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 of photojournalism.
Expected by his family to work as a stockbroker, Kertész pursued photography independently as an autodidact, and his early work was published primarily in magazines, 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, then the artistic capital of the world, against the wishes of his family. In Paris he worked for France’s first illustrated magazine called VU. 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.
Throughout most of his career Kertész was depicted as the “unknown soldier” who worked behind the scenes of photography, yet was rarely cited for his work, even into his death in the 1980s. Kertész thought himself unrecognised throughout his life, despite spending his life in the eternal search for acceptance and fame. Though Kertész received numerous awards for photography, he never felt both his style and work was accepted by critics and art audiences alike. Although, in 1927, he was the first photographer to have a solo exhibition, Kertész said that it was not until his 1946 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, that he first felt he received positive reviews on his work, and often cites this show as one of his finest moments in America. During his stay in America, he was cited as being an intimate artist, bringing the viewer into his work, even when the picture was that of subjects such as the intimidating New York City and even his reproduced work printed after his death received good reviews; “Kertész was above all a consistently fine photographer”. Kertész’s work itself is often described as predominantly utilising light and even Kertész himself said that “I write with light”. He was never considered to “comment” on his subjects, but rather capture them – this is often cited as why his work is often overlooked; he stuck to no political agenda and offered no deeper thought to his photographs other than the simplicity of life. With his art’s intimate feeling and nostalgic tone, Kertész’s images alluded to a sense of timelessness which was inevitably only recognised after his death. Unlike other photographers, Kertész’s work gave an insight into his life, showing a chronological order of where he spent his time; for example, many of his French photographs were from cafés where he spent the majority of his time waiting for artistic inspiration.
Although Kertész rarely received bad reviews, it was the lack of commentary that lead to the photographer feeling distant from recognition. Now, however, he is often considered to be the father of photojournalism. Even other photographers cite Kertész and his photographs as being inspirational; Henri Cartier-Bresson once said of him in the early 1930s, “We all owe him a great deal.” When he was 90 years old, a person asked him why he was still taking photographs. He replied, “I’m still hungry.”