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André Kertész Biography

HUNGARY 1894-1925 | A Vocation Found

July 2, 1894                                                                                              

Andor Kertész – later André Kertész – is born in Budapest, as the middle child of a middle-class Jewish family. His father, Lipót Kertész (ca. 1842-1909) was a book merchant, his mother, Ernesztin Hoffmann (1863-1933) owned a coffee bar.


He spends a lot of his childhood and youth at his relatives in the country-side, in and nearby the settlement of Szigetbecse.

“When I was six years old, I was visiting my relatives where I found magazines illustrated with beautiful old woodcuts. I fell in love with these deeply. I thought that later I would do things like those – and from then on, I looked at things as I photographed later.”


After the death of his father, he and his two brothers are taken into the custody of their mother’s brother. Upon completing his studies, his uncle gets him a job at the Budapest Commodity and Stock Exchange, although he already knows that he wants to make a living as a photographer. Buying a camera from his first salary, he begins to teach himself how to take, develop, and enlarge photographs. He spends a lot of time in Szigetbecse and constantly photographs the area. His brother gives him a Voigtländer Alpin 9×12 cm folding plate camera with f6.3 lens.


When WWI breaks out, he enlists to serve in the army as a volunteer. He fights in the 26th Infantry Regiment as a chevron-ensign at the Polish and Russian fronts. At the end of 1915, he gets seriously wounded from a shot to the chest at the Polish front. For almost a year he is partially paralyzed with his whole arm in a splint, and he also suffers from typhus.

He continues taking photographs in his free time and submits them successfully to photo contests of various contemporary publications. His first photographs are published in the magazine Érdekes Újság.

 “In 1915 I was injured, my left hand paralyzed. My entire arm was put into rails. It was very hard to put the disc in the machine, but I practiced it and managed it little by little. Massages and swimming were used to treat the wounded. The water in the pool is beautifully blue. We sat around with the boys and saw the reflexes on the surface of the water and the easy movement at the same time that caused the distortions and I started to photograph… ”


He works as a clerk in Budapest, where he meets his future partner, Erzsébet Salamon (later Elizabeth Saly). He makes friends with young artists. He would like to go to Paris, but his family does not support his wish.

He spends his summers in Szigetbecse and visits other country-side settlements, photographing a lot. Some of his images taken at the time later become famous, such as The Dancing Faun (My brother as a “Scherzo”) or A Blind Musician.

 “I photographed real life – not the way it was but the way I felt it.  This is the most important thing: not analyzing, but feeling.”


At the 4th Artistic Photography Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, his photographs Spring Shower, Kálvin Square, and Spring Mood are exhibited. He receives a certificate only and not a medal as he was not willing to make bromoil prints from his photos.


THE YEARS IN FRANCE 1925-1936 | Dreams Come True



He travels to Paris and registers himself as a photojournalist at the authorities. He devotes his life to photography and soon earns recognition, despite not speaking the language or having no real contacts locally. He is introduced to the cohesive circle of Hungarians and the art world of Paris, and he becomes friends with Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall, Eisenstein and other artists. He meets with Brassaï (Gyula Halász) and teaches him photography.

 “People met in cafes. We talked and worked together, we exchanged our thoughts. In Paris in the twenties, we needed very little to succeed, and if someone needed help, we helped each other. I had enough work to eat and get by. And to help others.”


Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Montparnasse is the first place to exhibit his works. The opening is in fact the first occasion of the Espirit Nouveau series, which focuses on poetry, music and fine art in the avant-garde setting of Paris. For Kertész, this showcase is of crucial importance, offering him an entrée into the art world.

“People in motion are wonderful to photograph. It means catching the right moment… when one thing changes into something else.”


He buys his first Leica camera; he is among the first ones to use it professionally. He is given the opportunity to make photo reports for VU; his illustrative photo essays are of genre-creating significance (during his 8 years with the magazine, he produces more than 30 photo series).

He participates in the independent showcase exhibition of the Parisian avant-garde photography at the Salon de l’Escalier (artists included are, among others, Berenice Abbott and Man Ray). László Moholy-Nagy selects his pictures for Internationale Ausstellung von Film und Foto in Stuttgart, while his photos are also presented at Fotografie der Gegenwart in Essen.


She invites his love, Erzsébet to Paris and takes the full frame of Elizabeth and I. 40 years later, he revisits the composition by cropping the image.


His first book, Enfants (Children), is dedicated to his love, Elizabeth and his deceased mother.

In the same year, he produces the series Distortions: using distorted mirrors, he takes over 200 shots of his models with a Linhof camera. The images appear in Le Sourire.


He befriends and helps Endre Friedmann (later known as Robert Capa) upon his arrival to Paris.

His album Paris Vu par André Kertész is published. In 1936, the album Nos amies les bétes is released, followed by the book Les Cathédrales du vin a year later.


THE AMERICAN YEARS 1936-1985 | From Neglect to World Fame


He and Elizabeth go to New York upon an invitation by the Keystone Press Agency. They intend to stay for a year, but the wars and other personal reasons extend their visit for a lifetime. Within a year, his cooperation ends with the agency and he is forced to take commercial commissions in order to make ends meet.


He designs the album Death in the Making, a book of images by Robert Capa and Gerda Taro from the Spanish Civil War.
Beaumont Newhall includes him in the large-scale exhibit of Photography 1839-1937 organized at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


During the war, he is labelled “enemy alien” and cannot take images at public places between 1941 and 1945. He thus photographs the moments of private life. In 1944, he and Elizabeth become U.S. citizens.

In 1945, his first album published in the USA, titled Days of Paris, becomes a great success.

In 1947, he accepts a contract with House and Garden magazine, where he would be taking images of buildings and celebrity-homes according to specific stylistic expectations for 14 years.


The couple moves to an apartment at 2 Fifth Avenue, overlooking Washington Square. The 12th-story location reignites his passion from Paris for photographing from high vantage points. Until his death, he meticulously searches for the perfect composition of the trees, the built environment, and the people of the square, resulting in photographs that oftentimes actually end up reflecting the artist’s isolation.

“I just walk around, observing the subject from various angles until the picture elements arrange themselves into a composition that pleases my eye.”


He participates in several important exhibitions: 1963 – Venice Biennale (Gold Medal Award); Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (retrospective exhibition); 1964 – Museum of Modern Art, New York (oeuvre exhibition, curator: John Szarkowski); 1967 – The Concerned Photographer (traveling group exhibition)

Important photo albums are published: J’aime Paris (1974), Of New York (1976), Distortions (1976)


Elizabeth dies.

The Pompidou Center in Paris organizes a retrospective exhibition from his images. He creates the André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation in New York.


He starts taking pictures with a SX-70 he receives from Polaroid.


From My Window is published, dedicated to Elizabeth, with 53 polaroid pictures remembering the painful loss of his wife. Hungarian Memories is released with almost 200 images, including a lot of photos from Szigetbecse.


One program of the BBC’s Master Photographers series is dedicated to the works of Kertész.


He donates his negatives to the French State; his archives and correspondence are stored at Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine in Paris.


A solo show calls him to Buenos Aires, where he visits his ailing brother. On September 28, shortly after his return to New York, he passes away.

  “I am an amateur and intend to remain one my whole life long. I attribute to photography the task of recording the real nature of things, their interior, their life. The photographer’s art is a continuous discovery which requires patience and time. A photograph draws its beauty from the truth with which it’s marked. For this very reason I refuse all the tricks of the trade and professional virtuosity which could make me betray my career. As soon as I find a subject which interests me, I leave it to the lens to record it truthfully. Look at the reporters and at the amateur photographer! They both have only one goal; to record a memory or a document. And that is pure photography.”



The Municipality of Szigetbecse accepts the donation of a 120-piece photo collection, selected by Kertész himself. They also are granted the Hungarian edition rights of the book Nos Amies les Bétes and receive some furniture and personal items from the artist’s New York apartment through the André and Elizabeth Foundation.

The André Kertész Memorial Museum opens on May 30, 1987, in his beloved Szigetbecse.


Posthumous exhibitions of his work include traveling retrospectives organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2005), and the Jeu de Paume, Paris (2010).

On the innermost and smallest planet of our solar system, Mercury, a crater bears his name.