SLOVAK photographer Karol Kállay is well-known in Slovakia as well as in other parts of the world for his photographic art. During his career as a professional photographer, which has spanned more than 60 years, he has photographed fashion and reported for magazines such as GEO, Stern, Paris Match, Der Spiegel, and Jardin des Modes. He has published more than 40 photographic books. Even though he has released monographs on metropolises like New York, Tokyo and Paris, fans of his photography had to wait until late October this year for a book about Bratislava, when the Slovart publishing house officially released Bratislava Moja (Bratislava Mine).
“There was an interest from the side of publishers [in publishing a photographic book about Bratislava],” Kállay, who has lived in Bratislava almost his entire life, told The Slovak Spectator. “But I was often turning down these offers as I could not see anything here; not because there is something wrong with Bratislava but because I live here and I do not notice things here.”
While he was thinking about making a book about Bratislava reflecting its royal history – when kings and queens, including Maria Theresa, were crowned in the city – his sons pushed him to delve deeper into his personal archives. The result is a comprehensive book with photos of Bratislava that Kállay took between 1944 and 1964. He saw most of these photos developed into full-size prints only while working on the book, as nearly all of the old photos existed only in very small prints.
The book brings rare images of an earlier Bratislava that had never been published before. The end date of 1964 came from the fact that Kállay did not photograph intensively in Bratislava after that time because he was busy on global assignments.
The book offers photos from the period when Bratislava was healing its wounds from World War II but was also beginning to build its ‘lighter tomorrows’. Some photos are extremely rare, such as those of the former cemetery at Račianske Mýto or houses below Bratislava Castle that were ruins at the time and have since been totally demolished. Other photos from the period document various marches and festivities held on the 1st of May as well as Spartakiádas events, which were mass physical exercise programmes during the communist period, and construction of new housing in the city.
But Kállay also focused on the citizens of Bratislava and their stories, many of which were left 'unfinished'. An excellent example of this approach is the book’s cover photo showing two nuns standing atop the castle's ancient walls, with the viewer seeing only their backs.
“What do they look like? Are they young or old? Where are they looking? And what are they seeing?” asked Kállay in an interview with The Slovak Spectator, adding that he has been asking himself these kinds of questions all his life.
The book is interwoven with Kállay’s observations and notations, and has an accompanying text written by Jozef Leikert called Wrinkles of a City. The text is published in Slovak, German and Hungarian, as well as English, as if the book were a throwback to the times when the city was truly trilingual.
Many Bratislavans may have problems identifying some of the places featured in the book. This is why it is even more important that Kállay decided to share his photographs. One can only hope that after another 50 years another photographer will go through his or her personal archives and publish a book about Bratislava as it looks today.
5. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková