Who was Andre Kertesz?
Hungarian-born Andre Kertesz was a photographer who was one of the pioneers of the concept of photojournalism and photo essays. Even though he is today hailed as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, he personally felt that he never received the credit or the recognition he deserved. He was one of the first photographers who attempted not just to capture a moment with his camera, but to tell a story with his photographs. He felt that the visual medium was a powerful one and one strategically shot photograph can convey emotions and feelings a lot better than words can. His interest in photography had its roots in his childhood which was spent in the countryside, observing the leisurely pace of life around him. Having lost his father at a young age, he grew up with the support of his uncle who hoped that the boy would become a stockbroker. But the creative and artistic Andre had other plans for himself. Fascinated with the idea of photography, he decided to pursue it as a profession. After the World War II he immigrated to the United States where he passionately pursed photography and became one of the major figures of photojournalism.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on July 2, 1894, as Andor Kertesz, in Budapest into a middle-class family. His father, Lipot Kertesz was a bookseller while his mother Ernesztin Hoffman was a homemaker. Andor had two brothers.
His father died of tuberculosis in 1908 leaving behind a grieving widow and three young children without any source of income. Fortunately his mother’s brother provided for the family and took them to live with him.
The young boy grew up on his uncle’s countryside property and it was here that he realized his artistic abilities. The uncle paid for his education and sent him to the Academy of Commerce from where he graduated in 1912.
Andor’s family expected him to work at the stock exchange after his studies though he had no interest in the field. He was more interested in looking at the photographs in illustrated magazines which kindled his interest in photography.
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His uncle arranged for his employment at the Budapest Stock Exchange where he started working as a clerk in 1912. However, he had no plans of continuing in the same profession. His job enabled him to save some money with which he bought his own camera, an ICA box camera.
He photographed the local peasants, the Hungarian countryside, the day to day life of the people, etc. He is believed to have taken his first photograph, ‘Sleeping Boy’ in 1912. He left his job at the stock exchange in 1914, determined to make photography his career.
However, when the World War I started he enlisted to serve in the Hungarian army. He continued taking photographs in his free time and started selling them to magazines. It was in 1917 that his photographs were first published in the magazine ‘Érdekes Újság’.
Peace was established in 1918 and he returned to his previous job at the stock exchange. He continued taking photographs in his free time. Bored with the work at the stock exchange he quit the job in the early 1920s.
He embarked into agricultural work and beekeeping, but this venture was short-lived because of the volatile political situations in his country. Again he was forced to return to his job at the stock exchange.
He badly wanted to go to France to study photography at one of the schools there but did not go because of his mother’s disapproval. He pursued photography during his free time while retaining his position at the stock exchange.
The Hungarian news magazine ‘Érdekes Újság’ published one of his photographs on the cover of its 26 June 1925 issue. This incident gave him wide spread publicity.
In September 1925 he emigrated to Paris where he took on commissioned work for several European magazines. Soon his photographs were printed in magazines all over Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain. During this time he changed his name from “Andor” to “Andre”.
His move to Paris was a good one as he earned critical and commercial success for his works. He held his first solo exhibition in 1927 and went on to feature in several others over the years.
He went to New York City on a one-year project with the Keystone Studios in 1936. However, with the advent of the World War II he decided to remain in New York. He worked as a freelancer for American magazines like ‘Look’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, and ‘Vogue’ from 1939 to 1949 and became a US citizen in 1944.
He joined Conde Nast publications in 1949 and worked on the visual character of the ‘House and Garden’ magazine. He retired from commercial work in 1962 though he continued to click photographs and hold exhibitions.
Awards & Achievements
He was made Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1974.
In 1980 the first Annual Award of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers in New York was presented to him.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Erzsebet Salomon, who later changed her name to Elizabeth Saly, in 1918 at the stock exchange where they both worked. They fell in love and married several years later in 1933 and remained together till Elizabeth’s death in 1977.
He lived a long life and died in his sleep on September 28, 1985.