Bence Máté: Earth is not only ours, people

Bence Máté: Earth is not only ours, people

Bence Máté organized an open-air exhibition of his more than one hundred photos in Budapest, which can be seen until 30 June on the fence of the construction site along Úszódaru and Sólyatér streets in District 13. The world-famous photographer wished to render assistance with his photos in making people love nature, however, he already did so with his latest large-scale project affecting eight big towns and he strives to emphasize the importance of the protection of our environment as well. The young man told at the request of Index about how environment awareness education has become his mission beside nature photography.

The work and name of Bence Máté are known worldwide. The nature photographer won more than seven hundred prizes in the recent two decades, including the "Nature Photographer of the Year" in 2010 considered to be the Oscar Prize of nature photography for his photo titled Shadow Play. In addition to the enormous recognitions, last year he appeared on the front page of Forbes Magazine and in 2021 he received the Hungarian Golden Cross of Merit.

The artist who lives in Pusztaszer started to deal with photography at the age of 15. He bought his first equipment from rabbit breeding and he worked out his own special methods - he took photos of animals from his self-built hiding places not only in Hungary but also, e.g., in Costa Rica, Brasil or Africa. And if he is at home, he stays mostly in his uniquely equipped farm which he developed to be a wildlife photogphapher park with his team over the years.

He received an award of excellence last time in 2019 for his photo titled Survival Instinct: he won the first prize of World Press Photo in the nature photography category. The winning work is a photo showing frogs mutilated for eating purposes as they strive upwards among their eggs after they were dropped back in water. The photo is - among others - a part of the endeavor worded in the artist a few years ago: Bence Máté considers not only observation of nature but also


We had a talk with the world-famous photographer, who has been staying in Hungary for a while, after his traveling for many years on the occasion of his exhibition opened in Budapest in a construction site in District 13. In the special open-air gallery, created and built environment appear simultaneously, showing the beauties of nature through the photos of Bence Máté.

What motivated you to orient towards protection of the environment beside photography?

During the twenty-two years since when I deal with nature photography I had plenty of opportunities to travel the world. I tirelessly adore the complexity of nature difficult to understand with a human head and I cannot thank enough for receiving this as a gift. During my travels I found out that, as a matter of fact, I am fascinated the best by the wildlife of my own garden where I can track changes from day to day. I know most of the animals here and I feel the best here. I stand ashamed before nature that I'm also the part of the natural destruction mechanism from which the Earth now squirms. I try to word my related thoughts so without belittling the importance of "carbon footprint" and "global warming" since you can hear these concepts so much that if we don't speak about them with proper accent and preparedness, they may become even counterproductive.

It is very important for me that I give a tangible possibility to consider further for environmentally-conscious life and change of lifestyle since the comfort surrounding us and taken for granted, in which we are born, is not sustainable in the form it works now. We are deceived and we deceive ourselves with the superficial values of the consumer society and nature bears the brunt of it just as we start to do so now. Therefore, we, the present people have to change as the future generation will not understand why we have not done something to this end until it would have been easier. I would like to contribute to this among others so that I encourage others, by showing the beauties, to take it serious that the Earth is not only ours, people.

How big the trouble is in your opinion?

It's enough to view a Google Earth photo for the answer: from a great distance the Earth is blue and green, as it has been for millions of years, but as we come nearer and nearer, overparcelled surfaces appear. There are hardly any territories without the tracks of humans. The situation is the same in the most hidden places of Africa. Mainly the agricultural monocultures dominate as large areas as are already self-destructive on the long run. Instead of complete ecosystems consisting of several thousand species we settle only one species, offer all nutrients for them or apply chemicals to everything that tries to damage them. This is an unscrupulous dictatorship with the same end, just as always in the history. So two choices remain for us: either wait until nature finds a solution to us or find out before how can so many people live without killing everything around them.


How can it be realized? In everyone's life, the solution will be a customized recipe but as a first step I would recommend to become familiar and the second step may be love and we could build further on these foundations. Anyone may start to deal with it already today, we do not need to wait until it is codified. I leave a huge footprint also with my own work and it bothers me very much. I would like to live in an exemplary way in terms of environmental sustainability. Of course, it is not simple because almost each element of our life in the modern age was established without consideration of environmental aspects.

What should be done?

On my part, my objective is to motivate others and give guidance. I hope I can inspire many people to think and we will find jointly a solution to tilt the direction to the other way. Unity is needed, the individuals should build from below and politics should build from above, since it has to serve a social need. In my opinion, there is an absolute chance to do so in 2021. There are more and more people who are interested in the matter. If I put my hand on my heart, I could change numerous things by myself. For example, I purchase too much things, construct, develop, although I am less and less interested in material values. In the future I will collect rather adventures that I find mostly in valuable human relations and in the nature. I would like to spend much time in the field and to use as less unnecessary energy as possible. This does not necessarily involve abandonment but rather optimization. Perhaps the pandemic period woke up also others how harmful and unnecessary overconsumption is. There are many people for whom it was enough but it was not so effective on critical masses.

Wasn't it?

No, it wasn't. But it will turn out when all restrictions have been lifted. In my opinion, the load will be greater than before. When there is no immediately visible stake, self-control requires enormous attention and few people have it. Although the epidemic situation gave us a chance to find values which we went by so far because we "had no time" but I only hope that the effect of coronavirus itself will be detectable on the long run from the point of view of positive changes in the environment. Sure that it was a good point if we view the curves: we can state in respect of emission of harmful substances, energy consumption and others that during this one year the Earth could breathe freely that leads to the conclusion that it makes sense to do. I first of all encourage everyone to find the values in his or her own environment and refrain from eating things from the other side of the Earth every day. It is not necessarily good to buy bananas or pineapples originating from Costa Rica if we can eat apples produced in Kecskemét. Of course, it would be helpful if - in an absurd way - their prices were not identical.

Why the situation can't change by itself?

Because in our age economic and health problems are considered more serious as people feel these on their own skin within a short time. If a decision is made, it results in an immediate change which we can experience in financial terms as early as next month. But what effect a human life is on the environment and what reaction it has on us are a result of an investment of several ten or even hundred years. I've been engaged in habitat reconstruction for a long time and it means that on the farm where I live, I FORMULATE THE ENVIRONMENT SO THAT NOT ONLY ME BUT ALSO WILDLIFE COULD FIND ITS ACCOUNTS.

It is important to make room for natural vegetation of appropriate quantity, in addition to the tables, benches and fire places, which is properly diverse, with grasses, bushes and trees. These attract insects and, as a result, the reptile, bird and mammal species eating them appear just as the predators of the latter species. This process can be enhanced by formulation of nesting, watering and feeding places. From the perspective of ten years it has a result visible to the naked eye in the same way as an immediately detectable economic activity. To see this it is not necessary to live in a farm because experiments can be commenced in a green area of even a couple of square meters. Nature will make return for positive interventions by a priceless scenery.

Is there anything that might efficiently help to make an average individual understand the weight of the problem? Of course, apart from your photos.

I do hope that if somebody is motivated and receptive, he or she will soon addictive to the same drug I was accustomed to by the nature's capacity to replenish. For those who don't become yet dependent from a forest walk in the spring, I recommend such programs as the documentary film titled "Unpleasant Truth" published by Al Gore in 2005. He is a man with healthy green way of thinking who made this production in such attitude. Or there are the wonderful series of David Attenborough that nowadays call the attention not only to beauties but also to problems. In these films the energy flow processes are told in a way understandable for masses. When I hold a lecture or build an exhibition, these are my main motivations. The interest shown towards me would like to use to speak about these problems. I see that many people like my work and believe what I say. Then why can't I speak about what is more important for me?

What is the message of this exhibition located in a construction site and at all, where did the idea come from to present your work in this form?

This exhibition displays a huge contrast. Given a built environment that planed off the area where a forest should be naturally. My photos were placed here, displaying the beauty of nature. The contrast between the previous and the current views is very great, however, I consider it an example to be followed that a typically profit-oriented company starts to deal with environmentally conscious thinking. When I was acquainted with the owner, he convinced me that he would like to divert his company to this direction. In fact, our cooperation has come about for this reason and I feel it very honorable. If somebody can make me believe that it is not just about marketing activity, I'm a partner with pleasure. But roughly one of ten inquiries is plausible. Nowadays it is popular and trendy to be "green" but I used to take a close look, and strive not to mishit, whether there is an internal value behind it and to what approach I lend my name. I consider KÉSZ Group's formulated scale of value and intentions exemplary and that is why I've made my photos available to them.

You have mentioned several times that you wish to show beauty but it happened that you produced an effect on people just by horrors. I think of the prize winning picture titled "Survival Instinct" showing mutilated frogs.

This picture might be deceiving and I emphasized this at that time, too. I didn't want to make the people who cut the legs of the frogs crucified since the visuality of the result of their activity is much stronger that their global nature-damaging effect. This photo was good first of all for that a huge surface could be achieved as it demonstrates a very dramatic, bloody scene in photographic terms. Nevertheless, it casts a light to a much less significant environmental problem, for example, use of window glasses without protection, which is true for the windows of almost all buildings.


I wonder how many of those who read this article protect them e.g. with a mosquito-net fit in an appropriate distance, from which they bounce? A couple of birds have died even on my windows when I realized that the bird silhouettes stuck prove to be insufficient. I submitted my photo with a bird impress on the window to 36 competitions and it was nowhere successful while the photo with frogs won the World Press competition for the first time. I heard of such frog slaughtering largely ten years before the photo was made and I already knew at that time that I will seize the opportunity to document it if possible. The photo reached several million people and so I had the opportunity to speak about our responsibility for the environment.

Could you tell me one more example?

In Cyprus several million protected birds are caught each year by glue, net or gunshot illegally and the tiny songbirds are sold as gastronomic delicacy. I saw this when I was a volunteer with bird protectors on the island. It is about birds of some grams that are protected in the EU and we try to improve the situation of their stock by great efforts. However, if they fly through the half of the Mediterranean Sea and arrive in Cyprus or Malta, or possibly move towards Lebanon or arrive in Egypt, the bird holocaust begins. It occurs that a whole bush is smeared with glue and then birds are lured there by their own voice using a speaker. After they fly on and stuck in the bush, they are harvested. We have saved 92 warblers and willow-warblers from such a bush. It is not about the beauty of nature either, isn't it, but it is a problem within the European Union that can be demonstrated easily so that the stomach of a good-feeling person convulses.

You have traveled a lot in the world. How do you see, how environmentally conscious Hungarian people are compared to other nations?

I cannot compile a rank. The situation is wrong everywhere. In East, in South and even in the less developed states. Even in my own circle of acquaintances. It is visible that richer places are more sensitive in this issue and they try at least to find the way. Now good line managers are needed because it is very complex and complicated what will make something green or what will someone make to really have a smaller footprint. In any case, the demand exists.

Since when you deal with protection of the environment, which are the most important things you have changed in your life as a private man?

I travel much less. It is true to both international travels and the changes of location in Hungary. I sit in a car when I gathered at least 8-10 things to manage and manage them in one round. I would mention eating in the second place. It is important to avoid discarding anything. When I see how much food is discarded in garbage, it makes my flesh creep. If it happens, all energy that produced, transported and made it is also discarded. But it is also essential, what I eat. I'm not vegetarian but avoid red meats from large-scale production that have the greatest environmental impact. Instead I eat domestic fish, game meat or poultry raised at home. There are a lot of alternatives also in energy consumption where ingenuity is possible. I try to find permanent products. I feel wrong if I have to discard something within a short time as it cannot be repaired and so I also become connected in the consumer society's "buy and discard it" food chain that is a net environmental crime for me. I hope that I will live to see its last days.

Then nowadays don't you travel anywhere?

Covid was a very good excuse to stay at home but the handbrake was about also before it. Of course, I will travel some day but not madly and continue to put the focus on making photos on the Hungarian wildlife. It is sure that I will travel to exotic lands as the challenge is very great and I receive offers in each month. Today I was invited to the Antarctica to lead a group there in 2024. I just wrote the answer by e-mail that I thank for the honorable request and for they chose me but I rather say no for the time being. I don't feel that I have to grasp each opportunity.

Photos: Bence Máté

Exhibition of KÉSZ Group and Bence Máté:

Máté Bence: A Föld nem csak a miénk, embereké