Award-winning wildlife photography transforms historic Budapest square
Backdropped by St Stephen’s Basilica, amazing wildlife photography by award-winning Hungarian Bence Máté captures all the colour and diversity of the African savannah, the jungles of Costa Rica and the forests of Transylvania. In an outdoor exhibition running through March, Máté’s unique skill and painstaking dedication imbue each of the hundreds of images on view. After dark, the display boards illuminate by sensor as each visitor approaches. The attraction is free to view.
Around Szent István tér, the café-lined plaza spread out before the historic façade of St Stephen’s Basilica, a dozen or so display boards illustrate not only fluttering hoopoe birds and feasting leopards, but the career path of a remarkable young man. Now in his early thirties, Bence Máté started out with natural curiosity, very little money and a love of wildlife inspired by his upbringing near Kiskunság National Park in southern Hungary.
As explained by the multilingual texts on each display panel, Máté never lost his love for the natural attractions in his own backyard: “My interest in wildlife and photography has taken me to beautiful parts of the world – so far I have been to 56 countries but my favourite is the Kiskunság National Park where I grew up”.
“The second best,” as he describes it, then illustrates with simply stunning imagery of big cats, elephants and hyenas, “are areas of Africa where you can find wildlife in its natural and unchanged surroundings. Every day of my first safari tour around Kenya was memorable”.
As Máté travelled, he learned on the job. “I started building hides in Costa Rica. After arriving here at the age of 23 – knowing very little about the practical problems I would encounter and starting off with no connections and hardly any money – I wanted to create something special in this beautiful and remote country. The hardships and failures I experienced on this journey have been a constant source of inspiration to me.”
Inspiration – and success. Not only was Máté the first to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year in both the Junior and Adult categories, he has developed a cottage industry in designing special hides with one-way glass photography for others in his profession.
This current exhibition culminates in a one-man show at the Budapest Congress Centre on 31 March, after which Máté takes his photos and his presentation to main squares and concert halls in seven cities across Hungary. The aim is to encourage locals to appreciate the diversity on their doorstep, a project entitled Fajbook. Contributors are recognised not for the quality of photographs submitted but the range of species (faj) observed and illustrated.
But it takes a rare, driven individual to produce wildlife photography of the calibre on view here. The figures alone beggar belief. ‘African wildlife – duration of project, 156 days, 2011-2017, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe, images 231,210,’ runs one text. To shoot the colour ants of Costa Rica, Máté sat for 19 nights and used the cooling mechanism of his computer to coax the slight change in temperature needed for the perfect silhouette.
Over the course of 16 mornings, Máté snapped the hoopoe bird at wing 273,600 times, fully aware that two flaps take a quarter of a second. After being made a fool of by eagles for days at a time in Norway, Finland and Hungary, he decides to lure them by lugging a carp carcass across a frozen lake. As for the man hours required to produce these particular shots, “Total time – much more than I would like to see in writing”.
Animals’ breath at night seems to hold a particular fascination, the exhalations of lions enjoying a bloody kill or bears making baby bears beneath a Transylvanian sky carpeted in infinite stars. In these moments, the viewer realises just how alone the photographer must have been, and how the slightest sound or movement would ruin months of work and preparation. Personal danger seems of no concern.
Alongside the exhibition, prints, books and other souvenirs are available at a kiosk where tickets for the Budapest presentation are also on sale.
District V. Szent István tér
Open: 24hrs until 31 March