Andre Kertesz was unsurpassed as a composer of photographic images. His focus was to create "not the epic but the lyric truth." This outstanding book gives you a full biographical and pictoral treatment of his vision for photography.
If you are offended by all nudity, you should know that this volume contains both male and female nudity. These images are all very tastefully and beautifully done in the best artistic expression of capturing the essence of humanity.
Kertesz was born as Andor ("Bandi") Kertesz in Budapest in 1894. He was born into a Jewish middle class family. This pleasant environment was upset when his father died of tuberculosis when Bandi was 14. His uncle looked after Kertesz's career interests after that, and steered him into working at the stock exchange, a job Kertesz hated. Kertesz served in World War I, and was wounded. But he did not seem to have been destroyed emotionally by the experience as so many young Europeans were. His photographs from the trenches focus on the fundamental experience rather than the shocking or appalling.
Unlike many photographers who started as artists in another genre, Kertesz was drawn directly to photography. Seeing the first illustrated magazines sold him on the concept, and he got a camera as soon as he could afford one.
His career spans four periods. The first was in his native Hungary and emphasized sympathetic, realistic images of "peasants, Gypsies and the landscape of the Hungarian plains." His work was that of an amateur, photographing in his spare time when he was not working at the stock exchange.
The second was when he moved to Paris in 1925, where he thought he did his best work. He became "Andre" there, and shifted his attention to "street people, bums, children, emigre compatriots, artists and artisans." During this time, he was an important influence on both Brassai and Cartier-Bresson. He had commercial success at this time, being employed by many of the new French and German illustrated magazines. By 1928, he had moved beyond plates, and owned his first Leica.
The third period was when he left Paris for New York in 1936. This experience was a setback from his point of view. American tastes did not match his interests. The Museum of Modern Art insisted he chop off the pubic hair on a female nude, ruining an image from his point of view, before it could be displayed. The American magazines wanted simple, compelling images rather than the cool compositions of Kertesz. He suffered artistically and financially from rejection until be finally caught on with Home & Garden in 1946. But he did not like the work, and was pleased to quit it in 1961. "What I feel, I do." He had remained faithful to his photographic muse, but found New York a harsh environment for his vision. This was his least productive period artistically.
The fourth period saw him with an international reputation as a top photographer, and involved much freedom to develop his concepts. Much of his best work comes from this period.
I was not familiar with his work before reading this book (which was recommended to me by a reviewing colleague at Amazon.com). I was pleased to make his acquaintance. There is a mastery of composition and detail in the work that reminds one of Ansel Adams' landscapes. He also was a brilliant student of the potential of shadows, particularly for creating more interesting compositions. Shadows are treated as being real, like solid objects. That makes the images far more intriguing. Kertesz also produced many remarkable still lifes that combine shadows with simple objects to make remarkable abstractions at the same time.
To me though, his most interesting and compelling work involved the use of distorting mirrors. With female nudes, he used the mirrors to transform them into fascinating abstractions that make eloquent statements about femaleness. I highly recommend these images to you. They are clearly influenced by Picasso, but go beyond Picasso. Very interesting!
My favorite images in the collection are:
Szigetbeese, Hungary, 1914
Gypsy Children, Esztergom, Hungary, 1917
My Brother as a "Scherzo," Hungary, 1919
Storm over Paris, 1925-1926
Shadow, The Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1929
Ernest, c. 1930
Paul Arma's Hands, 1928
Clayton Bates, 1928-1929
Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe, Paris, 1926
Distortions, Nos. 46, 49, 68, 1933
New York, 1942
Washington Square, 1954
The Sofa, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1951
New York, c. 1963 (2)
Washington Square, 1966
Winter Garden, New York, 1970
The Balcony, Martinique, January 1, 1972
New York, 1972
1984 [color image]
The introductory essay is by Pierre Borhan and provides a superb overview of the overall career and work. Each of the four periods has a separate detailed introduction focusing on that portion of the work. These essays are enlivened by small images that exemplify and elucidate the points made.
In general, the reproduction quality is very high on the full-sized images. A few of the small images within the essays are too dark, apparently reflecting printing errors.
After you have finished enjoying this superb volume, I suggest that you think about physical distance from what you consider. Do you like to get up close and touch things? Or do you prefer an aloof distance, as from a elevated rear window? Or does it depend on the moment and the subject? Few want to confront a mugger close up. Try changing your distance deliberately for a month, and observe how it changes your perspective.
Look for the lyrical truth in all you perceive!