Kertesz, Andre

Hungarian (1894-1984)

Though he considered the lack of fame and respect he received during his lifetime “an absolute tragedy,” Andre Kertesz (1894-1984) is today revered for his atraditional experiments in photographic composition. The tensions began early on. Raised by an uncle after his father died, Kertesz was educated in business and given a job at the stock exchange, which he quickly came to hate. Opting to teach himself photography by shooting gypsies in the Hungarian countryside, Kertesz provoked his family’s anger and soon sought escape from them. He served briefly in World War I and then fled to Paris to join up with the burgeoning Dada movement. Influence by cubism, Kertesz began experimenting with distortion is over 200 of his shots, using water and mirrors to abstract the human form. But when WWII erupted, magazines stopped publishing his work, considering it too apolitical for troubling times. Kertesz, angry, left for the United States.

It was a move he regretted for the rest of his life. Unknown abroad, he was forced to take commissions to feed himself and found less and less time for artistic experimentation. Editors were specific about what they did and didn’t want; Kertesz was stubborn and often inflexible. Beaumont Newhall critiqued his shots for Town and Country; Kertez quit. LIFE invited him to shoot tugboats and Kertesz took pictures of the entire harbor; LIFE decided to use none of the shots. He even turned down work from Vogue because he didn’t like the strictures he was being asked to work under. To make matters worse, carrying a Hungarian passport, Kertesz was designated an “enemy alien” and had restrctions placed on where he could and could not photograph around the country. Though the 50s and 60s found him pursuing the work the personal projects he desired, Kertez was finally insulted when Steichen did not invite him to be part of The Family of Man exhibit in 1955. Kertesz died unhappy, unable to see the amount of appreciation afforded to his work today by museums, galleries and collectors worldwide.