Photography Masters - Andre Kertesz
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - Andre Kertesz

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

Regarded as one of the most inventive photographers of the 20th century, Andre Kertesz was a Hungarian-born (1894) American photographer famous for his lyrical and formally rigorous pictures of everyday life. Reared on the languages of rational and irrational modernism, Kertesz is revered for the clarity of his style and his emotional connections with his subjects. By freezing time, he used his camera lens to create something metaphorical and permanent of his subjects.

His instantly recognizable photographs include Underwater Swimmer, Wandering Violinist, Chez Mondrian, Satiric Dancer, Fork, Meudon, Clock of the Académie Française, Washington Square and Martinique.

Kertesz started photographing at the age of 18, while working as a clerk in a stock exchange; later taking war photos when he served the army during WW I. At 31 he moved to Paris to work as a freelance photographer. Here he honed his skills, often taking pictures from high vantage points which involved unexpected juxtapositions making frequent use of reflections and shadows. And thus were born his poetic images of Paris street life.

Wandering Violinist – In this photograph, the main subjects (the violinist and the young boy) are placed in the top right third of the frame (Rule of Thirds). The lines on the road and the wall behind them create a sense of depth and act as leading lines. The small toddler on the left side of the frame acts as a balance in an otherwise empty part of the frame.
Wandering Violinist – In this photograph, the main subjects (the violinist and the young boy) are placed in the top right third of the frame (Rule of Thirds). The lines on the road and the wall behind them create a sense of depth and act as leading lines. The small toddler on the left side of the frame acts as a balance in an otherwise empty part of the frame.

At 33, the Au Sacre du Printemps Gallery in Paris hosted a well-received show of his photographs. And a year later, Kertesz participated in the influential First Independent Salon of Photography. By then, his work was gaining a reputation among critics as proof that photography could be considered a fine art--his photographs being acclaimed for their blend of a romantic sensibility with modernist attitudes.

While in Paris, Kertesz took portraits of celebrated film makers, painters, artists, sculptors and writers; some of them were commissioned by the pioneering French picture magazine Vu where Kertesz worked as a lead photographer.

When he was about 39, Kertesz was commissioned by the magazine Le Sourire to do a series of nude photographs using distorting mirrors; which resulted in his work called ‘Distortions’ which were more than 200 in number. Between the ages 39 and 42, he published three books: Enfants (Children); Paris Vu par Andre Kertesz (Paris Seen by Andre Kertesz) and Nos Amies les Bêtes (Our Friends the Animals).

When Kertesz was 42, he shifted to the United States, and began freelancing for mass circulation magazines like Collier's, Harper's Bazaar, Look, Coronet, Vogue and Town and Country. Despite his awesome talent, some American editors rated his images as too poetic and, therefore, unsuitable for their story and layout ideas. So when he was 53, Kertesz became a staff photographer with Conde Nast publications for House and Garden.

Clock of the Académie Française, Paris – This photograph uses a flat foreground against a deep background. It is composed in such a way that all the Roman numerals of the clock point to a specific point of interest in the background. Since the background is framed symmetrically and the foreground (clock) is off centered it further creates tension and visual interest.
Clock of the Académie Française, Paris – This photograph uses a flat foreground against a deep background. It is composed in such a way that all the Roman numerals of the clock point to a specific point of interest in the background. Since the background is framed symmetrically and the foreground (clock) is off centered it further creates tension and visual interest.

Later in life, he started independently producing work, and Kertesz became one of the most respected photographers in America—his work being featured in many publications and exhibitions, including solo exhibitions at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and at the Museum of Modern Art, and a major retrospective, Of Paris and New York, at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among his many honors and awards were a Guggenheim Fellowship and admission to the French Legion of Honor.

One of the hallmarks of Kertesz was his influence and mentoring of legendary photographers of that era, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Brassai in the 1920s and early 30s, and inspiration to countless other contemporary photographers of the 1950s and 60s. Since Kertesz combined a photojournalistic interest in movement and gesture with a formalist concern for abstract shapes, his work has historical significance in all areas of postwar photography.

Satiric Dancer – The composition of this photograph causes the viewer’s eye to travel around the frame. The woman is trying to mimic the mannequin’s body posture. Her body is placed in a way that the eye goes around her in a circular or elliptical manner – he right hand points towards her left hand, her left hand points down, her left leg points towards the mannequin while her right leg points up and so on. By wearing a dark dress only her limbs, her face and the mannequin are the brightest objects in the entire photograph thereby pulling the viewer’s attention towards these parts.
Satiric Dancer – The composition of this photograph causes the viewer’s eye to travel around the frame. The woman is trying to mimic the mannequin’s body posture. Her body is placed in a way that the eye goes around her in a circular or elliptical manner – he right hand points towards her left hand, her left hand points down, her left leg points towards the mannequin while her right leg points up and so on. By wearing a dark dress only her limbs, her face and the mannequin are the brightest objects in the entire photograph thereby pulling the viewer’s attention towards these parts.

Kertesz died at the age of 91 in New York. His dominating presence and varied contributions are of epic proportions spanning the period 1930 to 1985. Some of the milestones include: solo exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art (1964–65), a Guggenheim fellowship (1974) and a retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (1977–78). During the 1970s his images, offered by New York’s Light Gallery in limited-edition portfolios, helped launch the photography market for private collectors.

Kertesz had major exhibitions at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1980), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1983), and the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires (both 1985). Posthumous exhibitions of his work include travelling retrospectives organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2005), and the Jeu de Paume, Paris (2010).

Between 1971 and 1985, his books included On Reading; André Kertész: Sixty Years of Photography-1912–1972, J’aime Paris: Photographs Since the Twenties; and Kertesz on Kertesz: A Self-Portrait.

Undoubtedly, Kertesz, with one of the longest and most-prolific careers in photography, took perhaps more iconic photographs than any other modern photographer. A photographer who felt that intuition was the best ingredient for creating poetic substance, Kertesz remarked, ‘The moment always dictates in my work.’ And since he had been also actively engaged in commercial photography, he felt that ‘professional virtuosity’ was the enemy of art photography. Making a clear distinction between the two forms, he professed that there must be something honest and innate in art photography: ‘As soon as I find a subject which interests me, I leave it to the lens to record it truthfully,’ he quipped.

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Siddharth Kumar is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.

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