andre kertesz

April 14, 2008

I was fortunate to catch this exhibit in its last few days at the Getty Center in LA.

I’m blown away by what he did so long before people like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa pioneered photojournalistic, “decisive-moment” photography. Kertesz was doing stuff in the 1920s that many people didn’t catch on to until the 1950s and 60s. Then he kept going. The cool thing about this exhibit was that it captured 70 years of his work. He just never stopped photographing.

(Side note: That’s something that’s always bugged me about Cartier-Bresson. For being such a foundational figure in photography, he just gave it up for something like the last 20 or 30 years of his life. That seems like a betrayal to me. A real artist, to me, is someone who can’t not do their art, and who keeps growing throughout his or her life. Cartier-Bresson disappoints me in that he seems a bit arrogant and opinionated. Also, some of his stuff, I think, just is pretty boring. I mean sure, he’s amazing with a lot of stuff, and I’m sure I’ll do a blog on him eventually, but I think he is sometimes overrated.)

Anyway, Kertesz, as a Jewish immigrant to New York from Hungary via the Paris 1930s art scene, never lost his medium of photography as a means of interpreting his life experiences. One especially poignant aspect of this is the death of his wife, and how he uses certain still-life objects in his apartment as subjects to photograph. Another aspect of Kertesz’s life and photographic journey is his feeling of alienation as an immigrant, alone in a new land, represented by his famous photo, “Lost Cloud”.

Another observation is his use of downward-looking perspective. He has such a great vantage point from his NYC apartment and finds great ways to photograph life happening below. However, this is something that started much earlier in his photographic career. I wonder if there’s any meaning to it, or if it just shows a certain unexplainable fascination with a certain angle. Regardless, Kertesz never fails to inspire me as a photographer.

Finally, Kertesz was constantly re-evaluating his work. I really respect that. It shows a certain atemporal aspect of his interpretation. He wasn’t afraid to crop out stuff, even drastically. His work was never a finished product. Most of his shots were cropped afterwards. In one really dramatic instance, he took a picture with his wife which showed his and her full bodies in a normal studio pose with his arm around her. Some decades later, he went back and cropped the picture down to half of her face and only his hand showing, which produced a dramatic new effect.

Also, chance played a role, too. One glass-plate negative was shattered with a hole directly through the center of a cityscape in Paris that he had photographed years earlier. Instead of seeing it as an unfortunate waste of a negative, Kertesz printed it as one of his prized photographs. Here it is:

Broken Plate:

The above shot was taken in 1917!

Lost Cloud, below:

Classic example of his use of perspective:

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