Dániel Kovalovszky’s Search for Solitude

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We are pleased to release May's print, “Green Bushes” from Dániel Kovalovszky. Read more about Kovalovszky’s work below.

Purchase this print from our print sale page.

Dániel Kovalovszky
Green Bushes, Near Lake Salaton, Hungary, 2012
Archival pigment print
7.5 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 5

The images of Budapest-based photographer Daniel Kovalovszky occupy a quietly tense middle ground between somber, melancholic meditation and creeping conceptual dissonance. According to Kovalovszky, one of the necessary characteristics of a creative person is a degree of silence; “Loud and ostentatious people have no possibility to pay attention to the world around themselves.” There is an implicit stillness to a photograph, a moment sliced out of time and held in perpetuity. This stillness becomes, in Kovalovszky’s images, a compelling vacillation between liberating and suffocating; between the serenity of the natural world and becoming lost to the wild.

Kovalovszky’s recent body of work, Green Silence, is a collection of cool-toned landscapes each depicting a tight, rigidly-controlled look at what seems to be an infinite sea of trees. The images each display a striking internal consistency of palette and texture. Clear, even undergrowth surrounds trees of uniform size and species, each bearing the same growth patterns and the same accretions of moss and lichen. The uniformity of this vegetation means that each forest is presented as a nearly seamless aggregate with no end in sight.   

The evenness and stillness of Kovalovszky’s images gives them a quality that feels outside of time, a quality that is aided by the infinite depth of field and the lack of a discrete visual subject. It is as though these woods were a space that might exist after humanity finally drifts off this planet. A space without people is a space without judgment, without sound and without warmth. The forest is depicted as an implacable oasis of silence. The trees fill the frame almost totally and stretch into the distance, an almost aggressive assertion of their primacy.  

Frozen Flowers, Csevharaszt, Hungary, 2012

Green Silence took its initial inspiration from Kovalovszky’s childhood hikes in the woods with his parents, specifically the dense pine forests surrounding Slovakia’s High Tatra mountains near its border with Poland. To a child’s eyes the forest rendered the world opaque and endless, simultaneously calming and frightening in its totality. Kovalovszky felt the woodland energy to be primal, yet reassuring. Now as an adult, he has returned to these woods to revisit this timelessness and render it in his photographs.

Kovalovszky’s photographic process involves an examination of what he views to be problems in his life, with the ensuing body of work existing as both an answer to this problem and the question itself. A prior body of work dealing with mortality, titled Insiders, presented a series of portraits of people who were either close to dying or who had had a near-death experience. Dreamy and flooded with white light, they appear to be pleasant, warm images from the afterlife. Trepidation about what comes after we die is soothed by the comforting gaze of one who has experienced it.

The problem Kovalovszky looked to examine with Green Silence was one of urban existence. The city exists as a place of disorder and cacophony. Concrete lumps metastasizing for decades, each full to bursting with a swarm of voices. The forest, in his conception, stands counter to this chaos and humanity’s psychic effluvium. The structures of a forest exist wordlessly for their own sake and abide by their own unknowable order. 

Green Silence, Soroksar, Hungary, 2011

Silence itself can be soothing or threatening. The texture and quality of silence is an elusive subject, especially for photography, and Kovalovszky explores its contours with aplomb. There is a positive, freeing silence. A silence that heals. This is the silence that is central to Kovalovszky’s intention in creating the work. He means for the images to exist as a refuge from the noise of life and as a touchstone to an essential, inner part of ourselves. He views this silence as “the friendliest and the most tender substance.” It is the silence of the womb, and the silence that existed at the beginning of time.

But alongside this silence runs another, a silence of fear and menace. Kovalovszky’s forests stand rigid and linear. These forests are foreign and disorienting, lacking familiar markers or a visible break from the even expanse of vegetation. The array of quiet, impassible trees brings to mind, at least notionally, stories of people becoming lost in the forest. There are centuries of cultural baggage associated with the woods, a good deal of which is ultimately sinister. These connotations do not detract from Kovalovszky’s intentions, but in fact enhance them. When we look at the forests, we know that this is the terrain of the feral mind, not the civilized.

Finally, above all else, there is the silence of the infinite. The void of space, the undersea depths, and the internal infinite of the centered mind span on endlessly, but this is a different embodiment of the infinite. This is an earthly infinite. This is what human endeavors—our cities and our chattering voices—stand in opposition to. It is a primal oblivion that entices as much as it frightens. Could we slough off our sense of self and merge with the natural world? In doing so, we would come to an ultimate silence within ourselves, one that we may find we do not actually want. It is the silence, this earthly oblivion, that tempted Robert Frost when he wrote, “The woods are lovely dark and deep/but I have promises to keep.” Seeking refuge from the cacophony of the city, Kovalovszky takes us to the edge of this woods, and in doing so, allows us to glimpse this ultimate silence.

Red Bushes, Near Nadap, Hungary, 2012

Oliver Leach is a San Francisco-based artist. He holds an MFA in photography from San Francisco Art Institute and is the man behind the popular Twitter account @BAKKOOONN.

This article first appeared in Issue 8.