The Archives' collection of photographs preserves images of ethnographic, ethnological, or anthropological interest, which document the ways of life of ethnic groups living in Hungarian-speaking and other areas around the globe from the second half of the 19th century until the present day.
The collection was created in 1894 by János Jankó with the intention of enriching growing bodies of ethnographic material with the products of what was then a new and fast-spreading technology. One characteristic of the collections administration system instituted by Jankó was that the negatives for all original pictures purchased for the museum should be obtained whenever possible (if not, reproductions were made). This meant that the museum was able to produce as many copies of its pictures in whatever sizes it desired when researchers or other interested parties expressed a need for them. (Both the negatives and photographs bear the same inventory number in the museum's catalogue).
In terms of subject material, domestic photography of the 19th and early 20th centuries seeks primarily to record the festive dress and typical architectural designs of ethnic groups living in the Carpathian Basin, though photos taken during the decades around the First World War often include family portraits, as well. Starting with the years between the world wars, however, with the number of professional and amateur photographers increasing and the field of ethnography expanding to include a growing number of research areas, the subject material explored by the photographic legacy of the age was considerably broadened.
Hungarian ethnographers past and present (István Györffy, Sándor Gönyey, Vilmos Diószegi, Balázs Molnár, Béla Gunda, Tamás Hofer, etc.) all used the camera extensively in their fieldwork (some taking as many as ten thousand pictures in the course of their careers), while at the same time making efforts to include amateurs in their projects, as well. As a result, the collection has benefited for many years from vast bodies of photographic material submitted by a veritable host of enthusiastic amateurs, aided by professional questionnaires and collecting guides. As concerns the work of professional photographers, the large number of studio photos available from the period between the two world wars offers a national perspective on the state of the art, while the ethnographic work of the Hungarian Film office provides a view to contemporary journalistic tastes and attitudes.
Most of the photographs found in the Museum of Ethnography Archives were taken in black-and-white. Only a fraction of the 320,000 items on inventory, some 30,000 photographs in total, were produced in colour. Of material dating to the post-war period, domestic photography, ethnographic records, and the material of the national monuments assay all merit especial notice. Today, the collection continues to grow, and the museum continues to purchase original professional or amateur photography and negatives in good condition that record the ways of life of peoples living from the 19th century until the present day.
The Slide Collection of the Museum of Ethnography Archives started out in 1961 with 3,195 professionally and geographically labelled slides. By 2001, that number had grown to 32,000 inventoried and labelled slides.
The special nature of the technique used for taking slide photographs accounts for disproportionalities in the subject material represented, as it is especially suited to documenting certain types of research projects. Inanimate objects and buildings, for example, can be photographed easily on slide film, whereas researchers working in the field use the medium much less often, applying it only to certain areas of their work.
The collection is broken down into units, the first of which comprises the 4,100 slides inventoried when the collection was first formed in 1961. About half of these consist of minor series (of at most 10 to 15 slides) or single larger (9 x 9) slides of unknown date and authorship. In terms of the history of science, this is probably the most valuable part of the collection, since most of the slides involved were obviously taken between 1910 and the advent of the Second World War. Most of the single large-sized slides represent reproductions of photographs used as material for slide shows. Of these the most valuable are the 40-shot series produced by István Györffy (Hajdúság), Károly Viski (Churches and Cemeteries), Lajos Bartucz (A General Description of the Museum of Ethnography ? Foreign Group), Sándor Gönyey (A General Description of the Museum of Ethnography ? Hungarian Group), and Zoltán Trócsányi (Our Northern Siberian Relatives) for the Public Collections Information Office. Of a similarly special nature are a set of colour autochromatic pictures, also taken by István Györffy and Sándor Gönyey. Unfortunately, of the numerous original large glass slides used for Museum of Ethnography exhibitions, only a few have survived the waves of sorting and discarding of unwanted material that swept the museum in the 1960's and 1980's, claiming thousands of victims.
A very large number of slides were added to the collection through purchase from amateur or professional photographers, including 600 shots on various topics by András Antal (1976) taken in Nógrád County and the Székely region of Transylvania. Of similar proportions was the purchase in 1976 of 500 slides taken in Transylvania by Gyula Gulyás, most of which depict Székely churches, furniture, and folk costumes. In 1977 the museum catalogued over 600 slides from the estate of Sándor Gönyey, depicting a variety of subject matter from various areas around the country. The collection is augmented by slides produced in the course of ethnological research projects, including the nearly 130-shot series taken by Tibor Bodrogi on the lands of Indonesia, the 122-shot series brought by László Földes from Mongolia in 1968, and the 54-shot series produced by Bertalan Andrásfalvy in Albania.
The late 1970's and early 1980's witnessed the addition of numerous slides to the collection by a new generation of ethnographers. While in the 1960's and 1970's slides were added to the collection on an order of magnitude of 6 to 7 thousand, the 1980's saw the addition of some 12-13 thousand new items. The portion of the collection dealing with locations outside Europe also gained material at this time, generally as the result of individual research interests and related fieldwork. One of the most significant series of non-European subject material comprises 1,213 slides taken in Papua New Guinea by Gábor Vargyas.
The rapid pace of growth experienced in the 1980's continued in the 1990's, when innumerable photographs of ethnographic objects were taken for various exhibitions and publications. The Exhibition of Chairs alone resulted in the preparation of 650 fifty large-scale slides. Of course, ethnographic fieldwork, such as the 1991 Siberian expedition of Ágnes Kerezsi and Erzsi Winter which produced 700 slides, also contributed to the growth. Also representing recent ethnographic field work are the 4000 slides taken by the German photographer Hans-Horst Skupy in Mexico, which were purchased by the museum in the year 2000.