It was 1984 in the Orwellian world. At the end of a politicized 20th century full of losses, we launched a new channel of expression. In 1984 we established a tertiary-level photography course. We brought radical changes to the decades-old public life of photography; we impinged on interests and generated uncertainty, although all we actually desired was dialogue. For ultimately what we emphasized was synchronicity with world events and the simple recognition that we needed to make the genre of photography equal in rank to other branches of art, and to expand its elemental power within the academic sphere of those art forms—in a sphere where visuality is key, where interdisciplinarity does away with boundaries and generates new standards.
Doubt haunted us for a considerable time, the naysayers’ chorus rang out loud and long, yet we did not lose faith. We believed only in the work we were doing, in the development of a new photographic channel, and we believed that photography would finally find its rightful place at academic level in Hungary, too. We were pioneers, we had a mission. Our struggle was on behalf of those for whom photography meant a way of thinking, and who focused not on the peripheral, genre-based categorization of the profession, but on connections.
The establishment of photography on an academic level was also impor- tant because doing so sends a message in the given social context: it elevates the profession, creates parity, and takes responsibility. When developing and introducing the university program, I considered it vital that it should be about thinking and searching for connections. At that time, it was not clear what kind of changes digital technology would bring, but its appearance further reinforced my belief that we should prioritize thinking rather than the fetish of technology. A basic prin- ciple was to think not in terms of photographic genres, but philosophy. The relinquishing of that principle would have forfeited the legitimacy of the course.
Our fundamental vision is to provide university students with an intel- lectual workshop, within the framework of which they have time to develop the structure of their thinking and to discover and strengthen their personalities in an environment where the influences of other arts and various fields of knowledge are unavoidable. The focus has not been changed by the emergence of the digital world: we did not participate in the analogue versus digital debate; much rather, we focused on open attitudes, high standards, and interdisciplinarity.
There were sources we learnt from; there were people who inspired us. Moholy and his circle, the outstanding figures in the history of photo- graphy, showed us an example of how to think, how to establish a school, and how to achieve a worldwide reputation. We did not consider those things to be obstacles for us either. For we knew there was only one field of competition—the international one. And we are still making progress along it. Thirty-three years, hundreds of photographers, a new channel of expression. The manifestation of thinking.
Gábor Kopek DLA
Founder of Photography Department
Former Head of Photography Department
Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest