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Andre Kertesz

“Everything is a subject. Every subject has a rhythm. To feel it is the raison d’être. The photograph is a fixed moment of such a raison d’être, which lives on in itself.” – Andre Kertesz

Kertész was a master of the grand form and plane, the laws of volume and space. His photographs of city squares and streets from a high vantage point lent order to the bustle of life. New York's Washington Square became an especially fruitful site for Kertész: footprints and tire tracks in the snow, tree branches, fences, benches, and milling passersby provided the elements from which he composed visual chamber music. Rather than practicing street photography as a form of close-up sociology, he produced finely equilibrated urban views. This tendency had already marked his early work in Hungary, even though his holiday scenes, images of gypsies and itinerant musicians, village communities, friends, and moments in the trenches of the First World War amounted to an eloquent record of the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Underwater Swimmer, taken in 1917 in Esztergom, was Kertész's most famous early work.

In his French period (1925—1936), apart from portraits, direct views of the human face became rarer. Kertész focused his lens on the structure of the city, finding comprehensive spatial harmonies in which people tend to figure as accessories. Unlike Brassat's, his images of Paris by night had no air of vice about them. Where the former sensed low instincts, Kertész found plays of light and shadow.

On visits to painters and sculptors, he portrayed not only them but also their studios, in still lifes of utensils. Mondrian's Studio (1926) is a light-flooded interior reminiscent of a Cubist collage by Picasso; Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe, of the same year, a still life composed in the style of the New Vision, whose compositional clarity is surpassed only by the famous Fork (1928), an advertising photograph for the Bruckmann Company, of Heilbronn, Germany. Perhaps intentionally spoofing the idea of valid form, for the humor magazine Le Sourire Kertész posed nude models in front of a distorting mirror (1933) that stretched and compressed their limbs into novel sculptural configurations. People, faces and objects were subjected to the same treatment. Finally, the skyscraper city enriched the works of Kertész's American period (1936—1962) with new motifs. Yet the poetic spirit that marked the Hungarian's art throughout his career, objective in a rather un-French way, continued to inform these late images.

Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan

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