Category Archives: Hungary

St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

Interior - St. Stephen's Basilica - Budapest, Hungary

St. Stephen’s Basilica (Hungarian: Szent István-bazilika) is a Roman Catholic basilica in Budapest, Hungary. It is considered the most important church building in Hungary. The church is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038), whose mummified hand is housed in the reliquary.

Equal with the Hungarian Parliament Building, it is the one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest at 96 metres (315 ft). Current regulations prohibit any taller buildings in Budapest. It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. During construction, the dome collapsed in 1868 which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up.

The architectural style is Neo-Rennaissance; it has a Greek cross ground plan. The façade is anchored by two large bell towers. In the southern tower is Hungary’s biggest bell, weighing over 9 tons. St. Stephen’s Basilica is a lovely church and one of the top tourist destinations in Budapest.

I was able to complete all my photography, while being ignored by the clergy. Then on the way out the door, a priest approached me and pointing to the tripod said, “not allowed.” I said “OK” as I was all done. I do not know why so many people are against tripods. I was careful to keep out of everyones way and my rubber tips certainly do not harm the floor. I think rules are created because of some problem years ago with one photographer, and the rules just get passed on down without any reasoning or understanding. The whole anti-tripod thing sure gets old. The very next day, I was prevented from photographing in the subway system because of the tripod. This was surprising as I’d been photographing for weeks in the system and been observed and ignored by countless metro employees. I just takes one guy who feels he has to exercise his authority over others to really ruin a photographer’s day.

Are Photographers Junior Terrorists?

The world has gone and become afraid of photographers; very afraid. Afraid of photographers with big cameras anyhow. There was a time when many tourists walked around with big cameras. Heck, even 4×5 view cameras “back in the day” (before TV and microwave ovens). Of course, these have been replaced for most tourists with the mighty cell-phone-cam-computer-stereo-wonder-gadget. Now days, anyone sporting a camera bigger than a Hostess Twinkie is suspected of nefarious activities. Oh, and carrying a tripod too? Could be used for mounting a rocket launcher I suppose. Why else would someone be carrying such a contraption with ISO 56 million soon to be released?

Confronting the Stranger with the Big Camera

I was up to my ears in suspicion yesterday while carrying said “big camera” and “rocket-launcher-tripod.” Perhaps it is also my “strange” photo subjects. I kink of fell in love with photographing in the Budapest subway stations at 5:00 am when few people were around. I think there is something kind of creepy yet hauntingly beautiful about these places, particularly when they are empty of people. But these places also have security cameras mounted in the ceiling all over the place.

About an hour into my photographing the escalators, security couldn’t take it any more and sent two young kids to see what the heck the crazy foreigner was up to. They spoke even less English than I speak Hungarian (I don’t speak any). So, I showed them some images from the back of the camera. Images that showed empty escalators or dragged shutter images with me riding up and down the escalators and hand holding the shaking camera. You know; crazy stuff that only a camera nut would do. No, not a single image of missile silos or secret terrorist plots. The junior security men then scratched their heads while looking at me as if I had two heads, then gave me thumbs up and left me to my insanity and my escalators.

After finishing a meal at McDonald’s in Budapest, Hungary (I know how sad that sounds), I stopped to mount my camera on my tripod before heading out into the concrete jungle. But I didn’t even get the tripod head clamp tightened on the camera before I was pounced upon by an every vigilant Mickey D manager who admonished me, “no photography in McDonald’s.” Really? Are you serious? Are there legions of photographers hiding in the Golden Arches, just waiting to snap a pic of Britney Spears buying Happy Meals for her tots?

I mumbled something about the fries being too salty then fled the place. Out in the real world I began to look for something interesting to photograph. The last couple of days I had developed a fondness for phone booths. You know, those things that Superman would change into before cell phones and vandalism killed them all over the United States. Got it? Ok, so I see an interesting looking specimen sporting a pink phone. In fact, there was two identical booths not 10 feet apart. Except… one of the booths had a “poor” person leaning against it with a sign in Hungarian, likely asking for money since there was a little cup in front of him. Which one do I shoot? I spent nearly 10 minutes deciding and in the end, thought that the poor person added something to the photo. Something about a technological device (old as it was) propping up the back of someone who has likely been passed over by technology; someone who’s life has not been improved by technology.

So I set up the tripod in clear view of the phone-booth-guy. I fact, I spent a good 5 minutes setting up before I snapped the photo. I figured, if he objected, I’d give him plenty of time to get out of the way or to wave me off, cover his face with his sign, etc. However, I didn’t seem to get any reaction so I made a couple of exposures. At least from him I didn’t get a reaction. But before I could leave the scene of the crime, I was pounced upon by an English-speaking Hungarian women who said that she was a photographer too and that what I just did was “illegal.” That if the police came, they would confiscate my camera card for invading the privacy of the poor person. That my photo would be viewed as showing the poor person in a negative light. She said that there were laws all over Europe making it illegal to photograph the poor without their verbal permission.

That must make photojournalism really tough to do. Ok. So I realize that the case could be made that photographing his “poor person” condition might make some viewers, some photographers, and some poor people, uncomfortable. But isn’t one of the steps to eliminating poverty, to show it? Should not artists do what they can to get people to view poverty and think about poverty, till society decides its had enough and ends it? Is ignoring it, avoiding it, not including it in art and media, going to solve the problem of poverty? I don’t know all the answers, but a photographic artist, I don’t feel that the poor should be invisible to my camera lens.

So I will soldier on with my big camera and dangerous tripod. Trying not to get arrested for photographing people and things that other people think I have no business photographing unless I’m either crazy or a terrorist or both.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament Building (Hungarian: Országház, literally country house) is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings, a notable landmark of Hungary and a popular tourist destination of Budapest. It lies in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the bank of the Danube, in Budapest. It is currently the largest building in Hungary. Construction completed in 1904 [source: Wikipedia].

I haven’t yet visited the Parliament Building but I photographed this twilight image from the opposite bank of the Danube. I used a slow shutter speed to smooth out the turbulent waters of the Danube. The river is turbulent due to the many sight-seeing small cruise ships that take tourists on trips up and down the river each evening. I had to time my exposures to be between the many passing ships, whose lights would have marred the image.

My settings were ISO 100, 6 seconds @ f/16. I would have used my neutral density filters to length the exposure even more, but I did not have them with me at the time. If I have a chance to re-shoot it, then I will try about a 30 second exposure and will post the difference here.

First Impressions of Budapest

I arrived in Budapest, Hungary, two days ago. Budapest is the capital and largest city of Hungary with about 1.7 million people (2010) in the city proper, and 3.2 million in the metro area (Wikipedia). As an English-speaking-only tourist navigating an unfamiliar big city, Budapest is fairly easy to get around in.

Budapest has a very well developed public transportation system comprised of buses, trams, and subways (and trains for city to city travel). I have not traveled by bus yet and I’ve found I can get most places quickly via a tram or subway line. The trams and subway cars come very quickly and I believe my longest wait for one of them has been about 3 minutes. Today, I just missed a tram by about 30 seconds when I was stuck at a red light. The next tram on the line came less than 1 minute later. Other times, I’ve missed a subway car by a few seconds and only had to wait a minute or two before another one arrived.

The hardest part of traveling around the city is not being able to understand the spoken names of the stops. While the above ground trams that electronic signs that announce the stops, the subways do not and the signs at the stops are not always easy to spot. Counting the stops on the map before getting on is a big help in this regard.

The city has a wealth of photographic subject matter available. The architecture is very beautiful and grand. Many of the buildings are made with high quality materials and old world charm. However, the architecture also indicates that a great lack of capital during the last several decades has resulted in a city in decline and decay. Many buildings display decaying facade material. The excellent transportation system mostly features cars that are out of a 1960’s or 70’s time warp.  While some of the trams seem new and modern, others are serviceable but very old.

If you like to photograph urban decay and grunge, it is an excellent city to visit. Safe and relatively inexpensive. I understand that it is one of the least expensive European cities for travelers to visit as it has been to poor to adopt the Euro and still maintains the Hungarian Forint as currency with its more favorable exchange rate with US dollars.