One Portrait, One Studio, One Hundred Years Later: Budapest, Hungary Part I

Have you ever wandered into an antique shop and sifted through the old photographs that usually sit in an old tattered basket or worn wooden box somewhere near the register? To some, these images are trivial, unimportant, and generally useless for anything other than a bookmark or creative craft project to be posted on Pinterest. Others, however, like myself, find these prints an essential part of any antique shop. Within these baskets are hundreds of memories, hundreds of emotions, and thousands of life experiences that are most likely forgotten forever, except by those of us who pause to imagine them. Neither is right or wrong, but I'd challenge all my readers to consider the beautiful opportunity in front of them, to experience this antiquated and romantic journey inside the human imagination.

When I see images taken by another photographer from a century ago, I am intrigued by the idea that these people got all dressed up on a day planned well in advance to have their portraits taken, just like my clients do for me... just like I do when it's picture day in my own family. It's an amazing thing, don't you think? It's fun to imagine these people long gone, going through the same process of choosing outfits, planning schedules, bathing just before picture time so hair would be clean and faces would be fresh. These images once meant a great deal to a lot of people. Could they ever have imagined 100 years into their futures where their prized images would end up? In a hundred years from now, who will be holding my prints? Which basket, in which antique shop may my photographs eventually end up? And will anyone stop to consider my life, my feelings, or the experiences I am having in my own family life today? I'll be dead, so I won't care. That's the truth; however, it's a romantic place to allow one's mind to wander. It's a beautiful exercise in appreciating a part of what photography accomplishes, the remembering that takes place through the art of portraiture.

I was visiting Budapest, Hungary when I stumbled upon my first European antique shop. I rummaged through the thousands of items piled so chaotically it felt as if I was swimming in a chamber of treasure discovered in some deep cave below the Earth's crust. One picture stood out in particular. It was the image of a couple, a man and a woman who had no distinct features except for rounded faces, fancy clothes, and apparently enough money to commission their portrait, given the studio stamp in the margin of the image's mat. I imagined this studio could have once been THE place in Budapest to have portraits taken. Perhaps these people were super important, or perhaps they were very plain people. Maybe they had just eloped and wanted to mark the event, or maybe they were married by arranged marriage and hardly knew each other. Their somewhat stale expressions offered an even wider expanse of possibilities in imagining who they were and how they felt on that particular day. Regardless of who they were, one fact held true; they sat for a portrait in a Hungarian studio and I was determined to find it.

Thank God for the internet. It didn't take long to identify the location where this studio had once existed. It was within walking distance and before I knew it, I was on my way. Google maps had already given me a satellite view of Baross Utcza 61, Budapest. I could see it was a banal storefront with nothing to set it apart as extraordinary. Nevertheless, I wanted to see it anyway. I thought it would be amazing to stand in front of the entrance, imagining what the street and surroundings would have looked like a hundred years ago. What happened next could not have surprised or delighted me more! I was about to taste history. Providence dictated a most incredible experience that I could not have planned with all the forethought in the world. I was about to tour this building and all it's beautiful and not so beautiful history.

....To Be Continued

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