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André Kertész

Hungarian-American Photographer

André Kertész Photo

Born: July 2, 1894 - Budapest, Hungary

Died: September 28 - 1985 - New York, US

"Everybody can look, but they don't necessarily see."

Summary of André Kertész

André Kertész was a Hungarian-born photographer best known for his lyrical, elegant and formally rigorous style. One of the most inventive photographers of the twentieth-century, Kertész (and while he would work across different formats including the polaroid in later years) is regarded most highly perhaps for the way he explored the range of use for the new Leica handheld camera. Less well known by name perhaps than contemporaries (and admirers) such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, Kertész, who advocated spontaneity over technical precision - "photographs can be technically perfect and even beautiful, but they have no expression" he once said - created a highly distinctive body of work that reflected his commitment to poetic and geometric forms. Kertész travelled the avant-garde road from Budapest, to Paris to New York. His feelings of isolation and rootlessness, exacerbated by his reluctance to learn French and English, respectively, would manifest in a body of work that often reflected a quiet mood of melancholy.

Key Ideas

Kertész is revered for the clarity of his style and his emotional connections with his subjects. Reared on the languages of rational and irrational modernism - Mondrian and Surrealists for instance - his compositions often sought out and the geometric lines and patterns that would complement and/or alter the picture content. He used his camera lens to freeze time and to turn and opportune street scene, or staged, fixed, object(s), into something metaphorical and permanent.
Kertész felt that intuition was the best ingredient for creating poetic substance. "The moment always dictates in my work" he said. Though he became an accomplished and successful commercial photographer, especially in fashion photography, Kertesz felt that "professional virtuosity" was the enemy of art photography. He made a clear distinction between the two spheres believing 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 declared.
One of the most important and revered Parisian street photographers was Kertész's compatriot Gyula Halász, better known to the world of photography as Brassaï. Kertész arrived in Montparnasse, Paris in 1925 speaking no French. He made the acquaintance of the bi-lingual journalist and picture-editor who was looking for photographic source material for his and other magazine articles. While working together on the weekly French pictorial VU, Kertész became Gyula's mentor, teaching him the techniques of photographing at night, and nurturing in his student a feeling for the range of artistic possibilities offered through photography.
Kertész was highly regarded as a still-life photographer. Nothing was too ordinary for his lens since he did not document so much as interpret what was in front of him. He composed many still lifes with the aim of transforming the mundane - such as utensils, eyeglasses and pipes - into something ethereal and poetic. He advocated the use of bold monochrome lines and the use of reflections and shadows as a means of rendering a still life as a simplified geometric abstraction. Though his still life's can be viewed as abstractions, the identity of the object(s) is never hidden.
André Kertész Photo

André Kertész (christened Andor), was born on July 2nd, 1894, in Budapest (Hungary), to middle-class Jewish parents. He was the second (between Imre and Jenő) of three sons. His father, Lipót Kertész, was a bookseller specializing in classical Hungarian literature, and a stockbroker; his mother, Ernesztin Hoffmann, in addition to raising her three sons, sold coffee in Teleki Square. The family also owned two modest plots of land. From the age of about six, Andor would often visit nearby relatives who allowed him to build a den in their attic. There he came across old copies of Die Gartenlaube, a German newspaper. Die Gartenlaube was illustrated with woodcuts and lithography and Andor daydreamed that he might one day produce images like this. By all accounts his was a happy childhood but his wanderlust showed itself at an early age when, at just 12 years old, he packed a suitcase with books (and his flute) and set off to 'discover the world'. His short-lived adventure notwithstanding, he attended elementary school on Szív Street, and later, at the Realschule on Reáltanoda Street. His father died In 1909 of tuberculosis. Following this family tragedy, paternal duties passed to his uncle, Lipót Hoffmann (Ernesztin's brother), who became the boys' official guardian. The family moved into Lipót's countryside home close to the Danube River and André spent happy hours fishing and bathing on its banks. Lipót took his new responsibilities seriously and paid for his nephew to attend the Academy of Commerce in Budapest. Andor duly graduated in 1912 taking up a post at the Giro Bank of the Budapest Stock and Commodity Exchange in the same year.

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