The City of Children, located in the outskirts of Budapest, Hungary, is a housing facility for children seeking help from their dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families. New York based photographer Monika Merva, a first generation American of Hungarian descent, has been returning here over the course of seven years to document the everyday life of the children who have made this place their home. Merva’s interest in portraiture, children and her desire to help others through photography, led her to meet with the director of the children’s home. It wasn’t until a year later that she gained permission to photograph there in what would become her series, The City of Children.
Merva tells the bittersweet story of children and teens growing up together, away from their families. Despite this, the children lead normal lives. They commute to the city to attend school. At the end of the day they return home where they are supervised by adults. They have chores and homework, are given an allowance, and have curfews.
Getting through to the children was a challenge, but speaking the language was definitely an asset for Merva. On her first day, Merva was handed to an older girl who introduced her to the community of children. Half way through her visit, Merva was given the nod to stay on, and has been returning for seven years, able to see the children grow and evolve and eventually move on.
According to Merva, at first glance, you might see the subjects of these portraits as distinctly different from yourself. Look deeper and you begin to see the commonality of our life experiences. The connection may be the memory of teen-age angst, a feeling of isolation, or the joy of laughing with a great friend.
All images © Monika Merva