donderdag 20 juli 2017


DAY OF PARIS / Andre Kertesz, George Davis (Editor)
1945, NY, 148 pages, 183 x 245 x 12

Eyes on Paris shows how artists engaged in photography (French and immigrants alike) saw, experienced and captured Paris with the camera. The artists’ gaze oscillates between documentary interest and subjective perception, a chronicler’s duty and the projection of personal feelings. Around 400 photographic works by important representatives of 20th-century photography enter into a dialog with epoch-making books, portfolios or rare portfolio works. After all, no other city in the world has been the subject of as many outstanding publications as has Paris: from Atget to Ed van der Elsken, from Robert Doisneau to William Klein.

The Poet of Modernism, André Kertész Retrospective, The Hungarian National Museum, Budapest

Text by Alison Frank

Following on from the Royal Academy of Arts‘ show, Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century earlier this year, The Hungarian National Museum celebrates the career of Hungarian-born photographer, André Kertész, originally named Andor Kohn, (1894-1985) who spent most of his career as an exile, first in Paris, then in New York. The Hungarian National Museum‘s retrospective of his career contains two sections. The main section gives a chronological overview of Kertész’s career; curated by Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, this retrospective was previously exhibited in Paris, Berlin and Winterthur (Switzerland). The second, much smaller section, is a special Hungarian addendum curated by Eva Fisli and Emöke Tomsics as part of the museum’s international conference, Views of Kertész.

The latter section looks at the reception and influence of Kertész’s photography in Hungary from the beginning of his career to the present day. It begins with a copy of the magazine where Kertész published a photograph in 1917, and ends with some pieces by contemporary photographers responding to his work. This text-dense segment of the exhibition explains that under Communism there was an attempt to appropriate the work of Hungarian nationals living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Successful Hungarian émigrés were taken as examples of innate Hungarian talent, and their work was scrutinised for its sociological dimensions. This led to Kertész being incorrectly categorised in Hungary as a social realist photographer rather than the independent documentarian of emotion he considered himself to be.

The exhibition’s main retrospective spreads across five rooms: one each for Kertesz’s Hungarian, Parisian and New York periods, a round room for his photographic nude “distortions”, and finally a long narrow room displaying magazine spreads of his photojournalism.

Kertész was 18 years old before he received his first camera, but as early as the 1910s, he was already experimenting with night-time and underwater photography: his Underwater Swimmer (1917) appears particularly ahead of its time. Kertész began by taking photographs of friends and family, especially his brother Jenö who was willing to be photographed in a variety of dramatic and athletic poses. When he was conscripted during the First World War, Kertész took photographs of fellow soldiers at rest. Capturing lighter, informal moments of military life, these images offer an unaccustomed image of World War I.

In 1925, Kertész moved to Paris, where (the exhibition notes explain), he became “one of the leading figures in avant-garde photography”, alongside Man Ray. Characteristic of his modernist experimentation was The Fork (1928), in which he made clever use of shadows to alter the object’s usual appearance. For the light-hearted and “racy” Parisian magazine Le Sourire he created a series of “distortions” of female nudes, which he achieved through the use of curved mirrors (hence the curators’ decision to exhibit these images in a curved space). Some of these images are intriguing artistic abstractions; others create bizarre funhouse mirror effects, while others still give a disconcerting impression of deformity.

Kertész achieved a more consistent impression with his photographs of artists’ studios, starting with Mondrian’s. In these, the photographer managed to create a portrait of the artist in absence, making use of light, shadows, personal items and occasionally art pieces to evoke the style and personality of the studio’s inhabitant. In Paris, Kertész made his living through photojournalism, contributing to the birth of a new medium of expression. He worked primarily for the news magazine VU, creating more than 30 photo essays between 1928 and 1936.

In 1936, Kertész moved to New York, where he would spend the rest of his life. He was lured to America by a contract with the Keystone agency, which was broken after just one year. Not speaking English, and classified as an enemy alien during World War II, Kertész felt isolated and unhappy in New York. These feelings were reflected in Kertész’s photographs of lone clouds, menacing pigeons, and general abstraction which rendered the city anonymous. His work was not well-received in New York, and in order to survive, Kertész spent 14 years taking conventional shots for Home and Gardens magazine. Following his retirement in 1961, Kertész saw his work gaining international recognition, with exhibitions at the Venice Photography Biennale, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the MoMA. In 1982 the Ministry of Culture in Paris awarded Kertész the Grand Prix National de la Photographie.

Long after he had become an established photographer, Kertész said, “I regard myself as an amateur today, and I hope that’s what I will stay until the end of my life. Because I’m forever a beginner who discovers the world again and again.” Kertész saw photography as a sort of visual diary that documented the way he felt about the world around him, and insisted that emotion was the basis of all his work, rather than an artistic impulse. The power of Kertész’s images seems accordingly to emanate not just from their strong and balanced composition, but from the intense feeling that they capture.

André Kertész Retrospective, 30/09/2011 – 31/12/2011, The Hungarian National Museum, 1088 Budapest, Múzeum krt. 14-16, Hungary.

The melancholy life of the amazing André Kertész
Though a master of composition, the Hungarian photographer could never really find himself in the frame

Mondrian's Pipe and Glasses, Paris 1926 - Andre Kertesz

Although his name is whispered in hushed tones among many of today's photographers (our own Roger Ballen included) throughout much of his life Hungarian photographer André Kertész laboured much if not unknown then at least overlooked - to his own mind at least. Deeply reserved, Kertész consistently remained true to his beliefs and origins. His work, which received belated recognition from the 1960s on - with another ignitive spark in the 1980s - always drew on his personal life yet never lapsed into autobiography.

As a young man in the early 1920s, he photographed the Hungarian peasants around him. His clarity of style, emotional connection with his subjects and the geometric patterning of his photographs were evident from the outset. For Kertész, taking a photograph involved encapsulating an atmosphere but also solving compositional problems linking form to content.

Susan Sontag has described his work as 'a wing of pathos'. Certainly, his photographs, The Fork and Mondrian's Pipe and Glasses not only constitue admirable formal compositions, but seem to elevate seemingly trivial details into quite meditative poems.  All of which makes us all the happier that he is one of the initial photographers featured in our new Phaidon 55 iBook series which launches next week.

As Kertész's photographs began to be published in magazines so his confidence grew. In 1925 he moved to Paris where he threw himself into the art scene, becoming connected to the Dada movement and taking photographs every day. As persecution of the Jews increased he moved to New York which, as Surrealism and Constructivism began to run out of steam in Europe, supplanted Paris and Berlin as the centre of artistic creation. Kertész drew more commissions and his work spread.

Towards the end of his life however, Kertész often spoke of the lack of close contact with other artists. In Paris, he had created his masterpieces in Mondrian's home or at the Hotel des Terrasses. In New York, he officiated at the Saks stores or at Winthrop Rockefeller's home. The surroundings had changed but he had remained the same. Those who knew him in his later years recall his fatalism and an inclination towards melancholy. Isolated in New York, eternally rootless, without contact with other artists, nothing really stimuated him.

He died in New York in 1985 leaving behind 100,000 negatives many of which to this day, remain unseen. It was Henri Cartier-Bresson who perhaps provided the most fitting tribute when he said: "Each time Andre Kertész's shutter clicks, I feel his heart beating." For now, enjoy the photos and their descriptions below and when you've done that check out the book on iTunes.

Meudon, France, 1928 - Andre Kertesz

Meudon, France, 1928 Kertész used a Leica to produce this miraculous snapshot. This camera first appeared in Germany in the 1920s. Kertész began using one in 1928, three years prior to Henri Cartier-Bresson. Light and easy to
handle, it used film on rolls, and was to become the favourite camera of photojournalists. A vision of movement and speed, capturing people walking in the street and the engine powering over the viaduct, this photograph is an example of what the leader of the Surrealists, André Breton, described as ‘opportune magic’. It is thought that the man in the foreground may be the German painter Willi Baumeister, and the parcel he is holding the stretcher of a canvas. Kertész had known him since 1926, when he photographed him in the company of Mondrian and Seuphor.

Lost Cloud, New York, 1937 - Andre Kertesz

Lost Cloud, New York, 1937 It was unusual for Kertész to give his works proper titles such as this, as opposed to captions used for filing purposes (date,
place, names of individuals, etc.). The adjective ‘lost’ endows the cloud with a
personal, emotional dimension. The picture can be seen as an allegory of Kertesz’s own displacement – far from the artistic fraternity of Montparnasse, poorly used professionally, and cut off from his roots.

The Circus, Budapest, 1920 - Andre Kertesz

The Circus, Budapest, 1920 Kertész often photographed people who were in
the act of looking, rather than focusing on what they were looking at. This
photograph, ironically entitled The Circus, frustrates our voyeuristic curiosity in order to show us the importance of looking. The simplicity of the composition saves the image from being merely an amusing vignette, however, endowing it with value as a metaphor for the photographer’s abiding question: what is truly worth looking at?

The Fork, Paris, 1928 - Andre Kertesz

The Fork, Paris, 1928 This photograph was shown at the ‘Salon de l’Escalier’ (Paris, 1928) and at ‘Film und Foto’ (Stuttgart, 1929) and was used in an
advertisement for the silversmiths Bruckman-Bestecke. The purity of the
composition matches the function of the object – the fork is not depicted merely as a formally beautiful object, but also retains its qualities as a utensil. With
this vivid description of the spirit of an object, Kertész fulfilled an important artistic goal.

Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses, Paris, 1926 (main image, top of story) First shown in 1927 at the Au Sacre du Printemps gallery, this photograph synthesizes the modernist ideas promoted especially by L’Esprit nouveau (The New Spirit, 1920–25). This journal, founded by poet Paul Dermée, Le Corbusier and the painter Amédée Ozenfant, promoted new forms of expression, which aimed to express the ‘lyrical beauty’ of the world of objects. Through his instinctive ability to integrate refined, abstract forms, Kertész captures the spirit of Mondrian’s paintings.

New York, 1975 - Andre Kertesz

New York, 1975 When taking high-angle shots, Kertész frequently used a zoom lens. In this way, he compensated for his unchanging vantage point through the possibility of surveying a great variety of visual fields. Even if, at the age of eighty-one, the streets were now out of bounds to Kertész, he never completely abandoned the subjects dear to his heart. These photographs echo the series ‘As from my window I sometimes glance’ (1957–58) taken by voluntary recluse W. Eugene Smith from the window of his Sixth Avenue apartment. You can find the André Kertész Phaidon 55 iBook

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