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In search of Budapest’s house numbers

Zsolt Molnár, or Zsutti, took up a very draining pursuit years back: he rode 3000 kilometers in search for the most peculiar house numbers of the city. The result is a photo project titled 365Budapest. As a lover of typography, photography and bicycling he published the latest house numbers of the city each day for a year, revealing a great deal of special ones doing so. The man, who works as an art director, devotes his spare time to unveiling Budapest’s secrets and planning further compilations, that is, if he doesn’t revel in the quiet of dawn in Heroes’s Square or idle at his favorite place, Kerepesi Cemetery.

WLB: Do you remember the house number that first caught your attention?Molnár Zsolt: Yes, the first number was a 5 at Moszkva tér. It was an ancient one, painted the same color as the gate itself. That was the moment when I decided something should be done with this in Budapest.WLB: And obviously from that time on only house numbers came your way…M. Zs.:
Actually, I didn’t really have to strain myself since then as I stumbled upon better and better pieces. That was when I resolved to make a photo series on Budapest house numbers. At the time I thought I would need, like, 50 of them and go on uploading them on Flickr in a gallery, post it and be happy with myself. But then I had to realize pretty soon that 50 is way too few to present what Budapest has to offer. So I kept raising the bet to 100, then to 150, but then I was way over my head and hoped not to find any more because I feared I would never get to the end of this.

WLB: Then it became a photo project of 365 items. How much time did it take to collect all of them? M. Zs.: Shooting the numbers took one and a half year, during which I put together routes to take on the weekends. Sometimes, however, I just hopped onto my bike at lunchtime to take some pictures. Actually, it became clear during the process what kind of compilation should be made. Eventually, my friends convinced me to make the project I made. One of my friends created the website and from that time on there was no pause. From 1 January 2009 until 31 December no day passed without me posting a picture.WLB: What was the first number you shot?M. Zs.:

It lives in my memory up to this day. 15 Deák Ferenc utca, a beautiful gilded black wrought-iron number in a gateway that suits it well.

WLB: Did your friends recommend you numbers to take a photo of?M. Zs.:

Absolutely. It happened many times that I found the number but I wasn’t satisfied with it. After reaching 250 I asked for help on, awaiting good numbers. I got many hints and finally 4 or 5 made into the series.

WLB: Which number was the hardest to get a hold of?M. Zs.: Number 355 was the last I found. I was sick and didn’t feel like riding a bike, but as the deadline was closing in and only one number was missing from the 365, I took public transportation and found myself and the number in question at the end of Hűvösvölgyi út. In my feverish condition I posted it everywhere at once, saying this is it, the last number.

WLB: What guided you when searching for the numbers? Were you disappointed at times, did you hit dead ends?M. Zs.: First of all, I had to realize pretty soon that I would have to find Budapest’s long avenues because I would never get past no. 200 downtown. Many times I was unsure whether there would be a no. 365. I was aware of the fact that Üllői út had a no. 365 but upon finding it, I didn’t like it and I was disappointed. I had many such experiences, for example when I let a route for myself, reached the end of it and found it was numbered until only 150. That day I rode 64 kilometers and got home with zero pictures.

Then it was tough too, when I had multiple pictures of the same number, and the story of one of them was more interesting but I had to choose the other as that suited the compilation better. I created an Excel-table to keep track of the numbers, and I also geotagged them in Google Earth.WLB: Which number grew especially close to your heart?M. Zs.:
37. I found it near MÁV Hospital bringing some life with its yellow to the façade of a dilapidated building. As I was taking the picture a scrawny old man was coming towards me crossing the street. It turned out that he lived in that very house and we got to talking. He told me I found the ugliest house in the district and also how it ended up in this condition. The story the gentleman told me in a few minutes was quite a heartrending one, ending with the fact that the house could get demolished any time leaving the dwellers without a home, so they had been living in uncertainty for years. I’ve visited the site many times since to check upon the building, and once on a summer day I found it nowhere. Nor the house number or the old man.

WLB: Have you been watching house numbers even after closing the project without consciously wanting to?M. Zs.: That’s right, I can’t let go of this (laughing). Actually, I’m planning a similar project in the future so I can make use of the constant looking.

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