Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography

Gabor Szilasi is on a constant quest to capture the ordinary people and places of the present day. He finds beauty in the banal and is interested in documenting a society that is in constant flux. Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday is co-organized by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP) and the Musée d’art de Joliette. Presented by Pratt & Whitney Canada, this exhibition of 124 photographs taken by the artist over the past 50 years is on view until January 17, 2010 in the CMCP galleries of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).

Access to the exhibition is included with admission to the NGC, which is free on Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm. Visit for a podcast with the artist and for more information on the exhibition.

Gabor Szilasi, View along St. Paul Street with Bonsecours Market, Montreal, November 1961.
Collection of the artist. © Gabor Szilasi, 2009

“Gabor Szilasi’s photography has held a prominent place at the CMCP since its early days of collecting prints in the 1960s,” said CMCP director Martha Hanna. “Szilasi as a person was and continues to be a catalyst for photographic activity in the province of Quebec, particularly in Montreal. It is with great enthusiasm that we present this exhibition, which will be travelling to the McCord Museum, the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke as part of the National Gallery of Canada’s On Tour program.”

“Pratt & Whitney Canada is proud to present Gabor Szilasi’s exceptional body of work representing the past 50 years,” said John Wyzykowski, Vice President, Mississauga & Turbofan Programs, Pratt & Whitney Canada. “We’re proud to promote excellence in the arts, and we support programs that enhance the cultural life of our communities all while expressing P&WC’s own values of creativity, innovation, sustainability and advanced technologies.”

Gabor Szilasi: An iconic Canadian photographer
Born in Hungary in 1928 and largely self-taught, Gabor Szilasi started his photographic practice in his home city of Budapest. At the age of 29, Szilasi immigrated to Canada as a refugee, fleeing Hungary and the Communist regime. Settling in Montreal, where he has lived ever since, Szilasi was employed as an official photographer by the present Office du Film du Québec to document a variety of subjects, from cows at country fairs, to road and building constructions, to special events such as the arrivals of Queen Elizabeth and Charles de Gaulle at Expo ’67.

Szilasi carried two cameras as constant companions on these numerous photography excursions: one for his official assignments and one for capturing the images of personal importance to him. This self-discipline and dedication to his art would continue through his many years as a professor of photography at both the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal and Concordia University. Now 81, Gabor Szilasi continues to actively produce and exhibit new work.

Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday
Organized by guest curator David Harris, Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday combines portraits, domestic and commercial interiors, cityscapes, and images of rural life. It also includes environmental portraiture, a genre of photography in which the setting—a person’s home, workplace, or even a public place—plays an essential role in describing the subject. The exhibition is organized into three geographically-based themes: Hungary, Rural Quebec and Montreal.

Gabor Szilasi’s early photographic experiments began in Budapest. His subjects included friends and family, and picturesque views of the city and its street vendors. Photographs such as Motorcyclists at Lake Balaton (1954) reveal the artist’s inspired and spontaneous response to the circumstances of the moment, coupled with a growing confidence and assuredness in his photographic eye.

Szilasi returned for several visits to Budapest in the 80s and 90s with what he describes as “mixed feelings of curiosity and nostalgia”. Motivated by the desire to connect a personal past with the present, he succeeded in documenting the streets, buildings, parks, and the people he knew before he immigrated to Canada.

Rural Quebec
What began as a modest study of a single community evolved into an extensive social and cultural documentation of rural Quebec in the 70s. Szilasi’s work from this time represents one of his most important contributions to Canadian photography. A highlight includes what is perhaps Szilasi’s best known image, that of Mme Alexis (Marie) Tremblay in her bedroom, Ile aux Coudres, Charlevoix (Sept-Oct 1970). In it, he uses the armoire mirror and the framed photo of Mme Tremblay as a young woman to create an image of spatial intricacy and psychological complexity.

In the 70s, Szilasi also photographed St. Catherine Street, in the heart of Montreal’s commercial district, using a large-format 4 × 5 camera to respond to the diverse commercial, religious, and institutional buildings along its path. In the 80s, he used a panoramic camera to document the character and qualities of a variety of urban spaces found throughout the city. Later, in marked contrast to his more austere black-and-white work, Szilasi photographed the electric and neon commercial signage on buildings, and used colour to enhance his focus.

A collection of personal portraits Szilasi took during the course of his daily life in Montreal can be read in biographical terms, revealing the artist’s interests, friendships, and professional relationships. These include family members, such as his wife Doreen and his daughter Andrea, close friends and neighbours, and fellow photographers and artists, such as Sam Tata and Guido Molinari.

The National Gallery of Canada extends special thanks to its partners
The National Gallery of Canada extends special thanks to Pratt & Whitney Canada for their generous support, as well as to its media partners CBC Television, la Télévision de Radio-Canada, The Ottawa Citizen, and Le Droit.

Exhibition Catalogue
A 240-page fully-illustrated catalogue, available in separate English and French editions, accompanies the exhibition and contains a comprehensive biography that explores the different private and professional facets of Szilasi’s life. Cost: $55, available in the NGC’s Bookstore or online at

Meet the curator
Friday October 9 at 12:15 pm – Meet, David Harris, curator of the exhibition and associate professor at the School of Image Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto. In the exhibition galleries. In English with bilingual question period. Access is included with admission to the NGC.

Meet the artist
Friday October 9 at 1:30 pm – Meet the artist, Gabor Szilasi, in the exhibition galleries. In French with bilingual discussion. Access is included with admission to the NGC.

Admission Fees
Adults: $9; seniors and students: $7; youth (aged 12-19): $4; families (2 adults, 3 youth): $18. Free for children under age 12 and members of the NGC. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays after 5 pm.

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm; Thursdays until 8 pm. Closed Mondays, except Monday October 12 (Thanksgiving) and Monday December 28. Open at noon on Wednesday, November 11 (Remembrance Day). Closes at 4 pm on Thursday, December 24. Closed on Friday December 25 (Christmas Day) and Friday January 1 (New Year’s Day).

About the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
The collection, which comprises over 17,700 photographic works and 144,000 negatives and transparencies, has been developed through purchases, assignments and donations of the best documentary and art photography by Canadian photographers. Almost all exhibitions organized by the CMCP and displayed in Ottawa are then made available for travel to venues across the country and abroad through the National Gallery of Canada’s On Tour programme.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Indigenous, Western and European Art from the 14th to the
21st century, American and Asian Art as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national, cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring exhibition programs in the world.