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Kati Horna

Born 19 May 1912
Died 19 October 2000

Kati Horna was born in 1912, in Budapest in Hungary. Within a few years of her birth, her country was going through a period of great political and social instability, with the declaration of Hungary as a republic and a series of short-lived governments.

As a result of this upheaval, danger and suffering were all around Horna from her earliest times - and an affinity with people in difficulties was to be a running theme throughout her career. In the early 1930s, spurred on to learn a skill that would give her a measure of indepence, Horna enrolled at Josef Pecsi's school of photography, the most prestigious of its kind in Budapest. She was a close friend of Robert Capa, who went on to be one of the best-known photographers of the 20th century.

In 1933, Horna moved to Paris, drawn by the promise of the most vibrant artistic centre in Europe. During her stay she photographed the street life and cafes of the French capital, which were filled with a temporary, inter-war joie de vivre.

A year later Horna got her chance of a photographic baptism of fire when, like many other liberals and anti-fascists, she decided to head to Spain, then in the throes of its civil war, to record the suffering there. Unlike many other photographers who were recording the unfolding story in Spain, Horna concentrated on how war affected ordinary people. In this she was ahead of her time - today it is usual for photographers to record the misery among the non-combatants caught up in war as well as those on the front line, but in Horna's day her approach was visionary.

In Spain, Horna met the man who was to become her lifelong partner - José Horna, whose name she took for both professional and personal purposes. In 1938 José had been imprisoned by the Nationalists of Franco in Spain but Kati rescued him and together they escaped to Paris. The following year they sailed from Marseilles to New York, and then on to Mexico City. They settled in a suburb called Colonia Roma, and began to work - she as a photographer, he as a sculptor and craftsman.