Friday, March 12, 2010

André Kertész

Homing Ship, New York
13 October, 1944

The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago has a very succinct bio on André Kertész that reiterates his under-recognized talent. (Click here to read it.) The bio starts off mentioning the quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson whereby he stated, "Whatever we have done, Kertész did first." The "we" in this case referred to a group of artists in Paris in the 1920s and specifically to the photographers that included Robert Capa and Brassai.

I have to admit that I learned about Kertész in the requisite History of Photography course at School of Visual Arts, but it is only now that I am really appreciating him. Initially, I probably like others dismissed his talent, not yet able to fully realize that what he did was just simply "pure" photography. It may seem trite or even pretentious to say "pure" but tell me upon looking at his work that you don't feel that exact descriptive.

Kertész's photography at first glance is understated, sometimes playful, sometimes ordinary, but upon further inspection, it is as if it breathes a new life into the viewer. The things we take for granted and his sort of one-on-one viewing of life brings us into a different perspective. We see the things Kertész saw as if with new eyes and I don't mean the obvious -- of course, a photographer can bring a new look to the familiar or convert the jaded and sway the popular opinion -- but this is about shedding every preconception and seeing the imagery as if you stripped everything away to its bare essence. It is so cleansing that we abandon the known to celebrate the apparent simplicity as a brand new interpretation. It may seem elementary on the surface, but it is layered so that the longer you look at one of his photographs, the more it reveals, the more unnerving that we didn't stop to, say, "smell the coffee". His work forces us to stop and inhale deeply.

Even his distorted images, long before the advent of Photoshop, don't feel "altered" per se. There is a sort of innocent confidence about them in the sense that they feel experimental yet deliberate and as if he worked only with the visuals -- the composition and the shape and form, not the technique.

It was in 1912 that Kertész began his long, illustrious and prolific career. He was born in Budapest in 1894 and in 1925, he moved to Paris where he remained until the threat of World War II prompted him to move with his wife to New York in 1936. He was still shooting in the 1980s when he then created a series using a Polaroid SX-70. He was clearly one to evolve and continue and persevere. His conviction was especially apparent in the fact that even when slighted -- even when others were credited for his work or when he was omitted from important exhibits, he did not let this deter him.

The term Kertészian was coined to describe his language which was essentially a combination of Hungarian, French, and English -- likewise, it has been observed that Kertész had three distinct periods, the Hungarian Period, the French Period, the American Period.

Kertész did something that ironically is not always done -- he shot photography so honestly that you tend to think that he created the art itself. That is what I mean by "pure".

Broken Plate
Underwater Swimmer
January 1, 1972
Arm in Ventilator
December, 1937

The Violinist's Tune
Circus, Budapest, Hungary

Carrefour, Blois
Carousel Figures on Truck
Avenida Grde Julio, Buenos Aires
Rainy Day, Tokyo
14 September, 1968
Boy Holding Puppy
Mademoiselle L
On Reading, New York
Wooden Puppets, Paris

Slaughter House
18 April, 1937
Bike Stand, Washington Square Park
22 October, 1961
Corner Building, Tree Branches
June 16, 1963

Washington Square, Day
Washington Square at Night
On the Boulevards
Eiffel Tower, Paris
MacDougal Alley, New York
Solitude, New York
Defense d’ Afficher, Paris

Chez Mondrian

Melancholic Tulip, New York
Distortion #76C
Distortion #40
Distortion #6

~~~ + ~~~
His later work as shot with a Polaroid SX-70:


No comments: