The Hungarian Lake Balaton is the largest in Central Europe.
As Hungary is landlocked, the lake is often called the Hungarian Sea. From the 1960’s onwards, Balaton became a major destination for ordinary working Hungarians as well as for those from the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain, who were rewarded for their work in building socialism with a permit to travel across the border.
As we could not dream of traveling to Spain, Italy or Greece, Balaton was the closest and most achievable destination for ordinary Poles to see what’s out there. My family and I were among the lucky ones who could go and spend holidays in what appeared to us as a paradise. Equipped with government-issued food vouchers and some little amount of pocket money in local currency, we were heading South to a warm, colourful and pleasant place. For us, coming from sad, cold and almost monochromatically grey Poland it was like a window to the world.
Twenty-odd years later, going through the pages of my family album, I found only one photograph of Balaton. It was a blurry picture of me, my sister and my parents, that was taken somewhere on one of the lake’s piers. This snapshot was the only reminiscence of six subsequent summers spent by the lake.
The photographs below are my attempt to create what my parents failed to do. I try to see the world through the eyes of a little boy who used to holiday there with his parents and sister over twenty years ago. Strolling among ruins of the glamorous (back in the day) concrete villas of Castro, Brezhnev and Honecker, the memories start to flood back.
Balaton has hardly changed, it is almost exactly the same as when I left it. Perhaps a bit more rusty, but the atmosphere remained the same. Only now for me it is no longer a paradise. I have grown and changed.
‘Hungarian Sea’ is a part of the bigger body of work about the summer holiday resorts in post-communist countries. It will be continued in the region of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea.
Michal was born in Poland. After graduating from University, where he got a distinction for his studies, he decided to go to London to pursue his career as a photographer. After a few years doing odd jobs, he finally established himself as one.
He divides his professional career between advertising and documentary photography, traveling extensively between the UK and Eastern Europe, where he produces his documentary work. Most of it is strongly based on his own background and experiences.
He is the winner of 2012 Flash Forward UK, and his work has been published in GQ Magazine, The Mail on Sunday, and Finch’s Quarterly Review.