Archive

Start Over

Studio Berko

  • Name:
    Studio Berko
  • Alternative names:

    Berko Photography, Photo Studio Berko

  • Kind of Organisation:
    Photo Studio
  • Introduction:

    Studio Berko was run from August 1939 to 1944 by the Hungarian Jewish avant-garde émigré photographer Ferenc Berko. It allowed him to make a living at a time of global political upheaval.

    Word Count: 30

  • Content:

    The photographer and filmmaker Ferenc “Franz” Berko was a “collector of visual moments” (Mirte Mallory, in Hirschfeld, 2008, 50) around the globe; he played with shadows, lines and the purity of his objects.
    The Hungarian-born artist was a three times refugee: first escaping the reactionary Horthy government in Hungary for Germany in the 1920s; fleeing the advent of Hitler’s terror in Central Europe by settling in London in 1933, then in Bombay in 1938; and finally leaving the upheaval of divided India for the USA in 1947.
    Born Ferenc Zsigmond Miklos Berkovits (later shortened to Berko) in 1905 in Nagyvarad, he was raised in Germany by family friends who exposed him from a young age to members of the Bauhaus and other artists of the avant-garde movement. His sophisticated, art-loving foster parents also gifted him his first Leica. From 1933, he studied philosophy, film and in particular photography, taking photography courses in Paris and studying with E.O. Hoppe in London. Soon he began to win prizes and his black and white photo experiments were published in English, American and French newspapers.
    In 1937 he married his teenage girlfriend Mirte Hahn from Berlin, who was also engaged in the arts. On a contract as chief cameraman and general reorganiser of Bhavnani Productions, Dadar, he arrived in Bombay in February 1938, accompanied by his wife. Unable to return to London due to the outbreak of the Second World War, he opened – in collaboration with Messrs. D.J. Keymer and Co. Ltd., Advertising Consultants, 2 B (later 6) Ballard Road, Bombay – a photo studio in his own name in 1939. There he specialised in portraits, and produced advertising and government photographs and films. As a Hungarian citizen, Berko was allowed to open his own shop in British India during the first two years of the war – unlike German refugees.
    But he was looking for art networks and opportunities to display his photographs in an art-related environment and contributed to the annual exhibitions of the Bombay Art Society (see Robin and Good-Bye Holidays photos), though he kept his experimental black and white nude photos of his wife from the Indian public. Berko’s Indian photos shown at the Gitterman gallery were described many years later: “Joviality and a gentle, contemplating atmosphere radiate through his Indian genre pictures. The reality of misery and distress is eased in the play of light and shade” (Gitterman, F.B. press release, n.d.).
    Good-Bye Holidays seems to be a tribute to his native Hungary, where he had spent all his previous summer holidays. It is a display of shadows to mark the end of more light-hearted days. His Robin photo reflects his main source of income, namely portrait photography. Besides photo-journalistic and documentary work, industrial photography, advertising, and reports were the main focus of Berko’s photo studio.
    After several applications to both the British government and the military authorities in India, he was finally commissioned as an officer with the rank of captain in His Majesty’s Forces in January 1944 – serving in the Services Film Centre, Caltex House, Ballard Estate, Bombay. With his qualifications and experience in film as well as photography, he was first asked to generate and supervise a department for film production for the British army: the Directorate of Services Kinematography. He later directed some government training and recruiting films, and took a number of government photographs. Now part of the military apparatus, he appears to have closed Berko Studio, but continued his artistic work. He displayed in virtual galleries of the Times of India publications, e.g. An Indian Silhouette, an artistic light-shadow photo of a camel standing in front of a white palace. The photo makes you feel the great heat of an Indian summer. Berko’s lifelong motto was “Fascination with the Ordinary” (Musée de l’Elysée). In 1947 Berko showed his Bronzes of Southern India photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
    Due to his military service, he was granted British citizenship in August 1946, after four unsuccessful attempts during the war years. India´s upheaval and the withdrawal of the British encouraged him to leave for Europe and from there to continue to the USA to teach at the Chicago School of Design (successor to the New Bauhaus) following an invitation from László Moholy-Nagy in 1947. Two years later he moved to Aspen, Colorado, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. There he documented the development of post-industrial Aspen to a cosmopolitan space, applied diverse artistic techniques in architectural photography, engaged himself in numerous innovations with colour photography to become the “master of quiet colours”, and developed a deep interest in nature – based on his early and diverse influences of Bauhaus, surrealism, eroticism, and social humanism.

    Word Count: 784

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    2 B Ballard Road, Fort, Bombay (now Laxmi Building, 6, Shoorji Vallabhdas Rd, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai).

  • Signature Image:
    Part of advertisement in 1940 Bombay Art Society 49th Annual Exhibition catalogue referencing Berko’s exhibited photographs, detail (Bombay Art Society, 1940, n.p., Photo: Margit Franz 2015).
  • Media:
    Advertisement in 1940 Bombay Art Society 49th Annual Exhibition catalogue referencing Berko’s exhibited photographs (Bombay Art Society, 1940, n.p., Photo: Margit Franz 2015).
    Robin. Bombay Art Society 50th Annual Exhibition, 1941 (Bombay Art Society, 1941, 20, Photo: Margit Franz 2015; © Ferenc Berko, The Ferenc Berko Photo Archive).
    Good-Bye Holidays. Bombay Art Society 49th Annual Exhibition, 1940 (Bombay Art Society, 1940, 17; © Ferenc Berko, The Ferenc Berko Photo Archive).
    An Indian Silhouette, The Times of India Annual, 1949 (Times of India Annual, 1949, 67, Photo: Margit Franz 2015; © Ferenc Berko, The Ferenc Berko Photo Archive).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Berko Mallory, Mirte. Becoming Ferenc Berko: Modernism, Jewish Identity, and Photography (senior honors thesis). Dartmouth College, 2003.

    Berko Mallory, Mirte, and Diane-Elisabeth Poirier. Ferenc Berko. La Martinière, 2012.

    Bombay Art Society 49th Annual Exhibition, exh. cat. Bombay Art Society, Bombay, 1940.

    Bombay Art Society 50th Annual Exhibition, exh. cat. Bombay Art Society, Bombay, 1941.

    Gitterman Gallery. “Ferenc Berko. Press Release.” Gitterman Gallery,
    www.gittermangallery.com/exhibition/39/press_release/. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    Hirschmann, Cindy. “Photographic Memory. Ferenc Berko’s West End Home Remains a Vital Place to Sustain his Vision.” Aspen Home, Summer 2008, pp. 44–50, 68.

    Honan, William H. “Ferenc Berko, 84, Pioneer In Use of Color Photography.” The New York Times, 26 March 2000, Section 1, p. 48, www.nytimes.com/2000/03/26/nyregion/ferenc-berko-84-pioneer-in-use-of-color-photography.html. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    International Center of Photography. “Artist Ferenc Berko.” ICP, www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/ferenc-berko?all/all/all/all/0. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    Musée de l’Elysée. “Ferenc Berko: Fascination for the Ordinary.” Musée de l’Elysée, www.elysee.ch/en/exhibitions-and-events/expositions/ferenc-berko-fascination-with-the-ordinary/. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    The Ferenc Berko Photo Collection. “Photographs, India.” The Ferenc Berko Photo Collection, berkophoto.com/imageCatalogs/india/. Accessed 1 March 2021.

    Word Count: 182

  • Archives and Sources:

    The Ferenc Berko Photo Collection, berkophoto.com.
    National Archives of India, New Delhi, nationalarchives.nic.in.
    Application from Capt F Berko For Grant of A Certificate of Naturalisation Under the British Nationality and States of Aliens Act (National Archives of India, New Delhi, 1914), Home Political/E/1946/F32–27.

    Word Count: 47

  • Author:
    Margit Franz
  • Date of Founding:
    1939
  • Date of Disbandment:
    1944
  • Metropolis:
    Bombay
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Margit Franz. "Studio Berko." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2951/object/5145-11946883, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Bombay Art Society
    Association

    One of the oldest art societies in India founded by colonial rulers, Bombay Art Society showcased art students and professional artists from all over India, including the Progressive Artists of Bombay.

    Word Count: 31

    Title page of the catalogue for the Golden Jubilee Exhibition, exh. cat. Bombay Art Society, Bombay, 1939 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).
    Francis Newton [Souza], Prosperity, Cat. no. 17, n.d. and S.H. Raza, Bori Bunder, Cat. no. 65, n.d. Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1947, 21 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).Walter Langhammer, Portrait of Mrs. Shirin Vimadalal, 1939, Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1939, Frontispiece (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).Title page of the catalogue for the 57th Annual Exhibition, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, December 1947 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).A.J. Patel, Sabita, cat. no.727, n.d. and J.N. Unwalla, Screened, cat. no. 721, n.d. Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1939, 46 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).
    Bombay