Hungarian-born photographer Gabor Szilasi has lived in Montreal for half a century. Over the decades he has documented the Quebec countryside and its towns and people, artists in their homes and, more recently, urban and architectural views in his native Budapest and in Montreal.
Some of the photographs you’ve taken have become iconic. Are you ever surprised at which images people respond to?
Sometimes. One was the motorcycle [Motorcyclists at Lake Balaton, 1954]. I thought I missed that shot because the figures are going out of the picture. Their heads are chopped off. And only 10 or 12 years later did I realize that that fact makes the image: it’s very spontaneous. When I took that photograph it was right at the beginning. I didn’t know anything about photography; it was totally intuitive.
Were there also moments when sometimes you knew?
When I photographed people, I would stop if I felt the second or third photograph was the right image. But when you work with film you don’t see it right away. After you develop the negative you can discover things that you may not have seen in the moment — things in the background, or a fleeting expression.
Can you give an example in your work?
The photograph of Madame Tremblay standing in her room [Mme Alexis (Marie) Tremblay in Her Bedroom, Île aux Coudres, Charlevoix, September — October 1970] is a good example. On the chest of drawers there was a picture of her as a young girl. I used artificial light because there was no light in that room. I bounced the light off the ceiling. And it was only when I developed the negative that I noticed that the old photograph was tilted slightly towards the ceiling and washed out a little bit, so that rendered the photograph in the distance when she was young, and I thought that worked very well.