Interview with photographer Simon Móricz-Sabján
F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?
Simon Móricz-Sabján: After finishing high school I wished to apply to the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest. I wished to become a cinematographer. In the year 1999 that course had not been launched so I started studying photography. I have been very grateful for this to this day as it turned out very fast that for me photography was the perfect tool of expression and it proved to be an impeccable career path. After two different schools and 4 years of education I was most attracted to photojournalism. As a trainee I had the chance to start out at newspapers that had high-standard photo sections, shortly afterwards I became a regular contributor. I had worked as a photojournalist at Népszabadság from 2003 until the newspaper was shut down. It was a very important period of my professional life. I had the chance to work with brilliant colleagues and the newspaper provided firm background for quality work.
The personal projects are the most important thing in photography to me. Besides my work I spend a considerable amount of time on my personal photo essays, mainly concentrating on people and their surroundings, let it be either a problem which concerns the society or everyday stories.
F-Stop: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine is about “Staying Home Together” and includes your project “Self-quarantine Diary.” Can you tell us a bit about this project and how it came to be?
SMS: It has been a very long spring to me and my family since the COVID-pandemic started to turn sharp in Hungary in the middle of March. With our four children and my mother-in-law, my wife and I undertook voluntary quarantine in our Budakeszi home from the 14th of March until the official reopening of kindergartens at the beginning of June. We almost kept complete isolation until the ease of the restrictions in June. However, I started photographing outside our home from the end of April. I also documented our forcibly changed life from the beginning of our quarantine. This had not been simple, as being a documentary photographer I was not used to being at home all the time.
F-Stop: Has your family or your own life been the focus of your photographic work before this?
SMS: My family was never in the focus before because I never felt to show our personal life. But the quarantine has changed this situation we’ve ended up in a situation which has greatly influenced not only our family life but that of many others as well.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images and how you chose what moments to capture?
SMS: During the process it was important for me not to capture positioned moments, but rather spontaneous and honest ones. So I was more like an observer of our family life, and my aim was to show our quarantine in an authentic way. Fortunately we did not have to face lots of dramatic situations, but being closed down and the four little kids already inspired me to take photos.
F-Stop: By observing your family in this way did you learn anything new or unexpected about your family or your day to day life?
SMS: We didn’t learn anything new or unexpected about the family and our day to day life. But the past months had been very difficult but we tried to gain as much as possible from the unexpected situation. It made us reevaluate what is important, we got to know ourselves better and redefining value and family became necessary. The extraordinary made us shape our attitude and strenghtened our decisions. Albeit it was exhausting, it had brought our goals and our true selves closer.
F-Stop: Was your approach to this project similar or different to other documentary projects you have done?
SMS: It was similar in the sense that my emotions and long term commitment to take photos are important when I choose a topic. But it was completely different in the sense that taking photos of my own family intensified my personal perspective and of course I could not work with the eye of an independent observer.
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
SMS: It is not my habit to highlight a single image, but the second photo of the series on which Antonia and David are looking out of our living room window evokes many thoughts of that period. It was only March, and my wife and me were looking just as clueless towards the future as our two bigger kids were looking out the windowsill. We did not know what to expect, and we were just confused watching how fast things are changing around us.
F-Stop: Given there is still limited activity outside our homes, are you working on any other projects currently or have plans for projects to start soon?
SMS: Right now I’m working on a project about social distancing while suspending all my other photo projects. I am interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic affects our everyday lives and our relationships in the short term and also in the coming years.
F-Stop: What keeps you inspired at this moment in time?
SMS: There is no lack of inspiration, because we really all have a lot of questions in our lives. Our health, our jobs, our life as-it-is has many many question marks around, and however disturbing it is for our minds, very inspiring at the same time for creation.