Karol Kállay entered the world of Slovak photography in his own way. In 1942, at the age of sixteen, he won his first award (the gold medal for first place) for his photograph entitled Asfaltéri / Asphalters at a national competition. In 1950, he definitely decided to devote his life to photography, and he began to work as a freelance photographer and travel the world. In the mid-1950s he brought motion to fashion photography, by taking models outside and away from the photo studios and breathed life into his shots. His work was well received in Germany and France; he even received an offer for cooperation from Moscow.
He was a supporter of the theory that nothing should be done in an amateurish way in a professional field, especially professional photography. He always tried to keep his distance from his work. Figuratively speaking, he liked to sit in the back rows from where he had unobstructed view and overview. He had an excellent feel for light, which he gave free reign to create unrepeatable compositions. In response to the question of whether he considered himself to be a photo reporter or a fashion photographer, he said that he was an all-rounder. He didn’t shy away from any topic or genre. He was equally comfortable in photographing people, landscapes, portraits and still lifes, in black-and-white and color. He always went all out.
The characteristic feature of his photographic style was his sense for the dynamics of life, directness, the Bresson-like moment. He never went to extremes, and he was an excellent observer. He was an eternal searcher and admirer of beauty, and he unmistakably felt and captured the emotional states of others like a seismograph. He impressed others by his noble and gentlemanly behavior.
When we discussed photography, art and life in his studio, we lost all sense of time. He was at home in everything. He was well read and knew the world first hand, because he saw it through the lenses of his camera. And though his heart. I wish I could call him. But nobody picks up the phone in heaven’s studio. Perhaps they don’t want to be disturbed. Maybe they too go all out.
Karol Kállay was born on April 26, 1926 in Čadca. After graduating from the School of Economics and Comenius University in Bratislava, he decided to become a professional photographer. In the mid-1950s he began taking photographs for the Móda fashion magazine, and later for important foreign magazines. He prepared dozens of exhibitions of his photographs both at home and abroad. In 1970, he received the Excellence FIAP award from the International Federation of Photographic Art. He received the UNESCO award in 1984 for his publication entitled Los Angeles and in 1992 the editorial staff of GEO in Hamburg awarded him the title Photographer of the Year. He also became a member of the Bilderberg Agency. In 1998, the President of the Slovak Republic awarded him the state order 1st class Pribina Cross, and a year later he won the Leopold J. Danihels Award. In 2002, he won the Tatra Banka Award for art, followed by the Crystal Wing in 2003, and a year later the Slovak Gold Foundation made him a Slovak Gold Laureate for his lifelong dedication to art.
He died on August 4, 2012 in Bratislava.