At the Border: Dávid Balogh’s Dramatic Images of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

One Hungarian photographer who captured an unprecedented influx

Hailing from Budapest, Dávid Balogh has spent years photographing in his home country, Hungary. Dávid first picked up a camera aged 8-years and shot a stunning capture of a swimmer mid-air — an image that shows his talent was years ahead of his time.

“The photo hangs on my wall to this day. Every morning, I wake up wanting to create something strong, something lasting,” says Dávid.

In September 2015, the world watched as the Syrian crisis peaked in Hungary. During this time, the border between Hungary and Serbia opened. Dávid, who reports for a Hungarian news agency, was there and documented the dramatic unraveling of events. We asked him, first, about his experience photographing the crisis and, second, about his work more broadly.

How did you end up photographing at the Hungarian border?

My father has worked for Reuters for a very long time, and he advised that I try and apply for a photographer position here while the migration crisis was very intense. I took his advice, applied and had the chance to work for a Chilean cameraman with Reuters TV.

My tasks varied. From helping the cameraman with carrying the heavy equipment (and, of course, mine as well) to translating for him to English whenever the Hungarian police officers asked us questions or didn’t want to let us too close to the most vivid happenings. It helped a lot being from this country and speaking the language.

Later, I realized that not only was it a key to have the Hungarian language, but possibly just being able to respect the police’s work and at the same time get their permission to shoot in zones where foreign press wasn’t always allowed. I also enjoyed greatly being able to do some serious work myself, once the cameraman’s equipment was in place. A couple of my photos were published on Reuters’ main website.

What exactly was happening in these photos?

The “Green Border” between the Serbian-Hungarian border was temporarily open and refugees just kept coming: 5,000–10,000 people per day searching for a better future.

What is the Green Border exactly? Do you know how long that border was open?

The Green Border is an unofficial term used by Hungarian media regarding the temporarily opened migrant crossing point at Röszke, between Serbia and Hungary.

They closed the border at Horgos (another crossing point 15 minutes drive to Röszke) from the Serbian side on September 15th 2015.

Did the drama of the events affect how you photograph? What was this like for you?

Seeing the people, so tired, so sad most of them, after literally having walked thousands of kilometers with little children, women and elderly, it really hurt me seeing this. But I still tried to focus on what I was there for and tried to do my best capturing the moment. I tried to stay politically on neither side, and just do my job.

Do you know what happened to the people you photographed? Where are they now?

All I know about these people is that they entered Hungary, were all carefully registered, fingerprinted, photographed, passports checked, then transported by buses and trains towards the Austrian border point Hegyeshalom.

I did not get into such close contact with any of them as to exchange email addresses or phone numbers, so I have no real follow-up on any of them. I assume some of them were accepted as asylum seekers into Germany or some other Northern European country. Some nay have been sent back to where they came from, possibly? I know only the general information we all know.

What type of photography interest you most? Would you call yourself a documentary photographer?

Whenever possible, I try to work in the field. I definitely say I am an outdoors person, and I am the type of photographer that is not primarily fond of portraiture or really “set-up” photography. Of course, it is very important to learn to do that professionally, but it doesn’t motivate me nearly as much as work in the field.

What’s your advice for photographers who are interested in photographing current events or even just people in everyday life?

Always stay positive, never give up just because you don’t get the shot of your life.

Keep being there. Get everywhere early. Follow the political situation in the place you live, or the places you seek to live and work.

Who are three photographers you recommend we follow on EyeEm?

There are so many good ones! I like Hom Mali who captures a specific atmosphere and happenings. I’d like to congratulate the work of photographers in the Untold Stories collection which really touched me. I like Fabio Photographer’s portraits of African children. I would also like to mention genius of Porter Yates’ Tibetan pictures.

How does your full-time work feed into your photography?

I now work for a Hungarian news agency, a printed newspaper more specifically. Most of my work takes place within the country, but I seek the opportunities to work in foreign places as well.

Dávid Balogh’s work was featured in EyeEm Magazine Vol. II

What’s in your camera bag?

I covered the refugee-crisis with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and have just recently invested in a Canon EOS-1D Mark III.

I use Canon EF 16–35mm, Canon EF 100–400mm and Canon EF 24mm lenses. Of course, I have all the typical supplementary gear.

Follow Dávid Balogh on EyeEm and see his work in EyeEm Magazine Vol. II. Find more stories from photographers on the EyeEm blog.

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