Zsófia Sivák lenses the declining tavern culture in rural Hungary

Zsófia Sivák lenses the declining tavern culture in rural Hungary

Tavern-hopping her way through Heves and visiting the venues that are still open, Zsófia seeks to preserve a fragment of these public spaces that were once a “defining and fundamental venue of provincial life”. When she finds a new place to photograph, she never takes out her camera immediately, preferring instead to order a drink and make a scan of the pub, “looking for opportunities”. Bringing a camera into these spaces can often provoke suspicion, the photographer explains. On previous trips, she’s been mistaken for an undercover quality control person as well as a local press delegate aiming to expose the venue in a negative light.

But with a patient and understanding approach, she sometimes gets very positive responses from tavern-owners and locals: “We keep on talking for hours while having a couple of beers and some of the cheapest shots, then we dance to hits from the 90s played from the jukebox,” says Zsófia. “Sometimes I forget to shoot in these situations.”

As a female photographer, another difficulty that gets in the way is the fact that pubs in these communities are traditionally “the territories of men”. “You rarely meet any women in pubs,” she continues. So when the photographer came across a rather indomitable-looking woman wearing baby pink trousers on one of her trips to the tavern, Szofía took her picture and it became one of her favourite images in the series. Holding the camera with a confident stare, her figure takes on a “statuesque” quality, unperturbed by her male-dominated surroundings nor the gaze of the photographer’s lens.

For the future of the project, Zsófia would like to make a photobook of her images. Although, she admits that she finds the whole process rather confusing (“someone please help!!!”). In the meantime she will continue to work on the project whilst constantly challenging herself to question her gaze: “Where do the moral and ethical boundaries lie in documentary photography? When and how much can I show?” While these are questions which inform every project she embarks on, she admits: “I never find a clear answer, perhaps they are always determined by the circumstances”.

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