Photographer André Kertész (1894-1985) was born Kertész Andor in Budapest, Hungary. As a child, he’d rummage in his uncle’s attic through piles of old German and Hungarian illustrated magazines. He started to develop his passion and eye for photography while working as a Budapest stock exchange clerk; he purchased his first camera and made his first photograph in 1912. After 13 years dabbling in amatuer photography in Hungary — focusing on day-to-day life behind World War I battle lines and snapshots of the Hungarian countryside — Kertész packed up and moved to Paris where he changed his name and kickstarted a career shooting freelance. There, not knowing much of the language, Kertész befriended fellow artist Brassaï and got to work honing his own observational style that highlights the bizarre in otherwise ordinary routines with his 33mm Leica camera. Over time he became an accomplished photojournalist, applauded for his criticism of government scrutiny and as “one of photography’s greatest pioneers,” among other highlights. Kertész published three photography books between 1933 and 1936, just before settling in New York where he’d go on to freelance for legacy publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Life and others. His evocative photographs — which paved the way for documentary photography at large — have been displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Getty Museum and more. He died at 91 in his home in New York City.
Because of his tenure in Paris capturing street photography, Kertész developed and fostered a unique yet intimate style of imagemaking. During that same time in the 1920s, he also ingrained himself in the international arts world, making friends with contemporaries like painter and filmmaker Fernand Léger, sculptor Alexander Calder, and painter Maurice de Vlaminck. Young artists were drawn to the artist, including Robert Capa who, at the time, was an earnest photographer working in Berlin. Kertész helped design Capa’s war photography book Death In The Making (Covici-Friede, 1936). Kertész became a United States citizen in 1944 and in 1948, Conde Nast’s Alexander Liberman hired him on an exclusive contract for the company’s entire roster of publications.
Kertész didn’t only photograph candid scenes he saw wandering Parisian streets. He photographed diplomat Joseph Verner Reed Jr.’s opulent Palm Beach abode in dramatic dark and bright silver patinas for Vogue (1959) and shot architecture for House and Garden for 15 years. Credited as one of the artists responsible for the advent of photojournalism, Kertész diverged from this in the American media, instead spending 25 years making fashion and still-life photos for magazines. By 1960, he’d returned to his original visions, capturing life as it unfolded around him in a very candid way.
Despite widespread and rampant popularity throughout Europe, Kertész was supposedly bitter about a cool reception in the United States till then-newly appointed MOMA Department of Photography head John Szarkowski offered him a solo show in 1964; the retrospective exhibition spanned the entirety of Kertész’s career. Kertész has also had work appear at The Getty and exhibitions at Jackson Fine Art in 2004 and 2018.