Photography as modern advertising tool did not just emerge the day after some advertising artist complained about spending too much time painting or drawing the objects or products being publicized. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, designers were experimenting with photographs, employing the “New Typography” to make more visually combustible layouts. One such photographer, born in Budapest on April 1, 1889, was no fool. József Pécsi’s studies at the Academy of Photography in Munich sparked a keen interest in using dramatic lighting for set-up still photography and incorporating type and geometric form using a black and red palette.
In 1930 advertisements were ubiquitous in Europe to help regenerate economies that were hit hard by the Great Depression. Pécsi bucked European tastes and resistance to his manner of design. In the United States, however, “uncolored photographs” were favored and developed into a movement—a school of advertisements and posters that spread throughout the industry. Pécsi was among a tenacious and growing breed of modern designers.
In Europe, photo ads eventually caught on. In 1989, an exhibition of “Photographische Reklame” featuring Pécsi’s prototypes was mounted sequentially in Basel, Suttgaart, Paris and Vienna. The featured images from the show and catalog are reproduced below.
Pécsi, who died on Oct. 9, 1956, in Budapest, while living under autocratic puppet Soviet rule, was highly regarded but little-known even in Europe until a decade after his passing, when his work was displayed at the exhibition “125 Years of Hungarian Photography.” The show relaunched his legacy. Still, he continues to be lesser-known than many of the “New Typography” or “TypoPhoto” exemplars of his day (including the Berlin women-owned advertising practice of Ringl+Pit).