures comes to 18.
Beke: 18 is obviously not at all magic or mystical… it’s a nice number.
Vető: Yea, truly.
Beke: Finally, let me ask you, considering how everywhere in Budapest we see your photos and the work of your
friends, are you now going to give up photography and do something completely different? Or still pursue photography even more
Vető: Both would be great.
Beke: But what would be the most preferable.
Vető: Preferably, it would be good, if it actually would be good, if I would give up photography and occupy myself
with what I would most prefer. With music or motion pictures. Right now I don’t know.
Beke: Thank you.
Hungarian House of Photography in Mai Manó House
H-1065 Budapest-Terézváros, Nagymező utca 20.