Éva Szombat: Finding Happiness in Kitsch
A Hungarian photographer takes kitschy photographs of people who are happy regardless of circumstances.
Lives in Budapest. Works on personal projects and commercial commissions. Eva’s works were published in The Huffington Post, Vice, IGNANT, Feature Shoot, and Fotografia Magazine.
About Rostás Family Project
I met Jolika, Armando and Ricardo, the Rostás siblings, a few years ago at a talent contest. They danced and I asked to take some pictures of them. Later they invited me to their Easter celebration to take photos of the whole family. The Rostás’ are a gypsy family with traditions and history very different from mine, so it was a great honor that they allowed me into their private lives — colorful and joyful. Their decorations and clothing are enchanting, and I found myself in a scene not unlike a fairy tale.
I was so into it all that I proposed the idea of becoming their family’s photographer. Five years ago when I began to photograph them when Jolika was sixteen, Armando eleven. Now Jolika is a mother with two children and Armando a happy husband, and he’s expecting his first baby. It’s really exciting to be part of the happenings.
About Happiness Book
I think all of my work is a little bit of a therapy. And this Happiness project was the best therapy that I have ever done. When I started the project in 2013, I had often noticed the signs of unhappiness on myself and on my acquaintances. Hungarians really like to complain, and we are the one of the most depressed nations. So I decided to make a practical guide to achieve happiness, full of irony and kitsch.
Abraham A. Moles said that kitsch is the art of happiness, so it seemed to me quite obvious to use it. I wanted the book itself to bring happiness to the viewer’s life, so it’s soft, glittery, fragrant, colorful, and in the luxury version, you can find attachments, for example a real dollar that you can spend yourself. I wanted to create these pictures without photoshop, so I used different filters and color lights.
I wrote every text by hand and I built the little installations. My friend Vera Vida was my partner in this project, she wrote great texts, for example, the practices, the weekly happiness plan or the happiness-translator for the Happiness Book. In retrospect, I think creating this book was a part of my therapy.
About Practitioners Series
After the fictional world of the Happiness Book I have decided to document actual people, who have introduced happiness into their lives to overcome misfortunes, tragedies, nuisances, or just the banality of day-to-day living. I was fortunate, because I won a 3 year running scholarship (József Pécsi Art Photography Scholarship), and it helped me a lot to concentrate on this project. My heroes were friends, family, acquaintances, and some I met accidentally, although I don’t believe in accidents.
In 2014, I met Laci Major who had been living in New York City for four years. Laci’s teenage dream came true when he was asked to become a permanent member of the Trocadero dance troupe in New York, where he could perform in drag. We became friends, and when he comes home we always continue the project and take some funny pictures together.
Mária always loved frogs, but after she was diagnosed with cancer, her passion for collecting them became more serious. She said they helped her a lot in surviving the disease.
Gergő was born with open neural tube defects and even though he can’t walk, he is one of the most active and positive people I know. He enjoys taking photos, dancing, playing basketball, running, loves driving and besides all that, works with geotechnics in his family’s civil engineering company.
Two years before I met Erika, she and her husband lost their five year-old son. She then fell into a deep depression, but because of their three year-old daughter, she couldn’t allow to let herself go. Erika thought she would buy a balloon twisting set for her three year-old daughter to help her shake off her profound sadness. Erika ended up enjoying the twisting so much that she left her job and is making a living off balloons ever since. She now travels from event to event to make children happy with her models.
After three years of researching happiness, I could tell you I’m definitely happy. I got a lot of inspiration from people I photographed. I can definitely tell you that you don’t have to be famous, rich, young and healthy to be happy.
Happiness depends, most importantly, on the quality of our relationships.
Being entertaining and thrilling is always the main focus for me. I try to show an upside down world, where the emphasis is on something that does not naturally arise from the topic. For instance, finding the ugly and the grotesque in beauty and the beauty in ugliness inspires me very much.