André Kertész has been hailed as one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. Working intuitively, he captured the poetry of modern urban life with its quiet, often overlooked incidents and odd, occasionally comic, or even bizarre juxtapositions. He endeavored “to give meaning to everything” about him with his camera, “to make photographs as by reflection in a mirror, unmanipulated and direct as in life.” Combining this seemingly artless spontaneity with a sophisticated understanding of composition, Kertész created a purely photographic idiom that celebrates direct observation of the everyday. Neither a surrealist, nor a strict photojournalist, he nevertheless infused his best images with strong tenets of both. “You don’t see” the things you photograph, he explained, “you feel them.”
Born Kertész Andor in Budapest in 1894, he received his first camera in 1912 and immediately began to make intimate portraits of family and friends, studies of the Hungarian countryside, and scenes of daily life behind the battle lines of World War I. Seeking to make a living through photography, he moved in 1925 to Paris, where he established a successful career as a photojournalist as an early proponent of using the smaller 35 mm format camera. The year 1927 marked Kertesz’s first solo exhibition in Paris and it was in 1928 that he met a fellow Hungarian, Brassaï, whom he introduced to photography. Kertesz would go on to photograph many famous artists such as Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, and Constantin Brancusi. Buoyed by this accomplishment and inspired by the vibrant artistic community of the French capital, he created some of the most intriguing and celebrated images of the period.
In 1936 Kertész relocated to New York in order to further his career. Captivated by the rich visual spectacle of the city and awed by its scale, he used the camera to record both his fascination with, and sense of alienation from, his new surroundings. The images attest to a complicated personal history born through the political upheavals of two wars and life in three countries. His fine art photographs were not widely recognized until 1964 when John Sarkowski curated a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1984 he received the French Legion of Honor award and the following year he died at age ninety-one leaving behind a legacy that would mark him as having one of the most important impacts of the history of modernism in the history of photography.