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Isparomar York (Zsolt Szabó): Take Me To Paradise

Photo series in memory of 9/11 – September 2018

Just like the events of 9/11 have burnt into the retina of our eyes, so has Isparomar York’s lens captured the mementos of the terror attacks. The whole world remembers what happened in New York in 2001; thanks to our flash-memory, we even know what we did that day, where we were and how we tried to understand the incomprehensible. According to the Flashbulb Memory theory developed in 1977 by two American psychologists, Roger Brown and James Kulig, of which the tragedy of 9/11 provides a textbook example, we record surprising or emotionally shocking events of world history by not storing the details of the news that triggered our response but much rather our personal memories.

The horrors and personal imprints of the events of the terror attack burnt into the retina and memory of Isparomar York so profoundly that he was intent on going to New York to pay his respects and capture his memories from a special perspective. His memories of 2001, experienced from a vast distance from the place of the events, were thus coupled with a trip he took to New York in September 2008, during which he visited the emblematic locations of the city. It was his ’American Dream’. He wanted to show it through the lens of his Yashica Mat-124, making his flashbulb memories visible to all.

Isparomar York’s photographs infused with artistic sensitivity focus on the mementos of the 9/11 attacks that happened eighteen years ago. He revisits the tragedy from an individual angle: through the eye of a Hungarian, arriving from more than 4,000 miles away. His ambition was to evoke the events of 9/11, the American Dream, the ideal of liberty, the tragedy of John Lennon and all that America and New York means for us, Hungarians, and for him personally. All the 56 photographs of his series were shot on black and white film, using an analog camera and printed on custom-made 19 x 19 cm French Baryte paper. The numbers are symbolic: they allude to the date 9.11 and to the large number of Hungarians who fled from oppression in 1956. The method that was used to make the series emphasises the personal touch, intimacy and originality that are hallmarks of traditional photographic techniques.

Major changes have taken place since the first ‘wanderers’ settled in America or since the arrival of migrants fleeing the horrors of WWII II and then, in 1956, seeking asylum in the land of the free. However, something has stayed unchanged. Unlike Hungarians who were greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty as their boats approached Ellis Island, Hungarians arriving in New York today land in JFK International Airport in airplanes (paradoxically, the same vehicles used to implement the 9/11 attacks). Therefore, the first thing encountered by those who arrive in New York these days is not the eternal ideal of freedom but the sad results of aspirations aimed at limiting freedom and the American responses given to these. The line We will never forget 9/11 at JFK airport simultaneously refers to the past, the present and the future, as well as to traditions and the ideal of eternal renewal. This line conveys the importance of remembering, the power of moving on and people’s renewed faith in the future.

Isparomar York’s photographs are autonomous works individually, while combined into a series they tell a story. We could say that New York is shown from the perspective of the first Hungarian tourist – or migrant – to have stepped foot on American soil. Looking through the lens of his camera, the photographer discovers the sights of the city, its exhibiting artists and the memorials of the terror attack. Besides the pictures inspired by the works of Alberto Giacometti and Piero Manzoni, we can see snapshots taken of Broadway and other avenues, while, serving as a counterpoint, those of the demonstrators who have different interpretations of the terror attacks serve as a counterpoint. The title of the opening photograph ’Imagine’ shows the inscription found in the John Lennon Memorial Park next to the Dakota House and symbolically sends the message that nothing is impossible, suggesting to Isparomar York and everyone who is open-minded that we can conquer all obstacles. The series takes us on the voyage that led to the Statue of Liberty and the first moments experienced by the Pilgrims. Walking on the streets of New York we get to Broadway, the tower of the One World Trade Center being constructed, and the Ground Zero Memorial. As the perspective shifts we can see buildings viewed from the bottom or from above, and can perceive the depth, the heights, the spaces. The city’s symbolic buildings and emblems come alive through the photos, familiar to us even with their multiple meanings. The casual Apple logo, alluding to the city’s nickname, the Big Apple, a forgotten coffee cup and pedestrians rushing in the street all capture typical New York moments, and show us the city that never sleeps. The unceasing bustle of the city was maybe only stopped once: on 11 September 2001, and New York has stopped to remember it every year since then. One of the pictures alludes to a political aspect of the terror attacks: we can see the broadcast of CBS Evening News on a TV screen along with a report about Afghanistan. The blurred image brings to mind the DDay photographs of Robert Capa, who was born in Hungary. Isparomar York’s pictures of Broadway draw attention to the downside of American reality, the contradictions produced by the multi-faceted city of New York. These pictures marked by profound empathy and understanding allow us glimpses into the destitute situation and difficult circumstances of some of the New Yorkers – after all this is also part of the Big Apple.

The photos evoking the terror attacks are infused with sensitivity and focusing on some details they bring into focus the horrors of 9/11 and the importance of remembering. The memorial next to a grandiose waterfall bears the subtle inscriptions of names capturing the moving moments of mourning and tribute. The last picture that concludes the pictorial journey of remembrance is titled ’Exit’, a word serving as a kind of release, which marks the end of something but also standing as a passage, a gateway to new opportunities. It is an image filled with hope since people on both ends of the camera – the photographer and the viewer – equally have the chance to return.

Hungarians who arrived in America (as well as other tourists and migrants), the Land of Opportunities, at any time were led here by the ideal of freedom and this will probably never change. This optimism is reflected by Isparomar York’s photographs, anticipating not only his return but also conveying the seeds of starting anew, whatever the odds.

Réka Fazakas