Lajos Mezey – Oradea’s first photographer

Mezey, Lajos, (Oradea, 3 October 1820 – Oradea, 29 July 1880) Hungarian painter, photographer. He worked in the Biedermeier and Romantic styles. In his native town he worked as a portrait and altarpiece painter. He was one of the first Hungarian photographers.

For the Roman Catholic Church in Érszalacsi, Bihor County, he created the altarpiece of St. László the King. In June 1844, the Oradea Court appointed Mezey and the company painter Pál Böhm as experts.

In 1852, he made his first daguerreotype in the first photographic workshop of Bishop Mihai Pavel, formerly at 3, Central Street, Oradea. It was at this time that he created some of his wet process paintings on paper, coloured with ink.

Mezey had been involved in photography since the early 1850s. A daguerreotype from 1852, showing him with his little daughter, is in the National Museum’s collection. Some of his wet process paper pictures, coloured with ink, date from this period.

In 1864, he rebuilt his house and opened a studio with his friend, the canvas photographer József Kőrössy. Mezey went to the photographer József Székely in Vienna to obtain the necessary equipment and professional advice. He had himself photographed standing in front of a easel, brush and palette in hand.

There were already several photographic studios in Oradea, the most popular of which were those of Mezey and János Lojanek. The two of them also organised occasional exhibitions together. More than 100 of his photographs are preserved in public and private collections. The vast majority of these are water-card portraits. Many of his self-portraits have survived. In some of his pictures, the studio background he painted appears. He has also made three-dimensional photographs of his children in humorous settings.

A double-exposure painting of himself grimacing at his own ghostly image is one of the first domestic montages. In memory of his wife, he created a composition entitled Allegory of Death. He placed his paintings of his deceased spouse and her family members next to his easel covered with a black shroud and a skull.

He was commissioned by the city to create a gift for the reigning couple of Franz Joseph and Queen Elizabeth, who visited Oradea during their tour of the country in 1857. He went to Vienna to buy the supplies. In 1864, he and his friend József Kőrössy, a painter, rebuilt his house and opened a studio together.

To mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, the City Museum-Cultural Centre and the Euro Foto Art International Association published a tri-lingual jubilee catalogue under the auspices of Euro Foto Art Publishers, and a memorial tomb and a commemorative plaque were unveiled on the Walk of Personalities in Oradea’s Rulikovszki Cemetery, with bronze drum sculptures by sculptor Árpád Deák. Scaled photographs of 41 original cabinets are on display in the Municipal Museum, part of the Museum of the Circum-Borderland Complex.