Architect and photographer Kerényi Zoltán has a continuous interest with the past and all things antique. Based in Budapest, the artist would usually walk along the city streets, wondering what people used to do then when they hang around long-standing landmarks, structures, and buildings. So, he decided to reimagine by superimposing old shots and portraits of people against his own contemporary photographs. Taken from the public archive of Fortepan, Kerényi lets us time travel with his series Ablak a múltra / Windows to the past.
Hi Kerényi! Welcome to the magazine. Firstly, what got you to do these past-vs-present compositions? May you share with us what was your first impression when you saw the old pictures? What were your initial thoughts?
I'm an architect and a photographer, even have my own studio. Motivation was that I'm interested in the past, it's nice to think about those people who were walking the same streets as we do, just a hundred years ago. And showing it the way I did in this project is, I think, the best way. It's also related to my original profession, architecture, as the connection between the past and present pictures are the buildings, the streets. There are a lot of war-time archive photos out there, but I intentionally avoided those (have just a few out of the 500 I created in 5 years) and concentrated on the happy moments of those bygone people.
“Windows to the Past” is such a lovely name for the series. If given the chance, was there a certain old location in the pictures that you would want to travel back to?
Budapest was a perfect location for this project, as most of the inner city was built a century ago, and those buildings are still standing despite two world wars, revolutions...
If I could time-travel, I'd go back to around 1900, to see all those constructions and the vivid life of the city, which was among the foremost metropolitan centers of the world.
What was the most challenging part of doing this project?
The biggest challenge is always to find the exact same position as the old photographer, to fit the perspective perfectly. Have to examine every little detail. Finding the place was not that big of a deal, as I know Budapest quite well. In the beginning, I made easy location pictures, and as time went by, a lot of people helped Fortepan to add locations to a lot of pictures, making it searchable by city, street, even house number. So whenever I had a trip to a new location, I could search for archive photos in advance. But of course, there were photos without location tags and was only my genius to find the place.
Budapest – then and now – any difference or similarities you've noticed when comparing the place in the present and photograph?
Sometimes everything has changed, thus impossible to make a montage. However, I'm always glad to see that we still have so many places unchanged. Clothes, fashion might change, but people don't. They had the same colorful life. We just don't think about them that way. They are just black and white photographs to us, which is a pity. I think it'd help us better understand and learn from history if we'd look at them the way I did.
Any upcoming photographic project soon?
"Architectural kaleidoscope" the next thing I was working on, you can see some examples of it in my Flickr.