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A Salute to the Masters: Readers (A Tribute to André Kertész)

This article is dedicated to one of the master of the modern photography: Andrè Kertész, who in 1971 published a book about the pleasure of reading. Following the idea of this master, I took a series of photos dedicated to people reading in public places. Take a look after the jump!

André Kertész (1894-1985) was one of the most important photographer of the 20th century; Henri Cartier-Bresson considered him as the father of the modern photography, while Brassai considered him as his master. He was a pioneer of many artistic trends, with great experiments and innovations in Formalism, Surrealism, and also in street photography. He is also considered as one of the pioneers of modern photojournalism. In his photos, he exercised great care about composition and a great sentiment; he defined himself as a perpetual “amateur” who likes to take photos for his own pleasure.

He was born to a middle-class Jewish family, with three brothers. His father died when Andrè was only 15 years old. After he graduated in 1912 at the Commercial Academy in Budapest, he bought his first camera, a handy ICA 4.5×6, with his first earned money. With this camera he took his famous image of a sleeping boy against the backdrop of his family grocery. In 1914, he was sent to the front lines, where he took photographs of life in the trenches. It’s a pity that many of these images were destroyed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919.

Because of the post-war depression, he left Hungary in 1925 and went to Paris, where he had known other important avant-garde artists as Germaine Krull, Robert Capa, Man Ray, and Berenice Abbott. It was also where he established a friendship with Brassai. He also bought a Leica in 1928, and together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, began to work for the magazine Vu.

In 1933, the magazine Le Sourire offered him five pages to be filled in full freedom. For this occasion, he rented a distorting mirror and created several shots in his studio representing distorted body parts of two models. The series, known by the name Distortions, belongs to the Surrealism movement and explored many possible alterations of body shapes.

In 1936, he accepted an offer from Agencia Keystone, and moved to New York, where he worked also with the magazines Life, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue. Despite his masterful shots, he was rarely cited as a master of photography. On September 28, 1985 he died in New York, and left behind more than 100,000 negatives.

Despite his impressive shots, many of his work were little appreciated, except in the last years of his life. His art was never bound with any political party. He worked on the simplest things of everyday life, with very intimate and lyrical tones. After his death there was a renewed interest in his photos, which are now considered timeless.

One of my preferred books of this great master is On Reading, published for the first time in 1971 and reprinted in 2008. It contains 66 photos of people captured while reading books or newspapers. Perhaps, he took these photos in memory of his father, who was a bookseller. André Kertész actually began taking photos of readers in his adolescence. One of his early photos on this theme shows three children reading and was taken in Esztergom, Hungary, in 1915.

To make a tribute of this great master, I took some photos of people reading outdoors in my city, Como.

Today, with the advent of the digital technology, e-readers, tablets, and the publication of many online books, I found many people who prefer to read printed books again. Just like how film is not dead in photography, I think that traditional books are timeless. The pleasure to turn the pages of an actual book has nothing to do with sliding pages of an e-book or a downloaded file!

Salute to the Masters
is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin and Izis Bidermanas. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.

written by sirio174

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: 中文(繁體版) & 中文(繁體版).