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24 months in Budapest

In 2018, after nine months of studying Hungarian, paying for overpriced official translations of legal documents, and tracking down my great-grandmother's original 1900 birth certificate in present-day Serbian historical societies, I applied for Hungarian citizenship. I was granted citizenship in June of 2019 and moved to Budapest in July of that same year. 

During my time in Budapest, I joined a choir, worked as a staff writer and photographer for an entertainment-news publication, met a boy, and lived through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. The following are a collection of my photographs from those two years, documenting the pulse of everyday life in the capital city, admiring of the once-resplendant and now somewhat neglected architeture of Budapest, and capturing what it means to call this place home.

Click on any photo to learn more.

A note on lenses

 

It was during my time living in Budapest that I first began my love affair with vintage lenses. Old Soviet and Eastern German lenses were abundant on the secondhand marketplace in Hungary, and I started my collection with a Pentacon 135mm, still my favourite lens today. The majority of the photos in this album have been shot on those vintage lenses.

The Parliament building

Budapest's Parliament is perhaps the most recognisable building in the city. A collosal 20th ce structure of Neo-Gothic brilliance, it dominates the Danube riverbank, appearing around the curve of the tram track like the whimsical storyboard some new Disney flick. Symmetrical in both its exterior and interior, only one half of the building is actually used for government purposes, with the opposite wing reserved for ceremonies, conferences, and guided tours. I think the Parliament looks best when its white stone façade is contrasted against the darkening skies of an approaching storm, and so any sign of inclement weather was my cue to head downtown and wait.

Real people

One of the most rewarding experiences of living in a popular tourist destination is experiencing the life that the locals lead. Away from the main thoroughfares, in secret gardens and hidden pubs, and in obscure locations where people don't speak English, this is where you feel the real Hungarian experience. 

Old world splendor, new world degeneration

I like to describe the architecture of Budapest as being in a state of romantic deterioration. The truth is, the Communists didn't approve of such frivolities as maintaining the resplendent architecture of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so the achingly beautiful Art Nouveau and Neo-Classical facades, once the hallmark of the city, were neglected. Over time the plastor has peeled, statues lost their lustre, and caked-on soot from belching vehicles have stained much of the city a dark brown. 

Those who only spend their time in the newly-polished downtown streets will probably not see the extent of this romantic deterioration, as wealthy fashion boutiques have moved into storefronts at Deák Ferenc tér and Andrássy út, and the observant tourist will see cleaning crews diligently scrubbing the exteriors on summer mornings before the heat of the day catches up with them. 

The pandemic

In March of 2020, Orbán and his government declared to the Hungarian people that the country would observe a full-scale quarantine to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The ever-present chatter of visiting tourists disappeared, and a new version of Budapest emerged. So many people started baking their own bread at home that the Hungarians declared themselves the Land of Bakers, and even put up a new mural in the city centre to commemmorate the experience. As I walked around Budapest, I found it important to document the new world I was seeing. 

A more complete collection, dedicated to photographing the pandemic, can be found in my Pandemic Budapest series.