Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Two Faces of Revolution

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Two Faces of Revolution

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "An Emblematic Picture of the Hungarian 1956 Revolution: Photojournalism During the Hungarian Revolution" by Eszter Balazs and Phil Casoar, in Europe-Asia Studies, Dec. 2006.

AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER RUSS Melcher had a symbolic image of the Hungarian Revolution in his mind as he roamed the streets of Budapest on the morning of October 30, 1956. He wanted to portray the "youth and spirit of freedom" that had led Hungarian students and workers to rise up against their Soviet overlords.

Sometimes armed only with kitchen implements and gasoline, the rebels had won remarkable victories in a week of fighting across the country, and the Soviets seemed hesitant, even willing to negotiate.

Spotting Jutka, with a wound on her face, and Gyuri, carrying a machine gun too large for him, Melcher was captivated by their half-bohemian, half-proletarian look and their shabby clothes. A passerby, never identified, refused to get out of the frame, and moved toward the photographer carrying a pistol.

Melcher's photograph, "Heroes of Budapest," became emblematic of the revolution, which was effectively crashed by Soviet tanks only a week later, with the loss of thousands of lives. It became a powerful symbol in both the West and the East, write Eszter Balazs, a Ph.D. candidate at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and Phil Casoar, a Paris journalist. In the West, it symbolized the idealism of a dedicated young couple determined to free their native Hungary. In the East, it was evidence that counterrevolutionaries--such as the menacing man with the pistol--had recruited children to overthrow the legitimate government.

In the tradition of war photojournalism, the picture's genesis was a haphazard affair. It was shot by a photographer who had set out to record another event in another country, but slipped into Hungary when the Czech border was closed. It was falsely credited to a Paris-Match photographer, Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, who was fatally wounded the afternoon the picture was taken. Melcher allowed Paris-Match to attribute the photo to the late Pedrazzini in "homage" and to increase circulation of the image. "If a photographer has been killed in action and this is one of his last pictures, every paper wants to publish it," Melcher explained to Casoar in an interview. …

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