André Kertész – Artist Research

Marc Chagall, Paris (1933)

Marc Chagall, Paris (1933)

André Kertész,(1884-1985) was born as Andor (“Bandi”) Kertész in Budapest, Hungary to middle class Jewish parents. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Hungarian Academy of Commerce in 1912, and worked at the Budapest Stock Exchange. Kertész used his earnings to buy his first camera, an ICA box camera, in 1912. His photography training is self-taught and the majority of his work consisted of photographs commissioned by magazines. He became known for one of the most important photojournalists of the time and made a major contribution to lyrical street photography.

Kertész’s 70 year photography career spans four distinct periods. The first was in Hungary, where he began taking pictures of peasants and gypsies family and village life in Budapest. During this period he was drafted into the army in 1914 and took photographs of the lives of soldiers away from the fighting using a Goers Tenax camera. His approach to photography at this time was to capture images that were of everyday life that were seemingly ‘unimportant’.

The second was when he moved to Paris in 1925. He changed his name to André and lived and worked as a photographer for the next 11 years. In 1928 he moved away from the bulky plate cameras and bought a 35mm Leica camera that became his signature camera. This light and portable camera inspired his interest in the idea of the ‘chance encounter’ as he wandered the streets and photographed whatever he found interesting. He captured traditional Parisian life and culture through his images of the streets, bridges, parks, cafés, fairs and their inhabitants – street people, children, artists and his émigré compatriots. He had huge commercial success at this time, being employed by many of the new French and German illustrated magazines, such as VU, Art et Médecine and Le Sourire magazines. He found Paris an artistically inspiring place and began mingling with like-minded artists and made portraits of some of the great artists living in Paris such as March Chagall. Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism was in full effect at this time and Kertész is often associated with the Surrealist movement – he produced a series of distorted nude portraits for Le Sourire called Distortions which depict models reflected in three circus ‘funhouse’ mirrors and used a camera fitted with an early form of a zoom lens.

The threat of another world war loomed in Europe and the Jews were being persecuted. Kertész’s work was non-political and with the magazines devoting more of their coverage to European politics he found his commission work dwindle. Kertész third period was when he left Paris for New York in 1936. In 1941 Kertész and his wife all the while felt like outsiders as he struggled with the language and they were also labeled as ‘enemy aliens’ as they were both Hungarian citizens; Hungary was allied with Germany  during World War II. He struggled to re-establish his Parisian reputation – American tastes did not match his interests. He suffered artistically and financially from rejection until he was taken on by Home & Garden in 1946. But he did not like the work, and was pleased to quit it in 1961 and started doing his own work again.

The fourth period saw him with an international reputation as a top photographer, and his photos were exhibited in many countries. During this period he experimented using the SX-70 Polaroid cameras as he was fascinated with the notebook quality of its instant images.

André Kertész published over twenty photo-books during his lifetime and his work has been exhibited across the world.

Wandering Violinist, Abony, Hungary (1927)

Wandering Violinist, Abony, Hungary (1927)

Group Portrait at Café du Dome (1928)

Group Portrait at Café du Dome (1928)

Satiric Dancer, Paris (1926)

Satiric Dancer, Paris (1926)


  • BAILEY, J., 2010. “From My Window”: The Late Work of André Kertész and Josef Sudek. In: John’s Bailiwick [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.theasc.com/blog
  • BORHAN, P., 2000. Andre Kertesz: his life and work. New York: Little, Brown and Company
  • EDWYNN HOUK GALLERY, n.d.. André Kertész [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.houkgallery.com/artists/andre-kertesz/
  • FALLIS, G., n.d.. André Kertész [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.utata.org/sundaysalon/andre-kertsz/
  • GRUNDBURG, A., 2005. Andre Kertesz: Photographs With Time’s Warm Patina [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6491-2005Feb7.html
  • LYMAN, T. 1982. Profile: Andre Kertesz. Art Papers [online], 6[1], pp2-3 [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: Art Source
  • NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, LONDON, n.d.. André Kertész (1894-1985) – Photographer [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.npg.org.uk
  • SALLENAVE, D., 1989. Andre Kertesz. London: Thames and Hudson
  • THE ECONOMIST, 2010. André Kertész – Beneath the surface mood [online] [viewed 20 January 2015]. Available from: http://www.economist.com
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