János Kőbányai is not just outstandingly prolific as an artist but his oeuvre is also exceedingly diverse. He is the author of some fifty independent and edited volumes as well as hundreds of other literary writings (essays, novels, interviews, sociographic pieces, publications and film scripts) in addition to having his photos exhibited and directing films. Since 1988 he has been the editor-in-chief of and driving force behind the Jewish cultural publication Múlt és Jövő (Past and Future) besides working on book publishing. He graduated with a degree in law from ELTE University (1975) and later in Jewish history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2010). After obtaining his law degree he worked as a junior clerk for social services and then as a lawyer for a factory. His publishing career started during his university years. In the 1970s he mainly published sociographic works on young workers, the inhumane organisational structure of big socialist industrial plants and disenfranchised people on the peripheries of society. His essays that created the greatest stir were those that called attention to the existence of youth counter culture, and which served as interpretations of the beat and punk phenomenon in Hungary. As a reporter he went to concerts with his camera and took over ten thousand photos of the bands and their audiences.
At the focus of the 200 photographs on view here are the companion concepts of ‘the beat fest’ and ‘the end of the beat fest’, which often emerge in Kőbányai’s sociological writings. The pictures document the story of the Hungarian beat generation after their heyday along with the stars and fans who bring alive the festive character of the concerts and evoke the often ecstatic experience of the liberating power of music. It also portrays the Beatrice era, which marked the end of the beat fest, as well as the ‘csöves’ or drainpiper (Hungarian punk) phenomenon and the disenchanted world of the early punk and alternative club concerts. Although both the Hungarian beat and punk phenomena had their Western antecedents, they had their specifically Hungarian features both in their external manifestations and in how the rebellion of the young beatniks and punks against the older generation was combined with elements of discontent with socialist youth policy. While the socialist state always supported certain forms of pop music in Hungary, a large proportion of the beat and later the rock and punk culture was on the verge of the tolerated and banned categories according to the cultural policy of the period. This led to the Illés band being forced into silence and to the demise of Beatrice as well as to the banning of numerous punk and alternative concerts (and bands) and to the imprisonment of some musicians in the eighties. Hence, Kőbányai’s photographs are not only documents of musical history but also snapshots of the later period of the Kádár regime.
Curator: Zoltán Rockenbauer