Profiles in Black& White: André Kertész

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector, Photographer on September 9, 2013 at 1:07 pm

“The moment always dictates in my work…Everybody can look, but the don’t necessarily see…I see a situation and I know that it’s right.”

André Kertész

Andre Kertesz Self Portrait 1927

André Kertész Self Portrait

If André Kertész’s parents had had their way, the man would have never touched a camera. Instead he would have worked the stock market for his whole life, like his brother Imre. Born in July of 1984, Kertész earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the Hungarian Academy of Commerce in 1912 and soon found a job working as a clerk at the Budapest Stock Exchange. He had little love for the work, other than it being a means to an end. It allowed him to buy his first camera, which he brought along when he was drafted into the army two years later. After his military service, photography was not paying well enough to make a leaving, so he returned to the stock exchange and remained there for the next seven years. But Kertész yearned for something more from his life, as photography stayed in his heart. In 1925, the Hungarian immigrated to France to live the life of a bohemian artist. All of his family was left behind, including his fiancé Elizabeth. As with many others, Paris was an inspiration for Kertész. For the next decade he would photograph the streets of the French metropolis and finally marry his fiancé.

In 1936, the Keyston Agency in New York City beckoned, leading Kertész to cross the Atlantic. This proved to be a mistake for his career. A year after joining the Keyston Agency, he canceled his contract but was left with few options. World War II was developing and made a return to Paris impossible. At the same time, the US government treated him like an enemy of the state and thus prevented him from publishing for years. Once the war was over, all of Kertész’s momentum from prior was gone. It wasn’t until 1964, when Museum of Modern Art curator John Sarkowski organized a one-man show for Kertész, that his career regained traction. The art world began to appreciate early modern European artists and Kertész benefited. Through the 1970s and 1980s, he would be featured in shows all around the world. In 1983, the French government awarded him the Legion of Honor. Kertész passed on September 28, 1985 in New York at 91.

Pendulum,distortion 1938


A modernist who had a foot in both the world of photojournalism and surrealism, Kertész was a whimsical sort whose career was quite dynamic. His first works documented the war efforts while serving in the military and were followed by personifications of the street life of Paris. In the 1930s, one of Kertész’s most noted sets of work would be Distortions, a collection of surreal, warped images containing unassuming objects along with nude models.  In New York, he would find a plethora of inspiration in Washington Square. Many of these images reflected his fascination and unfamiliarity with his new surroundings. Towards end of his life, he would be one of the first to experiment with Polaroid’s SX-70 cameras. In addition to his Legion of Honor from the French, Kertész received numerous honorary doctorates, lifetime achievement awards, a Guggenheim fellowship and the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture in New York. The Museum of Modern Arts purchase of 100 prints was the largest acquisition the museum had made of a living artist.

Examples of André Kertész’s : Kertesz.

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