Le Pont des Artes, Paris, 1932
André Kertész is among the leading innovators in modern photography. A seminal photojournalist and pioneer of the photo essay, he influenced Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith among others, and made a major contribution to lyrical street photography. He was shaped by Constructivism and Surrealism, but his own style was an entirely personal blend of emotion and observation. John Szarkowski, MoMA’s legendary curator of photography, once remarked that “more than any other photographer, André Kertész discovered and demonstrated the aesthetic of the small camera.”
Kertész’s exploration of photography commenced in 1912, when he began taking pictures of peasants and gypsies in and around Budapest. A spell in the army also yielded photographs of life on the front lines. But it wasn’t until he moved to Paris, in 1925, that he found fame. It was here that he purchased his first Leica, the new hand-held 35mm camera, and this inspired his interest in the idea of the chance encounter, something which would be so important for Cartier-Bresson. He moved among a bohemian milieu that included Brancusi, Mondrian, Léger, and Brassaï, and he became an important contributor to some of the city’s leading publications, including Vu and Art et Médecine, whilst also establishing a reputation in magazines throughout Europe. Of particular note is the innovative series of nudes, ‘Distortions’, which he shot for the popular magazine Le Sourire, and which depict models reflected in a circus mirror.
The threat of war drove Kertész to leave Paris for New York in 1936, where he struggled to re-establish his reputation, even though he worked for respected magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar. In 1946 he had a prestigious solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, but more years of struggle followed until he was finally honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964. Fêted throughout his later life, Kertész traveled widely in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1985 another retrospective, ‘André Kertész: Of Paris and New York’, was staged at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
André Kertész published over twenty photo-books during his lifetime, including Paris Vu par André Kertész, in 1934, and Of New York, in 1976. His most recent retrospective was held in 2005 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. He gathered many awards in his later years, including the National Grand Prize of Photography, in Paris, in 1982; Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, in Paris, in 1983; in 1976 he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; and in 1980 the International Center of Photography in New York presented him with its first Master of Photography Award.