The University of Dundee Archive Services is the custodian of the entire photographic work - some 130,000 prints and negatives - of the photographer, Michael Peto.
Born in Báta, Hungary, Pető Mihály was the son of a village shopkeeper. He moved to Budapest in the 1930s where he was involved in the Hungarian craft movement. He was also building a career as a poet and journalist. Alerted by a family member in London to the Nazi threat, Peto left Hungary for the UK with his wife to be and her son just three weeks before the borders closed in the summer of 1939.
During the Second World War, Michael Peto was personal secretary to Count Milhály Károlyi who planned a socialist New Democratic Hungary after their homeland's liberation; they did not foresee the post-war domination by the USSR. Peto was also employed as a writer for the Ministry of Labour, using a Leica camera to illustrate his articles. Taken to the National Gallery by his good friend and fellow Hungarian, the artist Josef Herman, he saw what he described as ‘the humanity of man’ and realised that photography offered him a greater opportunity for creative expression than literature. Subsequently, he developed his photographic and graphic art skills with the assistance of Ervin Marton, another photographer of the Hungarian-Jewish diaspora. By the end of the 1940s, Peto was established as a photojournalist, his first published work appearing in The Observer.
Michael Peto travelled across Europe and Asia photographing social issues, political figures and performers from the arts. For over twenty years Peto recorded news events as well as producing more reflective sequences of photographs, particularly behind the scenes shots of ballet, pop music and theatre. He also captured the lives and environments of ordinary people. His photographs of Welsh mining communities, Indian village life or Billingsgate porters all demonstrate Peto’s focus on the human form in its natural surroundings.
Michael Peto’s work was exhibited throughout Europe and he was a regular contributor to many professional, news and cosmopolitan publications. The medals he won for his photographs were testament to his style and skill. Peto’s influence from the beginning of his photographic career was described by Herman as asserting ‘a singularity of style’.
Michael Peto died on Chistmas Day 1970, at the age of 62.