There is an array of examples of grand artists being unrecognized during their lifetime. The reasons for that vary, but there always comes a time when the scholars notice someone’s domains and acknowledge them accordingly.
Such is the case with André Kertész, a Hungarian-born photographer whose contributions to photographic composition and the photo essay are now considered groundbreaking. Unconventional angles and simplistic aesthetic approach made his work unique but at the time apparently misunderstood, although the photographer undoubtedly differed from his contemporaries.
To cast a new light on his oeuvre, Stephen Bulger Gallery will host a retrospective called A Life in Photographs that will unravel photographs made during seven decades of Kertész’s activity.
In 1912 at the age of 18, André Kertész got his first camera and started experimented with photography with his brother Jenõ; while André was taking shoots, his younger brother who was often portrayed acted as his assistant involved with processing. Two years later WW I started and Kertész ended up on the front as an Austro-Hungarian soldier.
That experience shook him, yet he continued photographing, submitting his works to newspapers. After the war he started working as a bank clerk, and photography once again returned to his life. He then met Salamon Erzsébet (later, Elizabeth Kertész), his future wife who encouraged his artistic yearnings and introduced him to the artistic community.
The photographer left for Paris in 1925 and quickly became a prominent freelance photographer with shoots displayed in galleries. In 1928 he switched to Leica camera, plunged into experimentation and started publishing and exhibiting internationally. In 1933 Kertész and Elizabeth reunited and got married. She arrived at a point when his career was going downwards as he was surrounded by growing competition.
In 1936 the couple moved to New York. Despite a few highlights, Kertész’s career stagnated in the United States, and he was willing to go back to Europe, but his health was deteriorating, Elizabeth’s perfume business blossomed, and WW II started.
Despite all of the mentioned circumstances, André Kertész did not withdraw and by the late 1940s he was contracted by mass media company Condé Nast. Despite the fact he continued pursuing personal interests through the lens and exhibited every now and then, the photographer felt outmost despair and ended up hospitalized in 1961. The following year he stopped working with Condé Nast and decided to reach out to his brother after thirty six years; the two reunited and the same year Kertész revived his artistic career.
His work gained in popularity during the 1970s; it was published and exhibited, but in 1977 Elizabeth died unexpectedly leaving André in deep mourning. Nevertheless, in 1979 he started using the SX-70 Polaroid camera that brought him back to life.
In his eighties, Kertész used to produce small-scale photographs without the printer and remained focused on photography until his death in 1985.
André Kertész: A Life in Photographs will be on display at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto from 22 February until 21 March 2020, with a guided tour through the exhibition given by the curator Robert Gurbo at the opening scheduled for 3 pm.
This survey will coincide with another captivating exhibition, Janet Dey: Magic. It features hand-embroidered enlarged vintage photographic prints of famous magicians from the collection of David Ben. This show will be on display at the gallery until 14 March 2020.
Featured image: André Kertész - Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, 1917 © The Estate of André Kertész / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery.