“Squares is different from my other works,” explains photographer Adam Magyar to us in an interview. “It has no layers. I barely talk about it.” If you spend a long time interviewing hundreds of photographers over a decade, this last statement will really shock you. Photographers tend to put their most meaningful pieces of work on their websites. However, Adam continued to relate that he never thought Squares had deep meaning despite its visually pleasing aesthetic.
Squares is a very compelling piece of work. When you look at it, intrinsically your curiosity will surface. You start to wonder about where all these images were shot. What time Adam shot them is on the mind as well. And you also begin to look at a bunch of different things in the images like the attire on folks, shadows, etc. Staring at images like this reminds me of looking at “Where’s Waldo” books when I was much younger. To that end, I believe there is some sort of hidden nostalgia and sense of peace we feel with Adam’s photos. What I also wonder is how this would’ve looked if the shutter speed were slowed down. Could the trails of people walking have looked like watercolor painting strokes? How would the shadows have played into it?
Nonetheless, Adam’s images in this series are quite lovely. This is the second time we’ve featured Adam’s work, which carries a very signature look to it.
The Essential Photography Gear of Adam Magyar
Adam tells us:
I develop gear, methods, and all kinds of stuff for realizing the cityscapes. But the principles are the same. Light comes, hits the sensor, and image happens. I talk and describe the technics behind my works when it makes sense for understanding the messages. Otherwise, technics is part of a craftsmanship and passion that only we photographers understand and share. For the Urban Flow series, I put a device together from scanner and camera components. It was an exciting experiment. Later I used industrial machine vision cameras. The whole method is very exciting. These cameras work like clockwork. They are machines that record everything in flow. They capture life in the form of crowds of beautiful people without emphasizing any elements or any one person. There is no story. We are the story and the beauty.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Adam Magyar: I have been traveling quite a lot, as much as I was able to. No big deal, just backpacks and being around. There were cultures and houses and trains and buses and trees and mountains and sunrises and the steam of tea and a lot of dust and many beautiful deep days, but it was always about people. People were always the core of my travels. So I started to photograph them. I was not able to tell with words what I saw and felt. I did not talk for a few years. I could not tell what was inside. Images are just more talkative. Photographs can tell a lot. All that’s important is the story we want to tell and not to use it falsely. In most of my images, things happened. Even if it looks unreal, it was real. And that is what intrigues me—making reality happen in prints.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into fine art documentary work like this?
Adam Magyar: With all my works I wanted to make existence and the present moment tangible: the world and the relentlessness of time. When I thought about starting to do photography seriously, I wanted to try to do images that would make people look at them and think of time and perhaps the unresponsible behavior we have toward time, therefore, to each other—big words. I am not sure I achieved any of these. Sometimes I saw people spend time watching my videos hopefully thinking of their time. That’s good enough, I guess.
Phoblographer: Where did the inspiration come from for these top-down style images?
Adam Magyar: I always search for a big-picture point of view. Where individuality is a vague thing, it does exist and is valid but does not really matter. We become one with space and time as it is.
Phoblographer: How important do you think color is to these scenes? From the looks of it, it seems like folks are contrasting against a background, and the color helps with that, right?
Adam Magyar: Most of my works are black and white. I always thought I needed to understand the shades of grays in between blacks and whites before I could deal with the power of color. Squares is different from my other works. It has no layers. I barely talk about it. It is a perspective study that results in athletic images. I never thought it had very deep meaning. It adeptly pleases the eye, but I like an artwork to be more.
Phoblographer: It looks like you went for some very specific lighting with this series. How did this help your creative vision?
Adam Magyar: Light is everything. It is everything in life, and it is everything in photography. I always need to study light for my images. In cities, you cannot control it. You need to make the images when light is favorable for you. That is all. Nothing specific. Just a gentle light. Not too bright and not too dark and soft enough. I need soft light for my projects. I find it, or I am waiting for it.
Phoblographer: Obviously, on your website, we see a specific selection from what you shot. But what determined whether or not a photo made it into your final series?
Adam Magyar: If it is good enough, I release it. Otherwise, it goes into archive and junk. Normal.
Phoblographer: Did you ever experiment with a slow shutter speed of some sort to show the drama of movement?
Adam Magyar: I have done lots of high-speed and slow shutter materials. I guess my whole work is about it. Drama? I do not like to talk about it. I think I am not qualified for that. I do not understand drama. My life is too good to talk of drama in my works, so my images are empty of it. I can only talk about lives passing away. Regardless of the conditions, they are flowing away. We all go.
Phoblographer: What sort of difficulties did you have trying to execute these photos?
Adam Magyar: All sorts. Technical and visual. I have the concept of the images in my mind to begin with. I need to find a way of realizing them. I have lots of desires to make pictures that I just cannot find a way to make. All my ideas are time-related. It makes me very excited if I can make something happen from my ideas. The rest of them remain dreams. It is difficult to make photos happen. It only happens through studying the situation.
About Adam Magyar
Magyar is a Berlin-based Hungarian photographer and video artist. He began taking pictures in his late twenties, when he started wandering Asian cities capturing their street life in images of Indian street vendors, wandering holy men, and students in an exclusive Himalayan school. Obsessed with finding innovative new uses for digital technology, Magyar’s work quickly evolved from conventional documentary photography to the radically experimental and surreal.
In his works, he uses different self-developed technologies and software to photograph the endless stream of pedestrian traffic in the busiest intersections in the world. People move as if predestined, walking towards a common destination. With each of his series, he observes time flowing by and life pulsating in front of his eyes, and he scrutinizes the transience of life and man’s inherent urge to leave some trace behind, adopting and reinventing contemporary devices like industrial machine-vision cameras to be able to produce his unique cityscapes.
His works are included in the collections of New York Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Deutsche Bank, and Microsoft. His photographs have been published in the book In the Life of Cities by the Graduate School of Design Harvard University, Light and Lens by Robert Hirsch, Contact Sheet by Light Work, in various photography magazines including PDN, Musée, and PQ Magazine in the USA, Flash Art in Hungary, Digital Camera Magazine in the UK and the Katalog, in Denmark.