Dozens of antlers and bus models, IKEA furniture and granny sofas, pets and stuffed animals, guitars and a chandelier left over from Socialism—this and much more can be discovered in Balázs Somorjai’s photographs of Budapest’s panel dwellers.
Panel houses (‘panelház’ or ‘panel’ is a Hungarian term for a type of concrete block of flats characteristic of the region—the Transl.) are an integral part of the skyline of every city in Central and Eastern Europe. Sometimes there are only a handful of “few-story”panel houses on the outskirts of the city, while elsewhere tens of thousands of people live in a cluster of ten- and twenty-story apartment blocks. Over the past years and decades, panels and housing projects have become a popular topic, with numerous projects and publications dealing with their aesthetics, urban landscape, environment, and heritage.
“When we see monotonous rows of panels built to a single pattern, we might think: just like the buildings, the people who live in them are alike—but that is not the case at all. Over the decades, the composition of the inhabitants of the houses has changed considerably, but one thing has remained constant: everyone creates their own world in the space they have,” writes photographer Balázs Somorjai, who has looked behind the walls of the often schematic, uniform panels to capture Budapest residents living in a housing estate. Beyond the standardized, uniform spaces—where looking out of the window, you will almost always face another panel—we see individual worlds and unique interiors, shaped by personal taste, hobbies, and interests.
Photographs allow us to see people, spaces, and situations we would not see otherwise. Balázs Somorjai took advantage of this power of photography when he spent years capturing panel dwellers. “The images, conceived through conversations, and then staged in a lit space, show multiple sides of the personality along with the private space, and also their interaction. The staging, and the lighting effects create an opportunity to highlight on and to condense important moments. The powerful colors thus created also play an important role in the visual articulation of the statement about the person presented,” writes Gabriella Csizek, curator of the exhibition Panelvilág (Panelworld) created from the series.
In 2021, Balázs Somorjai won the Budapest Fotográfiai Ösztöndíj (Budapest Photography Scholarship—the Transl.) with the series, which was awarded annually between 2000 and 2012, and biennially since 2017, to a photographer who presents the Hungarian capital from a particular point of view.
Balázs Somorjai: Panelworld | Budapest Fotográfiai Ösztöndíj 2021
The exhibition is open until 3 June 2023
Capa Center (1065 Budapest, Nagymező utca 8.)
Curator: Gabriella Csizek