André Kertész is widely regarded as one of Europe's leading photographic artists, particularly for his contribution to photographic composition and the photo essay. Although he failed to gain popular recognition in the early stages of his career, his later photographs, including works such as 'The Fork ' (1928), 'Melancholic Tulip' (1939) and 'Washington Square, New York' (1954) are now amongst the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.
Kertész, born Kertész Andor in Budapest on 2nd July 1894, was the son of middle-class Hungarian-Jewish parents. Following the death of his father, a stock-broker, Kertész was expected to forge a similar career, and he attended an academy of commerce in Budapest. However, the outbreak of war in 1914 prevented him from pursuing a career in banking, and he served in the Austro-Hungarian army until he was wounded in 1915. During his service, his passion for photography grew, and he established himself as a promising amateur photographer. Despite returning to work at the stock exchange when the war ended in 1918, he continued to pursue photography in his spare time and, in 1922, received an honorary diploma from the Hungarian Association of Photography.
In October 1925, Kertész emigrated to Paris in an attempt to establish himself as a professional photographer. He was one of many Hungarian artists who had emigrated in this period, including Brassaï, Robert Capa and Julia Bathory. He did not gain immediate success, and had to accept various low-paid jobs initially to support himself. However he persisted with photography, becoming associated with members of the growing Dada movement and, in 1927, he exhibited 42 photographs at the left-bank gallery, Au Sacre du Printemps. In 1928, Kertész began using a Leica, the camera regarded as the favourite of the young generation of photo-reporters that emerged during this decade.
The purist' phase in Kertész's work, identified with his time in Paris and pieces such as 'Fork' and 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' (1926), helped to build Kertész's reputation as a photographer. He gained popular acclaim for his exhibitions after 1928, and his association with Lucien Vogel's 'VU' magazine, which was launched that March, further enhanced his notoriety. In 1933, Kertész published his first personal book of photographs, entitled 'Enfants' and dedicated to his fiancée Elizabeth and mother.
Kertész emigrated to New York in 1936, intent on establishing himself as a photographer in America, and signed a contract with the Keystone photography agency. He began his association with magazines including 'Vogue', 'Harper's Bazaar' and 'Coronet' in 1937 and worked continuously for Condé Nast from 1949 to 1962. During his time in New York, Kertész developed his fascination for capturing images of people reading, particularly in outside spaces such as parks, window ledges and balconies.
In 1952, Kertesz and his wife moved to a 12th floor apartment near Washington Square. With the aid of a telephoto lens, the view of snow-covered tracks and silhouettes in the park became the focus of some of his most effective photographs which take on the guise of visual puzzles. Kertesz was both devoted and entirely reliant on his wife and, when she died in 1977, he became increasingly reclusive, seldom leaving the apartment. During this phase, he began to rely on his telephoto lens to peer out into the world, and took some of his most interesting, abstracted cityscapes. He also enjoyed using a Polaroid camera, with which he created surreal, still-life photographs of his possessions. He remained in New York until his death on 28th September 1985.
Throughout his later life, Kertész's work was featured in many exhibitions throughout Europe and America, including a one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964. However, despite this, Kertész still felt personally unsuccessful and unrecognised by both critics and the art community. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that his work as a photographer is now fully appreciated and his legacy as an idiosyncratic and influential photographer has been acknowledged by critics internationally.