André Kertész is recognized as one of the world’s leading photographers. During a career spanning more than 70 years, he created images of ordinary life, in a style without pretension, using small-format cameras almost exclusively. As his instinctive formal sense became more assured, he retained the vital curiosity which first prompted him at age 18, to make a visual record of his daily life.
Working in a variety of modes, from portraits to still-lifes to nude distortions to photo-reportage, Kertész consistently captured the telling moment and the overlooked but expressive details of his subjects. He had an enduring influence upon world photography, particularly in France where he was a mentor to photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Brassai. Cartier-Bresson has acknowledged this achievement: “Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.”
Acclaimed a master by his peers, critics, and curators by the late 1930s, Kertész’s reputation suffered during the 1940s and 1950s as his commercial work in America distracted viewers from his European achievements. Since 1963, however, the full range of his mastery – fragile, intimate and gently ironic – has been undeniable. Exhibitions and a stream of books and monographs during the past 20 years of his creative life have re-established Kertész in his rightful place in the photographic pantheon.
Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, where he graduated from the Academy of Commerce in 1912. He became a photographer of street and genre scenes at that time, and worked as a clerk at the Budapest Stock Exchange from 1912 to 1914. During service with the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Balkans and Central Europe in 1914-1915, Kertész photographed his comrades and their activities until he was severely wounded in battle. Many of the images he made were lost during the Hungarian Revolution of 1918.
Kert&sz’s first published photographs appeared in Erkedes Ujsag (Interesting Newspaper) in 1917. He returned to work at the Budapest Stock Exchange until 1925, when he moved to Paris. For 10 years, Kertész worked as a freelance photographer in Paris for European magazines including Vu, Art et Medecine, the London Sunday Times, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, and UHU. His work as a photojournalist was highly acclaimed at this time, and he made many sympathetic portraits of Paris artists including Leger, Mondrian, Chagall, Brancusi, and Colette. His first oneman show was held at the Sacre du Printemps Gallery, Paris, in 1927.
Kertész was employed by Keystone Studios, New York, in 1936. He intended to remain in America for a short period only, but was unable to return to Europe because of the war. From 1937 to 1949 he worked as a freelance fashion and interiors photographer for such magazines as Look, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Collier’s, and Town and Country. He became an American citizen in 1944. From 1949 to 1962 he worked exclusively under contract with Conde Nast Publications. After 1963 he devoted himself to personal creative photography and the exhibition and publication of his life’s work.
Kertész has been the recipient of many honors. He received a Silver Medal at the Exposition Coloniale, Paris in 1930, a Gold Medal at the Venice Biennale in 1962, and the Mayor’s Award, New York, in 1977. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975, is an Honorary Member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (1965), and was named Commander, Order of Arts and Letters, by the French Government in 1976.
André Kertész in New York, 1982
(The Hungarian name form is Kertész Andor; this article uses the Western style.)
André Kertész (2 July 1894 – 28 September 1985), born Kertész Andor, was a Hungarian-born photographer known for his groundbreaking contributions to photographic composition and the photo essay. In the early years of his career, his then-unorthodox camera angles and style prevented his work from gaining wider recognition. Kertész never felt that he had gained the worldwide recognition he deserved. Today he is considered one of the seminal figures ofphotojournalism.
Expected by his family to work as a stock broker, Kertész pursued photography independently as an autodidact, and his early work was published primarily inmagazines, a major market in those years. This continued until much later in his life, when Kertész stopped accepting commissions. He served briefly in World War I and moved to Paris in 1925, against the wishes of his family. Involved with many young immigrant artists and the Dada movement, he achieved critical and commercial success.
Due to German persecution of the Jews and the threat of World War II, Kertész decided to emigrate to the United States in 1936, where he had to rebuild his reputation through commissioned work. In the 1940s and 1950s, he stopped working for magazines and began to achieve greater international success. His career is generally divided into four periods, based on where he was working and his work was most prominently known. They are called the Hungarian period, the French period, the American period and, toward the end of his life, the International period.