History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary









 

 


THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURES 1827-1991

 

 

1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991

 

see also:

KERTESZ ANDRE




Chapter 17 (part I)

 


1928
 


Andre Kertesz
 

 


Meudon
 

The Poetry of the

Street

He always saw himself as a realist and documentary photographer. But during his time in Paris, the Hungarian-born Andre Kertesz had in fact matured into artistic greatness. Just how strongly he was also influenced by the Cubist and Surrealist developments of his age is clear in Meudon, taken in 1928.

 

At least in titling his photographs, the great poet among twentieth-century photographers was fairly prosaic: the names of what are today probably his best known works - Chez Mondrian, Danseuse satirique, and Fourchette — merely designate what is to be seen in the photograph. And also in christening this photograph Meudon, Kertesz was referring to an actual place, a suburb to the southwest of Paris, approximately halfway to Versailles. Just when in 1928 the picture was taken we do not know, but from the leafless tree in the background, it must have been either at the beginning or end of the year, even though the photograph wasn't published until 1945, a good decade and a half after Kertesz took it. The New York publishing house of J. J. Augustin brought out Day of Paris, edited by George Davis and designed by Alexey Brodovitch, in a 9 1/2 x 7-inch format, with 148 pages containing 102 illustrations - in what was a halfway decently printed volume, even though it was quite modest by today's standards. Nevertheless, for Andre Kertesz, the publication was an important event, not so much because the design of the book had been taken over by the man who was probably the most important art director of the day, but because Kertesz's collection of Paris shots taken between 1925 and 1936 formed a reminiscence of what he always referred to later as artistically the most fruitful and most beautiful period of his life. Moreover, the publication constituted a piece of publicity during a phase that otherwise must undoubtedly be regarded as the low point of his career.

Kertesz Andre
( 1894-1985)

Meudon, Paris
1928

Kertesz Andre
( 1894-1985)

Meudon, Paris
1928

 

The greater part of his pictorial archive in his bags

 

Andre Kertesz emigrated from Paris to New York in 1936, lured by an offer of the Keystone Agency - although it is possible that the photographer, scion of a Jewish Hungarian family, was also motivated by political developments in Europe. In his baggage, Kertesz had carried along the greater part of his pictorial archive - a fact which suggests that he had determined to spend a longer time in the USA. This material was to form the basis of Day of Paris more than a decade later. The rest of the story is well-known - an almost immediate fall-out with Keystone; the artist's more-or-!ess unsuccessful attempts at finding work with all the various publishers and presses; his classification as an unfriendly foreigner in 1941, resulting in a ban on publication of his work; his jobbing after the war in magazine photography. Looking back, Kertesz always designated his move to the USA as a mistake, and his work for magazines such as House and Garden and Vogue as a waste of time. Why he therefore remained in the USA remains a riddle; what is certain is that the artist, who had been active on numerous projects between the wars in Europe, could not gain recognition in the USA for his work, steeped as it was in the formal language of Surrealism. In an often-told story of his failure to acquire a foothold In Life, which had been founded in the year of his arrival in America, it is said that the editors told him that his pictures told too much: a highly telling comment when it comes to our picture.

 

Contradictions that create both the visual interest and the oddity of the image

 

The publication of the monograph in 1945, the year that the war ended, must therefore have seemed to Kertesz to be a priceless recompense, all the more so because it also made amends for an even earlier blow. The title of the book, Day of Paris, may have seemed to many like a counterpart to BrassaT's warmly received Paris de Nuit of 1933, but in fact the publisher had originally offered the theme to Kertesz. In view of the meager stipend, however, Kertesz refused the commission, thus opening the door for his somewhat younger Hungarian colleague. No less a figure than Paul Morand had composed the foreword to BrassaT's first published work. Day of Paris, by contrast, was served with extended captions, supposedly written by the editor George Davis. Meudon appears as a full-page plate on page 83. "The sharp unreality of stage-sets. Like a toy an engine crosses the viaduct in a suburb," reads the caption -which indicates that the image had already irritated and alienated its contemporaries.

A train, coming from the right, is crossing a viaduct, In the foreground, as if accidentally, a man in a dark coat wearing a hat is crossing the street, while further behind, nine figures, two of them children, are heading off in various directions. Nothing in the picture is unusual in itself: there is no 'event' here, no 'transgression' of borders in the sense of the artistic theory promulgated by Structuralism. And yet the effect of the vertical black-and-white photograph is somehow disturbing. Does this feeling originate in a simultaneity of dissimilar things, that captures the observer's gaze, surprises them, leaves questions unanswered? Normally, photography presents connections, reveals causalities, reveals insights. But this picture explains nothing; it seems to be torn from some kind of unknown context. And on top of this, it is loaded with an entire series of clearly obvious contradictions that constitute the visual interest, but also the oddity, of the image. There is, for example, the massive viaduct and equally imposing steam locomotive that appear as if in miniature in the photograph, as if taken over from a model train set. And then there is the well-groomed gentleman, whose dark coat together with his tie and Homburg don't quite fit into the otherwise rather shabby surroundings. What is a man like him, whom we would rather expect to find strolling on one of the boulevards in the center of the city, doing out here in the suburb of Meudon - and furthermore, 'caught' with a newspaper-wrapped object which the 'suspect' seems to be transporting like booty from left to right through the picture. Even though it depicts a scene clearly drawn from everyday life in Paris, something surreal clings to the photograph, something reminiscent of the paintings of de Chirico, or the inventions of a Balthus or Rene Magritte, or of certain scenes in the films of Luis Bunuel. More than anything else, the photograph resembles a still taken from a film; the architecture, diminishing in size as the receding street curves away to the left, and the viaduct in the deep background, lend the picture a tangibly stage-like quality.

 

Friends with the Avant-garde circles of Montparnasse

 

At the time he made the picture, the Hungarian-born Kertesz, age thirty-four, was a well-known and successful photographic artist in Paris. No less a figure than Julien Levy would soon designate him as a "prolific leader in the new documentary school of photography." Strictly speaking, Kertesz was a member ofthe large Hungarian-Jewish Diaspora whose innovative work was making a major contribution to the development of a new look to photography around 1930. In this context one can name Robert Capa, Stefan Lorant, Martin Munkacsi, as well as Brassai, born Gyula Halasz, who had moved to Paris in 1924. Kertesz's first photographs date from 1914, and his journalistic publications had already gained him a certain degree of fame in Hungary o the early 1920s. Why he moved to Paris in 1925 we do not know; after all, the majority of his photographic compatriots were drifting to Berlin, at that time the uncontested center of a dynamically growing photographic press. What is certain is that in Paris he soon found his way into the artistic Avant-garde circles of Montparnasse. Although he seems to have had only a loose connection with the reserved Man Ray, he was in regular contact with more-or-less well-known Hungarian artists such as Lajos Tihanyi, Josef Csaky, Istvan Beothy, and even BrassaT. Kertesz regularly met his colleagues in the Cafe du Dome, which, located on the corner of the boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, soon became the center for the informal group of artists.

In addition to achieving a respectable measure of success in these years as a photojournalist, especially for German and French papers, Kertesz still had enough time and energy to pursue freelance projects directed toward developing his personal photographic style - one which is more-over not to be defined with any of the traditional vocabulary. According to Jean-Claude Lemagny, his pictures "have something restrained, dampened, soft, about them." Kertesz was perfectly aware of the artistic tendencies of his age, especially Cubism and Surrealism, "but neither dominate his work; both remain subservient to the actual photographic task at hand... Kertesz is surrealistic only to the extent that reality itself is. With every step in the real world, an abyss of poetry can open up."

 

The ideal tool for the artist

 

Meudon came into being at an important moment in Kertesz's life, for this was the year in which he purchased his first Leica. The small-format camera, which had been available on the market since 1925, proved to be the ideal tool for the artist. The 35-mm camera, at once handy and discrete, made Kertesz's particular approach as a strolling photographer considerably easier. In addition, the 36-exposure rolls allowed pictures to be taken in sequence, thus allowing a visually more experimental approach to a valid pictorial formula - an advantage which, as we shall see, played an important role also in the conception of Meudon. Portraits of his artist friends; including Mondrian, Foujita, and Chagall; interiors, as well as everyday objects and street scenes, were among Kertesz's more common themes in those early years in Paris. Nonetheless from the beginning, Kertesz's visual exploration of the metropolis on the Seine occupied the center of his artistic interest. In these years, according to Sandra S. Phillips, he often strolled through areas like Montmartre and Meudon. Gaining familiarity with the traditional artist-quarter of Montmartre was, of course, a part ofthe required task of every new-comer to the Paris scene. Meudon, in contrast, was not a place that a strolling photographer would visit as a matter of course: one must inten-tionally board a streetcar to get there. But what might have drawn Kertesz to Meudon in 1928?

At this point, the survival of a total of three small-format negatives, distributed on two nitrate films, becomes significant. One image is without people or train, and lacks both date and frame number on the roll. Two more images, including the published version, were taken one directly after the other. Which was the first exposure? Presumably the scene without people or train, for it seems unlikely that the visually experienced Kertesz would have followed the dramatic composition of our picture with a comparatively boring variation without human figures. In any case, the photographer made two visits to Meudon. The diminishing wood pile and the alterations in the scaffolding of a building indicate that a good deal of time must have elapsed between the first shot and the two suc-ceeding ones. If Kertesz had traveled out to Meudon for the sake of the viaduct, however imposing it might be, he would undoubtedly have been satisfied with his first picture, in which the bridge is clearly evident - or he would have immediately attempted another shot. Consequently, there must have been another motive that drew Kertesz to Meudon, where the critical picture was made almost in passing, as it were. Kertesz's exhibition at the gallery Sacre du Printemps in 1927 undoubtedly marked an important station in the artist's professional career. Not only was the show one of the first exhibitions emphasizing the art of photography in general, but it also constituted the first large summary of his work in progress, with which he hoped to establish connections to better known photographers, in particular Man Ray. A group photograph also dating from 1927 reveals just how much a part of the international art circle in Paris Kertesz had already become. On the picture titled After the soiree we see Piet Mondrian, Michel Seuphor, Adolf Loos, Ida Thai, and in the background the German artist Willi Baumeister who, in his own words, had met with "recognition and very great interest on the part of the French artists" and even toyed for a time with the idea of moving to France. At least on one other occasion Kertesz did a portrait of Baumeister: in 1926 in Mondrian's studio together with Gertrud Stemmler, Julius Herburger, Piet Mondrian, Michel Seuphor, and Margit Baumeister. In other words, Kertesz and Baumeister had met at the latest by 1926. Taking a closer look at the group portrait of 1926, there is an astounding similarity between Baumeister and the gentleman in a dark coat, whose shadowed face nonetheless emerges as powerful and broad - and who likewise seems to be wearing glasses.

 

Never rearranged a subject

 

We know that Willi Baumeister visited Paris in 1926,1927, and 1929, even if there is no direct evidence for 1928. In a letter to Oskar Schlemmer dated 2 November 1928, now privately owned, the German artist speaks of a certain "Miss whom I met in Paris" - a statement that certainly does not constitute proof of a visit to the city during the year in question, but which makes it nonetheless more probable, If we assume that Willi Baumeister in fact was in the French capital during the course of the year, what might have led him to Meudon? A visit to his friend and fellow-painter Hans Arp, whose studio was in fact located in Meudon at this timer Clearly, there is at least some evidence to support the hypothesis that the photograph presents us with the figure of the constructivist Willi Baumeister - whom Kertesz had accompanied to Meudon and captured on film as he crossed the street. The flat, newspaper-wrapped package also suggests the possibility of a painter. But if the figure is in fact that of his friend Baumeister, why then did Kertesz not identify him In the caption beneath the picture? The explanation is simple: "The difference between Kertesz and Bourke-White, as well as many others who did photographs on assignment to satisfy editorial needs, is that she would sometimes rearrange a subject; Kertesz never would," declared Weston Naef. But the idea of staging a scene would certainly have occurred to Kertesz's 'teammate' Willi Baumeister, who appears, moreover, as a complete figure in the uncropped photograph. The possibility of staging is all the more realistic since Kertesz was demonstrably working toward an ultimate composition for his picture - as evidenced by the three 'stations' through which the photograph passed. Moreover, a reference to Baumeister in the photograph would have led to an inevitable hierarchizing of the elements in the picture. The balance among viaduct, train, and man-with-hat would shift in the direction of the human figure, and we would therefore understand the picture solely as a portrait of Willi Baumeister - and a none too good one at that. Only insofar as the photograph keeps its secret does it also retain its visual power and surrealistically inspired poetry.

 

 


 

Kertesz Andre

(b Budapest, 2 July 1894; d New York, 27 Sept 1985).

American photographer of Hungarian birth. As a young man he used to wander around Budapest and visit the Ethnographic Museum. At this time Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly were rediscovering Hungarian folk music, and Hungarian poets and painters were looking at their ancient vernacular traditions for inspiration. Kertesz, who started taking photographs at the age of 12, also tried to reflect these interests, both in his choice of countryside subjects and in the simplicity of his style. Self-taught, he often took his camera with him when he went to visit relatives in the small peasant towns of the Hungarian heartland, the puszta. He tried to go beyond mere recording of holiday memories, or of the idyllic relationship of the country people to nature; he rather sought out timeless and essential qualities in the ordinary day-to-day events that he saw around him.
 


The Tender Touch, Bilinski
1915



 


Displaced People
1916



 


Underwater Swimmer
1917



 


The Dancing Faun



 


Cheese Racks, Paris



 


Circus Performer
1920



 


Wandering Violinist, Abony, Hungary
1921



 


Feeding the Ducks in the Late Afternoon Tisza Szalka
1924



 


Geza Blattner
1925



 


Chez Mondrian
1926



 


Satiric Dancer, Paris
1926



 


Parc Des Sceaux in Fall
1926




 


Magda Forstner
1926



 


Self-portrait by Andre Kertesz
1927



 


Montmartre
1927



 


Hands and Books
1927



 


Fork, Paris
1928



 


Study of People and Shadows
1928



 


May
1928



 


Paul Arma's Hands
1928



 


Broken plate
1929



 


Chez Mondrian, Paris
1929




 


Vert Galant On A Wintery Day, Paris
1929



 


Colette with Flowers
1930




 


Shadows
1931




 


"Fete Foraine", Paris
1931



 


Elizabeth and I in a cafe in Montparnasse
1931



 


Elizabeth
1931



 


Rue des Ursins
1931



 


Clock of the Academie Francaise
1932

 

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