sharing the past with the present

“So often we look at old photos, then we put them away,” says photographer József Szajkó. “As a photographer, it’s my responsibility to show people the present and the past, all as one, together,” he says.

A few years ago, Szajkó began creating composite photos of two shots of the same location, one from the close or distant past, and one from the present. He put together an exhibit of photos from his hometown, Sarospatak, Hungary, which was later turned into a book. Since then he has done exhibits for two other Hungarian towns.

Szajkó splits his time between Hungary and Mt. Lebanon, where he stays with his daughter, Eszter Jacobs, owner of Spots and Stripes Boutique on Washington Road. During his visits here, he has been compiling a collection of past-present collaborations, hoping to produce enough of them for another book.

It’s a time-consuming process, Szajkó says. “It’s very important to have a great camera, but it’s more important to have a vision in mind,” he says.

Jozsef Szajko port
József Szajkó checks out the Washington Road architecture.

He studies the old photos, many of which have little or no documentation, and tries to find the exact spot where each was taken. What’s in the old photo dictates what’s important in the new one.

He likes the old photos to have people in them. He loves to create an intersection of the old and the new, as if people from both times are on a course to intersect with each other.

Best of all, he says, is when he can stand in the exact same spot where original photo was taken: “When I can do that, I feel a strong connection with the photographer.”

For the viewer, one of the most fun things is looking at the old photos for clues as to the time period. Horse-drawn carts and carriages, old-style clothes, models of cars. Some of the buildings are serving the same purpose in both halves of the image and others are part of a new reconstruction.

For Szajkó, one of the most enjoyable parts of the process is watching viewers work their way through a series of his photos and eventually come to their own “aha” moment, when they finally understand the concept.

“I always use color for present day and black and white for the past,” he says. “Once you know that, you wonder why you never saw it before.”