Szilasi, Gabor, 1928- : Gabor Szilasi is a nationally and internationally renowned documentary photographer who has been awarded the prestigious Governor-General's Award for his lifetime of work in 2010, as well as the Prix Paul-Émile Bourduas in 2009. He has exhibited widely across Canada including his first retrospective exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal in 1997 (accompanied by the McGill-Queen's UP publication Gabor Szilasi, Photographies 1954-1996). The second was held at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (National Gallery of Canada) in 2009. His work has been exhibited internationally in France, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Portugal. He has several solo publications about his work, including The Eloquence of the Everyday, by photographic historian David Harris. His work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Canada Council Art Bank, as well as the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Fotografiska Museet, Stockholm, amongst others.
He has also been very influential as a teacher of photography, first at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, and then at Concordia University for 25 years, and as a national and international lecturer on his work and on documentary photography.
Gabor Szilasi was born in Budapest Hungary on February 3, 1928. His mother was killed in a Nazi concentration camp, and both his sister and brother died of illnesses before the end of the Second World War, leaving behind Gabor and his father Sandor. He enrolled in medical school in 1946, but attempted to flee the newly installed communist regime in 1949. He was caught and imprisoned for five months. Upon his release, he was blacklisted by the government, and could not return to his studies, but instead found work on the construction of the Budapest subway. He purchased his first camera, a Russian Zorki, in 1952 and began taking photographs of family, friends and the streets of Budapest. Szilasi also photographed the events of the Hungarian Uprising in Budapest in October and November 1956. In 1957, he and his father fled Hungary for Austria as refugees, bringing Szilasi's negatives with them. Their application to settle in Canada was accepted, and they boarded a ship in Italy, landing in Halifax on February 12, 1958. Szilasi was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the immigration port of entry and immediately sent to hospital. He spent two months there and in a hospital in Québec City where his father had found a job with the provincial government. During this time, he spent many hours poring over illustrated magazines such as Life, Paris Match and Vogue, developing his photographic eye.
Upon his release from the hospital in April 1958, Szilasi began to meet the photographic community in Québec City. This gave him crucial access to fellow photographers and to a dark room. He won first prize in a competition in August 1958, which gave him the money to buy a Leica camera.
Gabor Szilasi moved to Montréal in January 1959 and began work as a darkroom technician. Several months later he was offered a job as a photographer for the Service de Cinéphoto du Québec (later the Office du film du Québec), for which he travelled frequently throughout Quebec, developing a love for the diversity of the various regions, their people and their architecture. During this period he also regularly attended the many vernissages of the very active gallery scene in Montréal, becoming a kind of unofficial photographer for these events. He met his wife Doreen Lindsay at one of these exhibitions, and became an important member of the arts community in the city. These photographs later became the subject of an exhibition at the McCord Museum, Le monde de l'art à Montréal, 1960-1980, in 2017-2018.
He left the OFQ in 1971 and took a job teaching photography at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal. In 1972 he briefly became a member of GAP (Groupe d'action photographique), a group of influential photographers dedicated to documenting everyday life in Quebec., including Michel Campeau, Roger Charbonneau, Serge Laurin, Pierre Gaudard and Claire Beaugrand-Champagne. In 1979, he left the Cégep and became a professor in the Photography Department at Concordia University, where he remained until his retirement in 1995. Throughout the 1970s, Szilasi continued his photographic exploration of Québéçois people and environments and his work began to be exhibited in Montréal, Toronto and elsewhere. At the end of the decade, he began to document both the architecture and people of various Montréal communities, including a celebrated series of 150 photographs taken along the length of Rue Ste. Catherine from Westmount to Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. He also produced a new series of diptych portraits, in which a black white image of the sitter is placed alongside a colour image of the room in which the portrait was taken.
During the 1980s he travelled less in the province and began to concentrate his work on his home city of Montréal, but also began to photograph and teach abroad, including in Hungary, France, Italy, the United States and Poland. His work in Montréal included a series of panoramic views of street intersections taken with a borrowed banquet camera, and a series of colour photographs of neon business signs in Montréal ( Lux, 1982-1984). In the 1990s, he documented the multicultural communities living in the St. Michel district, as well as creating a new series of collaborative portraits using a Polaroid Type 55 camera.
After his retirement, Szilasi accepted a series of commissions from different organizations including Cirque de Soleil, the Canadian Centre for Architecture and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as continuing to work on various independent projects, including a series of portraits of Montréal poets in 2007. His work was widely exhibited and collected by this time, across Canada and abroad. In 2006, Photo Sélection Magazine named Szilasi as one of the twenty-five most important photographers in Canadian history. In 2009 a major retrospective of his work was organized by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography at the National Gallery of Canada, and the Musée d'art de Joliette, Québec, accompanied by the catalogue, The Eloquence of the Everyday.