Hungarian House of Photography
Current Exhibitions

George Eastman Hall

Molnár Zoltán
Brazil Diary 2008

Opening remarks by Boldizsár, Kõ artist
with the participation of Capoeira Senzala
Curator: Gabriella Csizek

Open to the public:
13th May to 26th June 2011
Every weekdays: 14.00 - 19.00
Weekend: 11.00 - 19.00

Brazil Diary

In 2008 I had the opportunity to get acquainted with ethnic groups living in various regions of Brazil, their everyday lives, traditions and celebrations. The many peoples living there made an enormous impression on me. The diverse nature of various ancient cultures, the pomp of the colonizers and the traditions of immigrants have lived on together. The aim of my photo series was to bring into focus one of South America’s living cultures, the lives of the members of village communi?ties who are in direct contact with water and depend on the vagaries of nature for their livelihood. I made notes on chil?dren and their environment in the slums or so-called favelas built on Rio’s steep hillsides, in the huts standing on stilts in Belém and in the favelas of tin shacks cobbled together on the outskirts of Salvador. The writing of my Brazil diary and attending to the pictures gave them new meaning beyond the limits of memory. I needed to look into myself in order to make progress and to arrive at the next destination I had set myself.

I left my water thermometer at home; I will ask a local photographer where I can get one in Salvador. Today I had soya for lunch, beautifully prepared and served by Marcia and tuna ?tute at the weekend is the doorman, so we have to look after ourselves. The first weekend I was the terror in the kitchen. I used aubergine too and made ‘letcho’ with potatoes and ?toes and the rice pure white. I decorated the potatoes with parsley. Red, white and green. It was Hungarian territory. ?ing two little babies on its back. They are the size of squirrels with long thin tails, grey fur, their ears are like a whitewashing brush standing on its head…

Salvador, 28.10 2008
Zoltán Molnár

An iguana lives in the compost pit. Beautiful blue-green colours mingle on its skin. Something new for me. I have seen such creatures in the zoo or in pet shops; here it climbs up the fence or picks out an eggshell in the rubbish. I found out today that football is called ‘fuchiballi’, but have no idea how to spell it. In the Earth’s southern hemisphere, even the water goes down the drain in a different way. Centrifugal force goes in the opposite direction, from left to right. While at home before the ?cies and means of subsistence, here it is sugar and coffee. The sweet and the salty, black and white, north and south… …It is difficult to get permission to photograph people. I would like to take pictures of Black Brazilians. A quick scout round in the Institute library. Good, varied sources, which are my bread and butter now. I found a great Pierre Verger photo album. The blend still evident in Brazilian culture is held together by the use of the Portuguese language. Amerigo Vespucci was the first to set foot in Salvador in the Baia es Todos os Santos in the mid-XVIth century. Salvador has a population of 2.5 million and the vast majority have among their ancestors the slaves captured in Africa. Slavery was only abolished in 1889, but the centuries of misery have left their traces and people still feel ?cient African myths and rituals, which gave them the strength to survive even in difficult times. The most important surviving elements of the culture of resistance are Capoiera (a kind of acrobatic battle dance), the Carnival and the Candomble (a religious cult). The dancers must not hit each other, though they are performing battle rituals. They practice everywhere ?ment consisting of a stick with a taut metal string in the middle and half a coconut at its base, which increases the volume. I photographed the leader of the village Capoiera community in a bicycle workshop…

Salvador, 29.10 2008
Zoltán Molnár

We made a little music yesterday. I played the berimbau. There are 10 beautiful villages on the island, each one different. There is a fishing village, Baiacua, with only a dirt road leading to it. There is no regular bus service. You have to squeeze into cast-off VW mini-buses. I wonder how many have experienced these mini-bus transfers. The Argentinean boy drives. From the ferry to the village, 21 people travelled on the mini-bus. There are motor bicycle taxis, a bit cheaper than normal taxis, but more dangerous. There is a church next to Baiacu village. It was built in the XVIth century. Only the walls are left standing in the middle of the forest on a hilltop. A tree has grown in the chancel, the roots creeping up the walls and the foliage taking the place of the roof-timbers. When I stepped into the church, something flew away above me. At first I thought it was a bat. I was wrong. I was aware of the loud flapping of wings of a colibri. In Portuguese they are called ‘beija flor’ or flower-suckers. Its feathers were red and blue. It hovered by the church wall and tried to suck the nectar from a flower with its long beak. It was smaller than a butterfly. I am going to a Candoble this evening, a religious service of the Black Brazilians living here. It goes on until morning. The venue is kept secret until the last minute. Taking photographs is forbidden, as it disturbs the meditation and the concentration of collective energy…

Salvador, 02. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

...Candomble is behind us now. We arrived for the ceremony after nine in the evening. One of the ‘Yankee writers’ and I went to the neighbouring village of Amoreira. After much asking for directions and stumbling around in the dark, we found the magical location, but there was not a soul to be seen. We thought the event had been cancelled. After much ado we found a local member who set us straight. It turned out we had arrived too early. We introduced ourselves to one of the organizers, told him who we were and where we’d come from. He led us to the location and told us about Candomble. Of course I didn’t understand a word of his explanation of Portuguese religious history, but I did understand what was permitted and what was not… Going to the WC is allowed, but leaving the ceremony is forbidden. Taking pictures and filming is also forbidden. There is a large enclosed space without windows divided by a wooden railing separating the women from the men. The mysterious African religious service lasts until dawn – this alarmed me at first, but they assured me there would be a break. Opposite the entrance, there was a huge painting of the good and evil deities that would be conjured up live. In front of the wall are royal thrones, chairs and drums. Slowly the room filled up. The women wore white skirts, white blouses and white scarves on their heads. The men, like the women, were dressed in white from head to toe. They wore little hats like sailor’s hats. Everyone had a necklace worn across the shoulders. The men greeted one another with a kiss on the hand. The women, already in feverish preparation, sang and greeted the musicians before the event began. Six women and a small child formed a circle and danced in front of the thrones to singing, clapping and the rhythm of beating drums. Sometimes they stopped to touch the ground, then their foreheads. This went on for about an hour. The only air came through the door. There was a strange noise coming from outside. Doors slamming. Quiet. The deity of good arrived in a beautiful velvet robe. An amorphous form with no discernable body parts - no hands, no feet, no face. Everything is one – in a splendid wine-coloured robe with various mirrors sewn onto it. Two men beat the ground with switches around the god. Drumming, singing and clapping again. Anyone who had not felt like clapping earlier, was now beating the rhythm with their feet. The door slammed for good. No one was allowed to leave. Then a conversation ensued between the ceremony leader, the spiritual intermediary and the miraculous being that had arrived. It consisted of a kind of murmuring and strange intonations without words and sentences. Then drumming again and it went on like this until midnight. After a small break, the deity of evil came amongst us, getting very close to the participants. This meant the men’s section was pressed up against the wall in fear that the otherworldly being would grab them. Shoving, shouting and screaming from the women’s section too. The crowd was in a strange transcendental state and I completely lost my sense of space and time. Then this was repeated again and again – an ongoing battle between Good and Evil. After the second break, at about two in the morning, they opened the door and escorted everyone out, so they wouldn’t be seized by the spirits on the way home. We arrived back at the Institute completely exhausted. I took the cloves of garlic out of my pockets. I had taken them with me to keep the witches away. Breathing together, drumming together with a Black Brazilian community is a good feeling...

Salvador, 04. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

Yesterday one of the neighbours next to the Institute invited us to his house. A Gypsy artist from Provence in Southern France. His garden is full of sculptures. The Mona Lisa poster had found its way to the WC, there was a price tag on it that read: 1.30 real. He was a real character. He had found two whale backbones on the seashore. His name is Szergej Magyar. He does not speak Hungarian, but he speaks Portuguese, French and English. We watched the results of the American elections with him. People are very happy about Obama’s victory here. I am unable to develop my films because of the heat. I must solve this because of the exhibition reporting on my trip. There is a lab in Salvador and I would like to take my negatives there. It costs 12 reals to develop a roll of film. I will give them what is needed for the final submission. I am marking each roll of film...

Salvador, 05. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

Still in Ilha de Itaparica in Bahia County. After lengthy negotiations, a taxi driver finally agreed to take me to a fishing village that can only be reached by a dirt road. I got to Baiacu at about ten in the morning. The fishermen were getting ready for the next day’s fishing. Preparing sails, repairing nets, putting palm leaves in the boat to protect the fish from the sun. The village is isolated. People here live closed-off from the outside world. After getting acquainted with the fishermen, I set out looking for somewhere to stay. Adobe houses one on top of the other. A woman invited me into one of them. They live in two rooms with nine children. It is a very poor village. For them water means life. They live on whatever nature and Yimange gives the fishermen. I tried to buy some fruit in the shop. The owner advised me not to buy the bananas. Oranges were the only other choice. This time he selected and even peeled them for me. I found a nice pub. There were black and white pictures hanging on the wall. I asked the publican, who spoke English, to help me find a place to stay and give me directions in the village. After a while he offered me the couch in a room behind the pub. He listens to a lot of music: rock, jazz, pop, everything. The next morning at seven, the women with their buckets were already waiting for the fishermen and their daily catch. The larger fish are cleaned on the beach. The smaller ones are put out in the sun to dry. They salt them, put them in crates and then they are ready to go to the shop. Their boats are cut from a big tree, much like we make our wooden tubs, but the boats are much longer. I made friends with the oldest wood carver in the village who makes the wooden boats. He showed me his workshop. On the way home, I said good-bye to the fishermen, who had a good laugh at my muddy shorts. Without a boat, one can sink up to one’s knees in the mud. Everyone has a boat and a horse -which they use to get around the forest and which are easier to maintain than a car or motorcycle. Baiacu is an oasis in an ocean of globalized waters, at least until the road, already started, is completed...

Salvador, 09. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

I found a beautiful night moth. A silk moth I think. Its body and wings looked as if it were still alive. We get hot water with the help of solar panels. The whole village, even the policemen, carry drinking water from a well. I was in Salvador yesterday. I found a lab where they develop black and white film by hand. I will pick up the negatives on Tuesday next week. I am a bit worried and hope they develop them well. I went by motorcycle taxi, wearing a helmet, to a factory in Mucambo, the neighbouring village. The driver whistled to the gateman, someone peeped out of a tiny window. After a short conversation in rapid Portuguese, they opened the iron gate. There had been a misunderstanding: I had information about the Cheramic Company that operates here on the island and had expected to see pottery kilns and vases being painted. Instead I got a brief look at a brick factory at work. This meant two shifts from 9am to 6pm. In the end, when my shoulder was about to break off, I finally put my bag down. Naturally it fell to the ground causing a minor camera accident. The viewfinder and lens hood of my medium format camera were dented. Luckily there is a workshop at the Institute and I was able to repair it and use it again. At the factory, with the help of water and a machine, they are able to press the reddish-brown Brazilian earth together. It comes out of the machine much like a sausage early on the morning of a pig killing. They slice it with wire and then the steaming bricks are taken to the warehouse in a wheelbarrow. Dust and heat. After resting, the dried bricks are put in a huge kiln. The ovens are fuelled with wood. The ash is simply dumped in little heaps. I managed to step on one of the fresh heaps of ash. Blazing sun, 40 degrees Celsius and a photographer jumping around in a brick factory yard. But after a short rest, I was ready for the second shift. There were not many gringos working in the factory. The workers were virtually all Black Brazilians. Some of them worked straight through both shifts. Tough, very strenuous physical labour…

Salvador, 16. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

I got back safely from Rio. A huge metropolis. I was on Mount Corcovado, whence Christ the Redeemer blesses the city. In the 1980’s Pope John Paul II also made the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. I took a little train 700 metres up through a national park amongst tropical trees and flowers. The mountainside was so steep that from the window all you could see was a wall of rock on one side and treetops on the other. It was as if the train was travelling along the tops of the trees. At the top there is a chapel in the base of the statue. A beautiful bay, the ocean and its perpetual grand waves, mountains, lakes, rivers. There are luxurious skyscrapers, hotels and banks near the shore. But on the hillsides are the favelas or slums, where families live on top of one another in lean-to dwellings. I found a bed in a hostel in a room for six. The man underneath me snored so loud I couldn’t sleep. His snoring could have used a bit of accompaniment.

Salvador, 28. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

Time flows. There are times when we try to swim against the flow, then we see we are in the same place or flowing backwards together with time. I met many people in Rio de Janeiro who cannot swim, people not only born to their fate but with no chance of getting ahead, studying, perhaps acquiring a diploma, or even of raising their children. So they are stuck in day to day subsistence, at any price. Stealing, drugs, prostitution... The poor neighbourhoods or Favel Barrios, as the Brazilians call them, are on the hillsides. Tin sheds with corrugated slate roofs, on stilts or at best on cement foundations. Blacks, Latin-Americans, Brazilians, together in one neighbourhood. A state within a state. With its own market, church, elementary school, its own football field and its own laws. It was like looking in on a normal „quiet” South American morning where children grow up amongst teenagers gathering in gangs and trying out their guns and various weapons on the street. All this coupled with a mixture of strange smells: the smell of the sewer, of rubbish or of hashish. I found no secondary school, library, cultural centre or playground in Rocinho. There is some foreign aid, but it is no more than a drop in the ocean. There are more and larger favelas all the time. It seems to me the children have no hope of a future. All this in a city where the Atlantic ocean washes the sands of the world’s largest beach, a city that contains not only Sugarloaf Mountain, but a national park. Light and shade at the same time and in the same place.

Salvador, 25. 11 2008
Zoltán Molnár

I arrived in the rain forest, met the native inhabitants, Indians, people who live on the water and I met their families. I saw gigantic trees, parrots and a beautiful Jesuit fortress-church. The first day in the city centre close to Óra square, I was attacked. I was just changing films when two strong, young Brazilians forced me with a knife for cutting bamboo to give them my backpack, which I was holding with both hands. I was forced to let go of it when one of them made a frightening cut by my stomach; then the other one struck me down. He hit me in the left eye. I tried to pursue him, but the other one would not let me. I was not badly injured. They stole my bag with three cameras. All this happened at 11am, in broad daylight in front of a café and passers-by. I immediately ran for the police. I found them with great difficulty. They started looking for the two men with the help of taxi drivers, but without success. They took me back to the scene. A woman found my films on the ground with my press card and my notes. I had left my passport, money, documents and bankcard in the hostel, but unfortunately not my cameras, my watch and my telephone. They took down a statement of which I was given a copy. The following day I went to all the used technical and camera shops. My roommate, a broker from Lisbon, helped me look for a cheap second-hand camera. He helped a lot by questioning local photographers. I finally bought a very inexpensive camera, which I took with me to the rain forest. I learned a lot from the episode. It was my fault. I should have been much more vigilant and careful. I was lucky. I am still alive. I was the fourth victim at the hostel that week. A Swedish boy was knifed in the arm, a Frenchman had his watch ripped off…

Salvador, 11. 12 2008
Zoltán Molnár

A real traveller does not pass on his experiences and adventures by showing only the visible individuality of a place, but shares what he has lived through within himself. A good photographer puts this across in the composition of his pictures. The real traveller never arrives in a place which can only be described as a geographic point of intersection, but proceeds meanwhile on his inner journey. The good photographer’s pictures do not just show the world around him and introduce us to people, but talks of himself as well. The real traveller and the real photographer have their secrets. These are first and foremost concealed in their personality. Both a good photographer and a real traveller, Zoltán Molnár has the ability to empathize with and respect other people, a natural sensitivity, a desire to discover and a pure curiosity without ulterior motive. This is why his pictures appear to have been brought into being by the laws of nature in his presence. With their gracious simplicity, the strength of their lack of complex apparatus, the pictures formulate statements in simple terms both on the people represented and on their world. The Brazil Diary photographs and texts tell their stories between black and white, in a colourful and hectic world. They calm the viewer with their tranquillity and offer the prospect of an inner journey not to be measured in kilometres.

Gabriella Csizek curator



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