The colossal, almost 700-page book was curated by Hungarian photographer Szabolcs Barakonyi, who hand-selected the 333 photographs that he regards as most outstanding among the 150 000 images in the collection of Fortepan – the most significant modern Hungarian online photographic archive.
“We’re used to the fact that photographs always mean something more than themselves, hence we forgot to look at them with our undisturbed first and simplest glance”. Barakonyi made his selection for the book so that it highlights the poetry in the photographs, their artistic value, which is sometimes lost among the enormous archive. His principle of selection did not involve enforcing historical or thematic viewpoints but finding outstanding photographs that excel in their purity and aesthetic significance, while sorting them without any thematic obligation.
In curating the selection among the thousands of photographs from the Fortepan archives, Barakonyi’s aim was to highlight the poetry and aesthetic significance over enforcing historical or thematic viewpoints
“The few hundred photographs chosen among thousands are there not to be illustrations of a message but to be the emotional catalysts themselves”. The subjective collection shown in the book is compiled with an expert’s eye. Fortepan Masters is a pioneering undertaking connected to the latest trends in photography: via the conception of private photography and online archives it represents the 20th century and an exceptional collection of pre-digital photography.
The book is an experiment where an international brand of photography is created on the basis of a “crowdsourced” archive, a collection of work by several hundred, mostly non-professional photographers.
In order to resolve and bridge the differences underlying amongst the diverse group of photographers represented in the book, the archive material was treated as if it were created by a single author. “It was then that a strange spirit appeared who was Hungarian and lived through the 20th century” – Barakonyi writes.
Besides the hypnotizing volume of the title, and the staggering number of photographs showcased, the book itself can be held as a work of art – designed to elevate the photographs with its design and material choices. Combining exceptional solutions both in terms of material quality and graphic design, Fortepan Masters has a uniquely structured double-bonded body and is made up of triple page units called “triptychs”.
This unique structure offers the possibility of image positioning being multiplied by the larger page surfaces, so differently formatted images can be placed democratically in the book. The design evokes the style of the original archive while encouraging readers to actively participate, as the elaborate process of image editing can be continued by the reader and their creative will and interest.
Fortepan Masters used various design papers, from the popular Munken paper range to the unique up-cycled Refit Wool Black, as well as the high thickness card Sumo Black
It’s obvious that Fortepan Masters strives for exceptional quality in appearance with its elegant yet puritanical use of materials, fitting the nature of the Fortepan photo archive. Its strongest element is the combination of the hardcover – SUMO Black 3 mm – and the Italian soft cardboard cover – Refit Wool Black 360 gsm – that contains sheep’s hair.
Fortepan Masters is made with the highest quality papers chosen from Arctic Paper’s Munken paper family. The book utilizes the bone-colored Pure Rough, the raw white Lynx Rough, the bleached Polar Rough, and bleacher-than-bleached Kristall Rough shades. The more than twenty thousand sheets of paper used were mixed together with the help of the printing staff so that the different white hues are randomly loaded into the printing machine, creating a special book body coloring.
Following the same ideology as with the papers, the typography used in the Fortepan Masters comes with an unusually diverse typeface mixing. Using a historical letter and its 12 different types, the book mimics the 20th century. Thus, the text pages of the book use contemporary Times versions inspired by the creation of the most common family of letters, the Times New Roman – a typeface that co-existed with the origin of the images.
The Fortepan Masters is available in both Hungarian and English, as well as a collector’s edition that includes hidden 20th-century family photographs that are priorly unpublished on Fortepan. Unfortunately, the book is currently sold out in Hungary, but the collector’s edition that comes in the special gift box can be ordered at firstname.lastname@example.org. The second edition of the book will be available in March 2022, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on Fortepan Masters’ social channels, especially Facebook.