(Hungary, United States of America 02 Jul 1894 – 28 Sep 1985)
32.9 x 27.4 cm image; 35.4 x 27.9 cm sheet
‘I am not a surrealist. I am only a realist.’ André Kertész 1982 1
A chance photograph of an underwater swimmer in 1917 prompted a large series of nearly 160 ‘distortions’ that André Kertész considered revealed the subtleties and expressive qualities of the subject. Rather than achieving abstracted forms through the manipulation of the image, either the negative or in the printing process, Kertész photographed what he saw, his manipulation being with light, form and the use of mirrors. An amateur photographer, Kertész bought his first Kodak box camera at the age of 17, taking photographs of the streets of Budapest and soldiers in action and publishing his first images in 1917. His move to Paris in 1925 was seminal in the formation of his work. There he met Man Ray and Piet Mondrian who not only bought his pictures but also asked him to take their portraits. He flirted with futurism and the surrealists and his experimentations with reflections saw an invitation from the magazine ‘Le Sourire’ for which he photographed nude models reflected in a fairground mirror.
‘Distortion no 113’ portrays two figures: the model and the photographer himself standing behind his tripod in the action of taking the photograph. Between them is the dark void of a doorway that both centres our focus and confuses it at the same time, providing a resting place, a comma or a hyphen between the dialogue of the two figures. ‘Nude’ 1939 (AGNSW collection) however, reflects Kertész’s interest in the real rather than the surreal. Here his presence is not apparent and instead he takes the role of the voyeur, incorporating the not uncommon surrealist tactic of portraying the female figure as truncated, isolated and estranged.
1. Ford C 1989, ‘André Kertész and the avant garde’, ‘André Kertész and the avant garde photography of the twenties and thirties’, Annely Juda Fine Art, London np
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The surreal aesthetic', pg.113-129, Sydney, 2007, 114, 125 (illus.).
Judy Annear, American beauty: from Muybridge to Goldin, Sydney, 2003. no catalogue numbers
Jane Angus, Carolyn Glascodine, Marion Russell and Barbara Vaughan (Editors), Discovering Democracy, Middle Secondary Units, Carlton, 1998, 107 (illus.). cat.no. 234
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994, 6 (illus.), 10.
Judy Annear, The Enigmatic Object, Sydney, 1997. no catalogue numbers
Selected recent acquisitions, 1989, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Sep 1989–17 Dec 1989
International Photographs from the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jan 1991–14 Apr 1991
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994
The Enigmatic Object, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Apr 1997–22 Jun 1997
American Beauty: from Muybridge to Goldin, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Jun 2003–27 Jul 2003
The surreal aesthetic, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Jul 2007–14 Oct 2007