Urbán Tamás: Az aszódi javítóintézet, 1974. (fotósorozat)
The Reformatory School in Aszód has undergone many changes since its foundation in 1884, and a lot has happened between its walls. The institution is still in operation today, having survived two world wars, the communist dictatorship, and even a tragic homicide. In 1973, Tamás Urbán took around 500 touching, shocking, and honest pictures about the lives of the residents of the reformatory school as his graduation project.
He was able to take photographs in the institution because he was working together with Youth Magazine (Ifjúsági Magazin), and he did not have face any particular challenges or have to deal with unusual complications while working on the project, though he visited the institution several times a week for two or three months. As Urbán sees it, this was because of his discrete style, especially when he did reports. He consciously avoided splurge, he brought only the most necessary equipment with him, and he did not force anything. As he recalled in 2015, “Suddenly I was in the community and everything came naturally.” He spent days among the residents, closely observing their everyday lives, including how they worked, played, and took drugs. Urbán maintained contact with a number of the residents of the institution even after he had finished the project. These letters, however, had to be smuggled out.
In 1975, Urbán’s first exhibition was held at the Reformatory School, and it featured the pictures he had taken there. The event was opened by Éva Keleti, one of Urbán’s teachers, but the plan to exhibit the pictures to a larger audience could not be realized: the authorities did not allow the photos to be taken from the institution because of their content. A representative of the ministry who was present for the opening ceremony made this decision clear. The pictures were impounded and the remained at the Reformatory School. While Éva Keleti and others tried to prevail on the authorities to change their decision – (even going as far as György Aczél in the process), they were not successful. Nevertheless, in 1978, Urbán brought this photo series to the first display of the Studio of Young Photographers. Despite the prohibitions, the photos brought him success, both from the audiences and in the profession. As Urbán recalls, because of this photo report, he was accepted into the Association of Hungarian Journalists. The photos taken at the Reformatory School are also the direct antecedents to his major topics of the 1980s: the photo series about prisoners and people on the margins of society, such as drug users.The photos were recently found again under a broken piano in the Reformatory School by the educators at the institution. After more than forty years, on November 23, 2017, Tamás Urbán’s photo report was again exhibited in Aszód, this time with photos taken by his son, Ádám Urbán. The exhibition, which was entitled “Then and Now,” was opened by Éva Keleti, but this time the photos were not kept under the control of the state, and soon they will be exhibited outside the institution so larger audiences can also see them. While many things have changed since the transition, Urbán’s photographs have not lost their significance.
- Photo series on the Reformatory School in Aszód, 1974, photo by Tamás Urbán
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- Scheibner, Tamás
Urbán, Tamás. ""Mázlim volt" (Urbán Tamás fotós)." By Tibor Legát. Magyar Narancs, December 9, 1999. http://magyarnarancs.hu/film2/mazlim_volt_urban_tamas_fotos-56963
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Urbán, Tamás. "Nekem ilyen volt az életem." By Sándor Bacskai. Fotóművészet, 2008. http://www.fotomuveszet.net/korabbi_szamok/200804/nekem_ilyen_volt_az_eletem.
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