Kezdőlap/ Nick Thorpe megnyitóbeszéde / Opening remarks by Nick Thorpe

Nick Thorpe megnyitóbeszéde / Opening remarks by Nick Thorpe

Fotó: Capa Központ


Thank you very much for inviting me, it’s an honour to be speaking at the Capa Centre, and especially at this exhibition of remarkable photographs of the River Danube.

Looking at these pictures, I felt a great affection for the people of the Danube, the simple people who work on the river or make a living on its shores, or who just walk beside it, fall in love beside it, and grow old on its banks. And as a writer I felt a great happiness to be part of a community – of a collective – with the leisure and privilege and opportunity to tell the stories of the people of the river. And not just to tell their stories for them, but to give them a voice. The ladies in Ákos Stiller’s photograph, taking photographs from their boat in Budapest; the laughter of the newly married couple in Balint Hirling’s small boat on the river in Slovakia; the bronzed beauties in Ádám Urbán’s pictures of sunbathers below the bridge in Novi Sad;  the Middle Eastern immigrants drinking beer in Simon Móricz-Sabján’s picture from Neu Ulm in Germany, and the woman in a headscarf, inspecting a red lovers’ padlock while three little girls play beside her; Dénes Martonfai’s enthusiastic, confident yoga teachers, practising their asanas beneath the much grafittied, urine-stained bridge over the Danube canal in Vienna; Mária in the forest of the flood plain in the southern lowlands of Serbia, or László in the field of soybeans longing to shoot the birds in Balázs Mohai’s pictures; the young cowherd, urging his lazy cows along the shore of the Danube in Bulgaria in Robert László Bácsi’s work, the man on a boat holding a gate in his hand, perhaps the entrance gate to the whole river, in László Végh’s photograph in Romania.

We hear the democratic voices of the people in these pictures, in the sense, not of some passing election, of some passing political fever, but in the sense that poor people the world over now know that their voices have equal weight to the voices of the rich and powerful. This is one of the effects of globalisation. But they have few illusions. They can speak, though they know they will often not be heard. Michael Ignatieff, the rector of the Central European University, has written eloquently about this in his new book, The Ordinary Virtues.

We also hear the voice of the river, of the Danube herself in these pictures. In the mist slowly rising above the reeds in the Danube Delta, in the dust drifting across the piles of grain, as it is loaded onto barges, the voice of the river in the throats of the fish caught in nets, or hanging out to dry, the voice of the storm wind in the trees that toppled onto the fishing boats, the voice of the silent pelicans sailing beside the boat in one of the channels of the delta. In my own travels in the delta, I noted how, if you paddle slowly among pelicans, leaving your own nervous human noise on the bank, they tolerate your presence among them, as though you and your boat and your camera were just a big ugly pelican, less elegant than them, but welcome as their guest provided you behave.

Other sudden images jump out from these pictures, like sudden gusts of wind, shuddering on the surface of the river: a stencil of the singer Patti Smith on the orange t-shirt of one of the sailors. You can almost year her gravelly voice in the Danube gravel at Baja. The single male and female sunbathers on the sands at Novi Sad, seen from above, are almost equidistant from one another, watching each other, certainly, but worshipping the sun. The lace across the top of the cabin on the Danube barge in András Hajdu’s photograph is reminiscent of the erotic longings of sailors across the millennia. It is the petticoat of the river. And in the absence of female company, a sailor dances in the cabin of his boat, while other men drown in drink, and others wrestle huge wheels in the bows of ships, captives of the endless green river, trapped far from home between her banks.

I wrote a sentence in my own book, that the Danube preaches tolerance between the many peoples living beside her. I’ve often wondered since I wrote that, if that claim was too far-fetched, too romantic. Looking at these pictures, I’m reassured that it was not. The Danube is not a pond, not a mirror in which we see our own faces. There are reflections in her waters, but they are always the reflections of others, friends or strangers, not of ourselves.


Elhangzott a Dunaképp című kiállítás megnyitóján, a Capa Központban, 2018. április 16-án.