Ferenc Berko

Fascination with the Ordinary

Drawn from the collections of Photo Elysée, the exhibition Ferenc Berko: Fascination with the Ordinary presents 38 photographs from across the artist’s seven-decade career. Berko’s work spans much of the 20th century. From his early documentary photography of interwar Europe and his almost surreal images of everyday life, to his later experimentation with color photography, we witness the influence that modernist photography had on his work.

Born to a Jewish family in Hungary in the midst of World War I and brought up in Germany, the first three decades of Ferenc Berko’s life saw much political turmoil. This broader instability had direct repercussions for his own life, necessitating a move to London in 1932 to escape the threat of Nazi persecution. Several years later, with war against Germany looming in Europe, Berko and his wife Mirte moved to India, where he worked initially as a cameraman for an Indian film company and later as a documentary filmmaker for the British Army. Throughout this upheaval, photography remained a constant for him.

Berko first started taking photos at the age of 12, and by the time he was 16 he had his own Leica. By dint of circumstance, he quickly came into contact with some prominent contemporary photographers, such as Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy, who would influence his documentary and formalist approach.

Indian independence in 1947 brought Berko’s time with the British Army to an end. Upon learning of this, his long-time mentor László Moholy-Nagy, who had since founded the Institute of Design in Chicago (also known as the New Bauhaus), offered Berko a position in its photography department. Although he only taught at the school for two years, the US remained Berko’s home until his death in 2000.  Once in America, at a time when almost all art photographers were championing black and white, Berko devoted much of his energy to working and experimenting with color, becaming a pioneer of color photography.

A fascination with the ordinary is one of the hallmarks of Berko’s work, and is manifested in his photography in a variety of ways. His early images capture the active curiosity of strangers around him and the seemingly ordinary, yet surreal scenes he comes across, while his later work portrays everyday life from new angles, reproducing it in vibrant, contrasting colors.



Hannah Pröbsting, Photo Elysée


The exhibition Ferenc Berko: Fascination for the Ordinary is part of UBS support for Photo Elysée.