Classical Greece through the lens of Robert McCabe

Edited by Anna Popper

Initiated and organised by the Embassy of Greece in Budapest, in collaboration with the National Széchényi Library, a photography exhibition entitled “Poetry in Stone. Images of Classical Greece by Robert McCabe” was opened in the library’s premises. The exhibition showcases iconic images of classical Greece from the 1950s and 1960s, taken by internationally renowned American photographer Robert McCabe, selected from the Collection of Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens.

During his first visit in 1954, the American photographer developed a profound affection for Greece, marking a pivotal moment in the young university student’s life. He was moved and inspired by the people, monuments and landscapes of the country, a sentiment that drew him back countless times. McCabe’s enduring connection with Greece and its unique heritage is eloquently captured in thousands of photographs and 20 books that immortalise his journeys and experiences. He currently divides his life between New York and Athens, embracing a dual identity as both American and Greek.

The inauguration ceremony of the exhibition took place on the 10th November 2023, and was graced by the presence of distinguished members of the diplomatic corps from 30 countries. The event also attracted art enthusiasts, friends and Greek nationals, forming a diverse and appreciative audience.

On behalf of the library, Deputy General Director Ms. Judit Gerencsér welcomed the audience by saying:

“Kalispéra! Good evening! Your Excellency Ambassador of Greece, Madam Curator, Your Excellencies, dear Representatives of the Greek community in Budapest! Ladies and Gentlemen!

I would like to welcome you to the National Széchényi Library, the national library of Hungary. As a host, it is always a great pleasure to welcome guests from abroad, especially when hosting an exhibition on such a special topic.

It is always exciting to capture the moment with a lens. It requires vision, sensitivity and a desire to tell a story. Photography speaks about the photographer, the world, the technique, the time, and at the same time allows a dialogue between two strangers. With this exhibition, opening today, we celebrate vision, art and the details that fill our everyday lives, but sometimes go unnoticed.

In the context of our traditional joint events, we are grateful that the Embassy of Greece in Budapest is presenting the kiss of the moment in this exciting exhibition at the National Széchényi Library. We hope the future holds many other occasions when we may celebrate each other’s culture.

‘Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.” – George Bernard Shaw’

Thank you for your attention.”

The welcome speech was followed by the opening remarks of H.E. Emmanouil Apostolakis, Ambassador of the Republic of Greece to Hungary:

“Jó estét kívánok, Good Evening, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends,

A great Hungarian photographer Robert Capa (born Endre Ernő Friedmann, 1913-1954), whose work I discovered and loved when I was an adolescent and today I have the privilege to live in his city of birth, only a few steps from the museum dedicated to his work, used to say: ‘The pictures are there, and you just take them’. Well, easy to say when you are R Capa!

But those of us who are admirers of this exceptional form of art called photography know that things are not that simple. We know that in order to take pictures and make art out of them you need the precious combination of talent and creative inspiration. And I think that these are two elements visible in the photographic exhibition presented here entitled: ‘Poetry in Stone. Images of Classical Greece’ by the acclaimed American photographer Robert McCabe. For me, McCabe’s striking artistic photos manage, to paraphrase TS Elliot, ‘to capture the shadows that follow between the emotion and the response, between the conception and the creation’.

McCabe first visited Greece in 1954 at the age of 20 and was captivated by the Greek light, element so important for his art, as well as by the warmth of the people. This initial trip marked the beginning of this great American photographer’s never-ending inspiring bond for the beauty of Greece. Indeed, whether they depict renowned Greek landmarks, as most of the photos in our exhibition, or moments from everyday life, Mc Cabe’s photos manage to stunningly distil the essence of Greece and its ever-evolving face.

I think that it is precisely this inspiring feeling that many visitors experience when they set foot in Greece and discover not only the ubiquitous remnants of its centuries-long history and civilization, but also the intriguing face of today’s Greece and its modern culture. And tonight I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hungarians for consistently making Greece their primary holiday destination, thus contributing to further strengthening the long-standing historical and cultural bonds between our two countries and peoples. I would also like to express the hope that after viewing this exhibition, those of you who haven’t yet visited my country will have one more reason to give it a try in the near future.

In conclusion, I would also like to thank everyone who contributed to this exhibition, starting with Bob McCabe, who unfortunately was unable to join us tonight for reasons beyond his control. However, we have with us the curator of the exhibition, Mrs. Sophia Hiniadou Cambanis, whose contribution was really precious in making happen this event and who will shortly give us an overview of Mc Cabe’s work.

Special thanks go to the Director General of the National Szécsényi Library, Mr. Dávid Rózsa and the Deputy Director, Ms. Judit Gerencsér, as well as to all the employees of the Library who worked in this project. It is indeed a privilege to have the exhibition hosted in such an emblematic historical venue and I am grateful for that.

Last but not least, a big word of appreciation for the members of my team in the Embassy, as well as for our sponsors, the Greek National Tourism Organisation, Aegean Airlines and the Niko Lazaridi delicious Greek wines. And of course many thanks to all of you, distinguished guests, dear friends, for honouring us with your presence.

Köszönöm szépen – Thank you”

Continuing the event with a reception featuring Greek gastronomy and wines added a delightful culinary dimension for the guests, complementing their visual experience and creating a memorable evening.

Guests were very impressed by the timeless and classic quality of the black and white photographs on display, depicting the iconic places of universal human cultural history – including Athens, the Acropolis, Epidaurus, Delphi and other famous sites – and capturing the essence of ancient Hellenic culture, art and history of the ancient Greeks, with admirable sharpness, indicating a high level of skill and precision of the artist. The photographer dedicated the pictures to the memory of his great friend, Mr. Edmond S. Solymosy, a philhelleneof Hungarian origin and esteemed American, who passed away in December 2022.

The exhibition runs until 31 December 2023 at the National Széchényi Library in Buda Castle.

Sources: Embassy of Greece in Budapest, National Széchényi Library

Photos by the National Széchényi Library and DPA