June 2008

Krisztian Lonyai

Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

Hungarian High Fashion Photographer Makers Bluffton his new Home!


In the world of high fashion and haute couture, this question is most likely associated with model talk, because let’s face it ; they look pretty hungry and they have to be pouting about something. But in the world of high fashion photography one might stumble across a new meaning for hungry if they just add a capital “H” for hot and an “a” for art, translation Hungary, the country not the stomach movement. I am talking about the local Hungarian high fashion photographer Krisztian Lonyai.

I recently sat down in an interview with the young European talent to find out how a former photo editor for Hungarian GQ Magazine and fashion photographer for such publications as Glamour, Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines, not to mention photographer for campaigns including L’Oreal, Warner Brother’s and Sony, ended up in Bluffton, SC.

I quickly found an unmatched personality who has traveled the world handing out high-fives and laughter. I discovered a man with the passion of a child and the opinion of a veteran who just wants to be happy and move on with his career as it comes.

So we are recording this on tape is this okay?
Okay. Everything is my copyright so let’s make it clear (high-five and a laugh).

I promise I won’t sell information on the streets of Hilton Head or Hungary, but I hold all rights to making t-shirts if you say something fabulously stupid. (laugh)
Okay. (laugh)

Starting out with a major highlight and kind of the beginning of your road to success, how old were you when you started working for GQ Magazine in Hungary?
Already too old, but it was ’97 and ’98 and I already knew the creative director before the first issue was launched. They made a half size issue just to get advertisers, when it came to do the fashion stories, and that’s when I met the picture editor who was already hired. I started to converse with them and met the editor in chief and sort of just told them my ideas. It got to the point where they hired me because they really didn’t have anyone else at the time.

Did you have any prior experience?
I did some styling for music groups in the past. So, in terms of style and fashion I had already been moving around. Before that point I never really thought of photography as a profession, it was always a hobby. My best friends were always pushing me to do photography but I didn’t have the confidence; I didn’t see myself making a living out of that.

Did you do photography for GQ then?
No. So, when I started doing the magazine it was about me hiring other photographers. I was a photo editor and a fashion editor, but when it’s such a large franchise you get about 70 percent of the content from the original magazine and 30 percent we got to fill in locally.

Did you like this job?
It was a nice experience and a professional experience. You get to see how a professional magazine works. But the gentleman who owned the Hungarian GQ basically just had a lot of money to invest and risked a lot to make it work by losing money from the beginning. He didn’t prepare to lose money for years so after ’98 he had to make a decision to keep investing or get out. So it ended.

Did growing up have influences on your chosen career path?
I was born in Hungary, but was always traveling. But I did all my schooling in Hungary. My mother always pushed me to art. That may be the wrong expression (laugh), she always encouraged me to do art and I finally just knew I had a passion for design and visuals.

After GQ where did this passion for design lead you?
Right away when I got older I met a woman who owned an interior design company. She was looking for someone who could head the company, and I was looking for a job, so (laugh).

Where did this job take you?
I traveled to Paris and Milan and was my job to keep in touch with clients. It was sort of a P.R. position. I didn’t get to be involved with design or accounting; I just got to talk about it. It’s not so far from what I liked and I met furniture designers, all these Italian companies owned by families who were very relaxed and very kind people. Not the same in fashion (laugh). Unfortunately in 2001, I had this huge argument with the owner and it was so huge I just quit and promised myself that never in my life again would I have a boss, (laughs a lot, gives a high five).

I think we have all wished and planned for this at one point.
Of course this is naïve, you always serve someone even if it’s a client you are always underneath someone, no matter how many hundreds of millions you have. This is fact, but I didn’t know this at the time. So all of a sudden I have this conflict and I just decide I am going to do photography and make it (laughs a lot, gives a high five)!

So how did you go about making your hobby into a career?
So, I sent all eight pictures that I had ever taken of models in the past as a hobby, to Warner, the record company. I thought they were good and said let’s give them a try and be courageous.

Warner as in Warner Bros.?
Yes, their music company in Hungary. And so I’m like here I am and I’m going to take some awesome pictures of your bands for their albums. And so the creative director, who I will always be thankful for, put a lot of trust in me and gave me a sort of tryout.

Did they like you?
They said, well you really don’t have a lot to show-up because the previous photographers didn’t satisfy, and they had a new band that they were going to launch. So, they sort of ran out of budget and I was like this is my chance to do something. So, I shot it and I was sort of nervous. I shot good but the previous shoots were not well, maybe I shouldn’t say that, (laugh). So, they got the pictures, really like it and it was the cover of the bands first single.

Is this where they offered you a job?
I thought is was going to be a very good start. We had a meeting and they were very happy; I was very happy. But I was a freelance photographer with sort of no boss.

For a major international company.
Yes, and then the same week I got another call from a band under Sony who saw the pictures from the band I had just shot. So I did a shoot for them and met Sony through this band. All of a sudden it was starting to work as a network for me and it spread, you know (laugh). It started a little slow of course, but then I was photographing 80 percent of the Hungarian record business and did album covers and promotional work for every single record label, Universal, Warner, BMG, Sony.

Is this when you can say that you made it as a photographer?
Well, I became very well known because of this, in the industry, and did a lot of television interviews as the photographer for the bands because people were interested in celebrities.

How did it progress from here?
I ended up doing a lot of sporting teams as well. There was an international medicine company who sponsored the Hungarian volleyball team. So, I did the shoot for their book release and calendar release. They actually did a lot of internet happenings and big media events for Hungarian sports teams as a whole.

So, How long did you do this?
Oh, until 2001.

And then what?
Oh, and then I bring my ass to the states (laughs, gives a high-five).

What about doing fashion editorials for major fashion magazines and companies like Elle, L’oreal, Glamour?
Oh yes, I ‘m going to tell you everything. I wanted to do more beauty and fashion, so I met some people to do some test shoots for different modeling agencies. I would get paid a little money to do models books, portfolios. And this started in Budapest.

How did this adventure take- off to the big time?
So, through these model books I eventually started to do fashion company catalogues and magazines. People started to see my editorials. For example, with L’oreal, they did a casting where you send in your work online, and they collect work from the leading photographers in the country and book you over the internet. They let you know if they want to meet you and then say thank you very much not this year (laugh), or you get hired.

Well it sounds like you got the job, right?
Yes, and at the time they had hair dressers from London and a huge set and make-up artist. Once you do the shoot they by the rights to all the pictures to use for years, so I actually made good money on this shoot.

So, you just have the golden touch when it comes to networking and getting seen.
My grandmother use to tell me, ‘if you want to stand out from your peers you have to collect uglier friends’ (laughs a lot). My grandmother had such sayings.

It sounds like you were taught well from the beginning. Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Learn technical background and find your own way. But when you copy others, you learn technical background and it allows you to develop your own taste and poses you like. Pre-planning gives you guidance.

Who gives you guidance, what is your inspiration?
From painters to sculptors and pictures, I really have a lot of inspiration. When I see a painting, I get really inspired for colors and atmosphere. I’ve been in all museums from Venice to Paris to everywhere. I love a lot of photographers like Vincent Peters and Camilla Akrans. I really just want to photograph beauty and capture what’s beyond reality. I want to be in a fairy tale with my picture where people would say these images are something from their dreams.

I believe you could charm anyone with that answer. Do you plan on ever getting married?
Why, do you want to marry me (laughs)?

Well, now that you got yourself to the States, what are your plans?
My dream would be to make it big time here and move back and fourth between New York and Bluffton.

People are kind here and helpful and I would like to give something back to the community.

Well, you are going to be quite popular. Any other American things or places you have grown to love?
Yes, you know I really like that show American Dad.

This is a great place to stop (laughs).

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