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Interview

Balázs Máté: I’m primarily focused on the relationship between the spectator and the spectacle

text:
Futures Photography
Date:
November 24, 2020
“I’m primarily focused on the relationship between the spectator and the spectacle.” In this interview, meet Balázs Máté, nominated for Futures in 2020 by Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center.

Balázs Máté is a Budapest-based photographer. Alongside his commission works he runs his personal projects as a continual inquiry and experimentation about visual perception and experience. He sees the medium of photography as a possible means of extended sense.

In the interview below, he talks about his inspirations and career:

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Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations? Which themes do you often work with?

In most of my works I’m primarily focused on the relationship between the spectator and the spectacle. In my earlier works I mainly concentrated on various stereotypes, and on how preexisting knowledge can shape our perception and how it affects the way we look at things. Later, I was specifically interested in the problem of perception and image interpretation: how does visual perception work? Is there some kind of absolute, “clear gaze”? I find it essential for the viewers to be reminded from time to time of their own position, of being a spectator, so that they can constantly redefine their relationship with the act of seeing and with what they see, be it a series of photographs, or any other kind of phenomena.

Regarding inspiration, it’s rather difficult to trace back where inspiration comes from, but if I think about it, I can say that literature (both Hungarian and international) has been always a huge source of inspiration for me. For my latest series, one book that served as great inspiration was ‘Crowd and Power’ by Elias Canetti.

How do you see your relationship with the medium? How do you use photography to express your art?

From the beginning, I look at the medium of photography as an extension of perception. One thing I really like about this medium is that it can make things visible that otherwise wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. Many ideas come to me in the form of pure, almost childish curiosity: how would this or that look like? So, for a very long time, my primer interest was in experimental photography.

I don’t really feel like photography is suitable for a true representation of reality, but I think it’s a powerful tool for us to learn about our own relationship to reality through it. This is what really engages me in this medium.

Another thing I really like about the medium of photography is that it uses our ‘common reality’ as a source, but it inevitably transforms it into something subjective and something ‘unreal’ in a way.

Recently, I started shooting on film again, which put me in a completely different relationship with photography. Maybe it’s a little less about experimentation (in which case I think there is a lot of importance for me to see the result right away, so that I can move forward along with newer ideas), but much more about a kind of ongoing presence that I find very exciting.

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Do you have any ongoing (or more recent) project that you would like to share with us?

My newest, still ongoing work’s title is ‘Nexus’. In this work I was interested in our experiences of crowd and interconnectedness in an age when we define and see ourselves as independent individuals, to an extent that may have never been seen before. I put the concepts of group and multitude, connection and coordination between individuals at the center of the work, and as a counterpoint to this, the concepts of separation and isolation from each other. The definition of the word nexus is ‘a connection or series of connections linking two or more things.’ And this is exactly what interested me, the link between individuals rather than individuals themselves, and also, the links and connections that may exist between the individual photographs within a series.

I started working on this series last year, and, as we all know, a lot of things have happened in the world since then that I feel are fundamentally related to the initial concepts and theme of the series.

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We have been facing a lot of challenges this year. How do you see this moment for art? Is it changing your practice?

I think probably one of the biggest changes that affects our lives as artists (as much as almost everybody’s lives) is how, due to the pandemic, everything has shifted even more towards the online space. Of course, digital platforms hold countless opportunities for visibility for young artists (take the example of this year’s Futures) but shifting too much towards digital representation has some drawback as well, I think. One, of course, is some kind of alienation: it is completely different to physically interact with photographs than to view them on a (often palm sized) screen. I honestly hope that this year’s lockdowns showed us all and made us deeply realise how important meeting in person is.

I feel like everything has kind of slowed down a little bit. People can’t travel, there are rarely any events, and lately, according to a new law in Hungary, everybody has to be at home before 8pm. But it has another side, too: I feel like everything has become a little bit calmer and even unperturbed in a way — even though I know these times are extremely hard for so many. But maybe it is a good opportunity to reflect on what surrounds us and the system we live, work and create in.

What do you expect from this experience as a Futures talent?

I can say that Futures has been a really nice and fruitful experience, just as I expected beforehand. Of course, if I want to be honest, I can’t say I never thought about how different it would be if it wasn’t an online version of what was originally planned, as Futures has been put into the online space this year, similar to countless other events in the world. But I still feel very honoured and very lucky to be able to participate in it. It has been an intensive period of time with hours of online talks and reviews and with the possibility of getting to know other artists from my generation.

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