In his current exhibit at the McCord Museum, Hungarian-born photographer Gabor Szilasi documents “The Eloquence of the Everyday” over 30 years and two continents. Through both black and white and colour images, Szilasi focuses on a variety of features that make up the everyday: urban and rural architecture, private spaces, and loved ones.
Szilasi’s exhibit is arranged into four sections: “Family and Friends,” “Montreal Architecture and Urban View,” “Rural Quebec in the 1970s,” and “Hungary.” In each section, Szilasi approaches his subjects from a unique vantage point that illuminates both the background and foreground; the placard for his “Family and Friends” section stresses the importance of acknowledging the setting of a portrait and allowing it to further represent the subject.
This tactic is evident throughout the section, as Szilasi photographs local Montreal artists and writers as well as his own wife and daughter. The portraits taken of Szilari’s daughter as a teenager, juxtaposed with photos of her bedroom, are particularly compelling, as the viewer is able to instantly connect the person to the setting, and feels that they know much more about the subject than they would have otherwise. Szilasi’s portraits are more revealing upon second or third glance, as the nuanced details of the subject’s surroundings come into focus and complete the narrative.
Szilasi maintains this theme throughout the exhibit, particularly in his section on Hungary. Taken in 1950s and 1980s Hungary, his portraits reveal a great deal about the political and social transitions the country went through in the intervening decades. Again, Szilasi lets his subjects and their surroundings do the talking and allows their personalities to shine through his lens.However, perhaps the most striking portraits in this exhibit are those displayed in “Rural Quebec in the 1970s.” In this segment, Szilasi combines photos showcasing architecture, domestic space, and portraits of rural Quebecers in what has been historically seen as a period of great change. The images of the modest bedrooms, kitchens, and offices of these rural residents are effective portraits as well, highlighting the negotiations between the modern and rustic aspects of towns like Saint-Honoré de Beauce and Saint-Benoît Labre. In some of these interior portraits, homeowners appear in the periphery of the shot and seem to blend into the room around them, further emphasizing the fact that humans are often defined by their surroundings.
The final section, “Montreal Architecture and Urban View,” displays the changing nature of Montreal’s cityscape over the past 40 years. The images of familiar landmarks, while striking, are not as powerful as his portraits in conveying the struggles and simplicity of everyday life. Szilasi’s strength is clearly in his ability to draw stories from the pictures of people around him. The placard accompanying the “Montreal Architecture” section describes Szilasi as taking an “outsider” approach to photographing the cityscape. This creates a form of detachment from the subjects of the images and makes it more difficult to appreciate the nuances of the city that make up its identity. Without the incorporation of human subjects into these architectural photos, Szilasi’s vision is unclear and the section as a whole becomes less effective.
Szilasi’s attraction to personal histories and his penchant for the towns of rural Quebec are the two highlights of his McCord exhibit. Through capturing the nature of the “everyday” from the 1970s to the present, Szilasi demonstrates his ability to bring the subject out of the photograph while at the same time bringing the viewer in. This combination leads to a deeper connection between the two, leaving the viewer feeling more in touch with the subject, their surroundings, and the extraordinary ordinariness of life.
Szilasi’s “The Eloquence of the Everyday” is at the McCord Museum from October 8 through February 6.