…or Sződliget: The Power of Misleading Social Media Flavor Text?
Recently, an article and gorgeous photos crossed my Facebook feed: A Mysterious and Abandoned Fishing Village Outside of Budapest Captured in Perfect Reflection. The photos were stunning and moody, and outside of Budapest? I could go there! Thus began my quest to figure out where this location actually was, hampered at every stage by the incredibly misleading flavor text in the article, which I saw develop even more misleading variations elsewhere.
A few years ago photographer Viktor Egyed accidentally stumbled upon the town Sződliget a few miles outside of Budapest, and to his delight found this small abandoned fishing village filled with clusters of A-frame huts. Deciding the weather was not ideal, Egyed came back a few years later when he was able to capture the town in a hazy fog, the perfect condition to highlight the glasslike reflections of the structures in the lake below.
On Instagram, someone even implied that the photos pictured Sződliget itself, during one of the Danube’s “frequent” floods (Sződliget was affected by the record flooding in 2013, but the majority of the town is not in routine danger of flooding).
I don’t mean to pick on the photographer, Viktor Egyed, who is obviously skilled and creative; I don’t even know how much of the article was journalistic embellishment of what he actually said. But as I searched for this “abandoned fishing village,” I soon found that it was
- Not abandoned.
- Not a village.
- Not somewhere you could just accidentally stumble over.
Elsewhere I’ve also seen Sződliget described as a dying town, and that’s not true, either – in the 1980s it was aging, with fewer farming families (it is not a fishing town – most if not all of the fishing in Sződliget is for sport), but it is now increasingly a bedroom communities for people who work in Budapest and Vác. In my two visits I saw plenty of families out walking, as well as what looked like a local school running team practicing. Sződliget is not a ghost town—it’s just an average small Hungarian town with little to interest foreign tourists. I suspect in summer there is a little domestic tourism for fishing and boating, and it does support a yacht club. Here are some quick cellphone shots I took of the residential streets as I walked the 30–40 minutes from the train station to the nature reserve:
First of all, I really doubt Egyed “stumbled upon” this fishing lake. It’s in an un-signed nature preserve, and there are two ways to reach it, neither of which is obvious. On my first trip to Sződliget, I naturally went to the fishing lakes that were large enough to show on GoogleMaps—which belonged to a fishing club, were entirely fenced in, and were obviously not the same as those in the photos. I ended up going home and asking a local photographer for help, and he very kindly confirmed my suspicions of where the lake really was and explained how to get there, so my second visit was much more successful.
Once I arrived, I immediately saw that it was neither abandoned nor a village. No one has ever lived in these huts or made a living fishing in this lake. The fishing lake was established as a sport fishing lake in 1949—it says so over the gate, along with the sign indicating some connection to a national park. And it’s still in use—the huts and bridges are extremely well-maintained, and there are many signs up explaining the rules of the fishing club. That no one is fishing in the middle of winter is not a surprise, but it’s not abandoned in the general sense. On a chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon in February, I saw one man apparently working on maintenance (if you look closely, you can find him in the next photo) and about a dozen people walking around with family and friends.
Egyed’s photos are beautiful—some of the best I’ve seen of this location—and speak for themselves. He chose moody, atmospheric weather, they’re well-composed, and he didn’t over-process them. I saw the photos and instantly wanted to go there, which I think is a mark of success.
And the Sződligeti fishing lake isn’t the only location which looks much more mysterious and romantic in photos than it is in real life (the fishing shacks at Bokodi-tó in Hungary are another example)—there’s nothing wrong with that. Photographers pick and choose what to show all the time. But I think it’s important to be honest about what you’re showing people. Those awesome-looking huts at the ends of docks in all the moody, dramatic long exposures of Bokodi-tó are also not people’s homes and never have been—they’re fishing shelters. The actual town of Bokod, like the town of Sződliget, looks pretty normal.
Flavor text is nice, but I wish photographers and media writers kept it short and factual (unless there really is a story to tell) and let the photos speak for themselves, rather than contributing to the creation of romanticized mythic places that exist only in imagination and pixels.
I think this is also a fine illustration of the importance of weather for the landscape photographer—in this case, how fog and mist can turn a lovely but ordinary location into something mystical and magical. I hope I’ll get a chance to go back in more interesting weather, but until then, these photos will have to do.