“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph.” –Andre Kertesz
It was 1912. André Kertész bought his first camera. He was 18 years old and working at the stock exchange in Budapest as had his father before he died. Kertész was expected to follow his father’s career. He studied at Budapest’s Academy of commerce. His course work was cut off at the beginning of World War I in 1914. He served in the Austro-Hungarian army until he was wounded. The year was 1915. While in the service he developed a love of photography. He returned to the stock market but continued his photography earning an honorary degree from the Hungarian Association of Photography is 1922.
He made casual photographs — snapshots — in Hungary. In 1925 one of his photographs made the cover of “Erdekes Ujsay.”
He moved to Paris as many Hungarian artists did during the time. His success was slowly earned. He pursued his photography becoming part of the Dada movement. He wandered the Parisian streets, making photographs, observing life on the rues. He developed an intimate style of picturing taking. He met Robert Capa and made portraits of other artists including Brassaï.
By 1927 he showed 42 photographs at the left bank gallery Au Sacre du Printemps. The works, including “Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe” and “Fork,” helped him build his career as a photographer. He bought a Leica, a popular 35mm camera popular among younger photographers in 1928 and with it, created very well regarded photographs on the streets of the city. Exhibitions after 1928 cemented his reputation as an innovative, inspirational photographer. His work with Lucien Vogel’s Vu enhanced his standing further. He created photos for many publications from all over Europe, including Vu, Le Matin, Die Photographie and the Times of London.
He published three books of his images in three years starting in 1933.
André Kertész on his photography
Kertész explained his photography this way, “I am an amateur and intend to remain one my whole life long. I attribute to photography the task of recording the real nature of things, their interior, their life. The photographer’s art is a continuous discovery that requires patience and time. A photograph draws its beauty from the truth with which it’s marked. For this very reason, I refuse all the tricks of the trade and professional virtuosity which could make me betray my career. As soon as I find a subject which interests me, I leave it to the lens to record it truthfully. Look at the reporters and at the amateur photographer! They both have only one goal; to record a memory or a document. And that is pure photography.”
He moved to New York in 1936 with the intention of becoming a professional photographer there. He signed with the Keystone agency and began working with magazines like Vogue, Coronet and Harper’s Bazaar in 1937, making architectural photographs of buildings and their interiors. He worked for Conde-Nast from then on until he retired from commercial photography in 1962. In New York, Kertész became enamored with shooting pictures of people reading, especially those doing it outdoors on balconies, porches, window ledges and parks.
By 1952 he moved with his wife to a 12th-floor apartment close to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. From his building, he trained a long lens on shadow figures and snowscapes that appear to be visual puzzles.
He was absolutely devoted to his wife who died in 1977. After her death, Kertész became withdrawn staying in his apartment. He used the telephoto to scrutinize the neighborhood world creating some of his best work — abstract city scenes. He used a Polaroid camera to make still lifes of his belongings. The images were surreal representations of the objects.
Kertész’s photography was shown in the United States and across all of Europe in his retirement years. The Museum of Modern Art held a solo show of his work. Despite his popular acceptance, he never believed himself to be successful or recognized by critics and the art community. His photography is now looked upon with appreciation. His legacy is secure.
André Kertész died in New York City in September 1985. He was 91.
More on André Kertész on Huxly-Parlour Gallery.
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