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André Kertész. His Photographs Donated to Szigetbecse

Open to the public:
from 27 June, 2021
Tuesday – Friday: 2pm – 7pm
Weekend: 11am – 7 pm
Closed on Monday and on public holidays.
Capa Center
Curator: Károly Kincses

This story goes back a long way. It was in 1899 that his parents brought little Bandika Kertész to Szigetbecse for the first time, to visit relatives. His uncle, Mihály Klöpfer (Klopfer), a wealthy vineyard owner, was one leader of the Ráckeve parish, about whom the Magyar Zsidó Lexikon (Hungarian Jewish Encyclopedia) writes that “Mihály Klopfer’s vineyards were a significant factor in the economic life of Ráckeve.” Among the ancestors of the Klopfler family include prominent people such as Ignác Klopfer, who served as the cantor of the synagogue in Óbuda and later in Dohány Street. But back to Csepel Island! Mihály Klöpfer – who would have thought it at the time – had a significant influence on the development of little Andor as an artist: in the attic of his house in Szigetbecse, the child Kertész found old German family magazines, meticulously bound together by year, illustrated with woodcuts and lithographs. Don’t we all have such an experience, leafing through old newspapers in our grandparents’ dusty attic, discovering forgotten treasures? This was no different for Kertész. “I traveled to Szigetbecse to see my uncle. I went up to the attic and started rummaging around. I found some old newspapers, like Die Gartenlaube, with lots of pictures. I really liked the pictures… When I found the old papers, I had this instinctive feeling that I wanted to take pictures myself. I decided that later, when I had money, I would buy a camera and do what I wanted. I started to compose instinctively; I learned to notice the moment.” Over time, Szigetbecse and its surroundings became more important to him than any other Hungarian settlement. “Becse did not become important and influential in my life because of my relatives, but because of how close I felt to nature and to the people who surrounded me at the time. Later, whether I was photographing a landscape or a person in Hungary – Tiszaszalka, Esztergom or Haraszti – France or New York, the landscape and the people of Becse came to life in every picture.” His first visit was followed by many more for twenty years. He returned here for the last time the year before his death, in 1984.

As we can read, Kertész received a lot from this “precious village”[1]. And Kertész made the village precious in turn. If anyone has heard of Kertész in this country, Europe, Japan or in Patagonia, they have also heard of Szigetbecse. Few small Hungarian villages can say the same. One can bask in the glow of it, one can enjoy its benefits, but it also has imposed obligations on those who live here. The repayment process started in 1984. On March 10, 1984, the photographer came to Hungary as a guest of honor at the Budapest Spring Festival. Two days later, he visited Szigetbecse. He then wrote the following: “Here I am in the most precious place of my childhood memories, and it is with a heavy heart that I am now thinking of the beautiful moments that bind me here. André Kertész, Sziget-Becse, March 13, 1984.” The village leaders of the time opened an exhibition of his photographs, gave him a tour of the village, and offered to set up a Kertész memorial house, with a furnished guest room that would be available for the photographer whenever he came to Hungary. We must see that this small village near Ráckeve was the point of Kertész’s umbilical cord that tied him to Hungary until the last moment of his life.

At the beginning of the walk, even Kertész was uncertain of where to find the old house because in the meantime Mihály Klöpfler’s former home had been demolished and a new building raised in its place. It was not even certain whether the plots of land were situated in the same way as back then. The building in question had stood on the site of Márton Wandracsek’s current home, and although the building is new, the cellar and the fence from Kertész’s childhood are largely in their original form. One word led to another, and it became clear that this house was not suitable, so they chose one in the middle of the village with a beautiful draw-well in the yard. “Technical description of the residential building at 34 Kossuth Lajos Street (40 Makádi Street), Szigetbecse. Specifications of the building: built-in floor area is 110.35 sq.m, interior living space height is 3.20 m. Building rooms: open corridor, hallway, kitchen-bathroom, room, room, pantry (food storage), pantry (external storage)…” Thus continues the official technical description of a farmhouse whose last occupant died in 1984, and the heirs of which, the three Riedl siblings, sold the building to the Executive Committee of the Common Municipal Council of Ráckeve with Town Rights for the purpose of establishing the André Kertész Memorial Museum. It was here that Kertész promised to donate fifty original photographs to the gallery to be established in the restored building. They also walked to Lake Becse, where he took his last Szigetbecse photograph. Later he added seventy more to the fifty he had promised fifty, and sent them home with photographer Károly Szelényi from New York.

André Kertész died in New York on September 29, 1985.

On May 30, 1987, the reconstruction was completed and the André Kertész Memorial Museum was opened at 40 Makádi Street, Szigetbecse. After its opening, the institution was incorporated into the county’s museum association, which, admittedly, did not benefit Kertész Museum. It was not developed, and it was not promoted appropriately; there was one guard, who was also responsible for the cleaning, and that was that. In 1994, the municipality of Szigetbecse, which had become independent again, took over the museum building and the Kertész photographs, which by then numbered only 119, together with the furniture and relics that had arrived from New York. The museum was renovated, and a plaque unveiled to commemorate the centenary of Kertész’s birth. On 9 April, the André Kertész Memorial Museum reopened its gates, showcasing reprints of the photographs, which were in all aspects identical to the originals. In the little room, portraits of André Kertész were also on display. In addition to presenting the Kertész photographs, the house occasionally hosts artists and researchers, fulfilling the intentions of the founders. Now, in 2021, an exhibition of these photographs donated by Kertész will open here at the Capa Center. After more than eighty years, the two photographers meet again to show that, although they themselves have faded away, their oeuvre and their memory will remain with us as long as people know what photography is, and who were the most influential figures on the international photographic scene. With Robert Capa’s photographs on the lower floors of the Center and a selection of Kertész’s pictures on the upper floor – we could say that, here and now, the world is set right once again.

[1] TN: Although this is not the actual origins of the name Szigetbecse, it could be understood as “the precious gem of the island”

Károly Kincses
curator

André Kertész: Erőltetett menet Lonié és Mitulen között, Lengyelország | Forced March to the Front between Lonié and Mitulen, Poland, 1915/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Erőltetett menet Lonié és Mitulen között, Lengyelország | Forced March to the Front between Lonié and Mitulen, Poland, 1915/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Latrinán, Golgory, Lengyelország | Latrine, Golgory, Poland, 1915/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Latrinán, Golgory, Lengyelország | Latrine, Golgory, Poland, 1915/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: A helyi intelligencia, a tanító, a pap és a jegyző, Bátorkeszi, Magyarország | Young Notables: A Teacher, A Minister, and A Notary (left to right), Bátorkeszi, Hungary, 1916/1970 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: A helyi intelligencia, a tanító, a pap és a jegyző, Bátorkeszi, Magyarország | Young Notables: A Teacher, A Minister, and A Notary (left to right), Bátorkeszi, Hungary, 1916/1970 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Szegi Pál bíró, Bátorkeszi, Magyarország | Small-town judge Pál Szegi, Bátorkeszi, Hungary, 1916/1970 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Szegi Pál bíró, Bátorkeszi, Magyarország | Small-town judge Pál Szegi, Bátorkeszi, Hungary, 1916/1970 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Vége a háborúnak, Erdély I We Lost the War, Transylvania, 1918/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Vége a háborúnak, Erdély I We Lost the War, Transylvania, 1918/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Hazafelé. A brassói állomáson, a forradalom alatt, Brassó (Magyarország, ma Románia) | When the War was Over… (Railway station (then) in Hungary (now Romania), Brasov, 1918/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Hazafelé. A brassói állomáson, a forradalom alatt, Brassó (Magyarország, ma Románia) | When the War was Over… (Railway station (then) in Hungary (now Romania), Brasov, 1918/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Jenő öcsém mint Ikarus, Dunaharaszti, Magyarország | My Brother Jenő as Icarus, Dunaharaszti, Hungary, 1919/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Jenő öcsém mint Ikarus, Dunaharaszti, Magyarország | My Brother Jenő as Icarus, Dunaharaszti, Hungary, 1919/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Szabadban táncoló férfi (Jenő öcsém), Dunaharaszti, Magyarország | The Dancing Faun (My brother as a “Scherzo”), Dunaharaszti, Hungary, 1919/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Szabadban táncoló férfi (Jenő öcsém), Dunaharaszti, Magyarország | The Dancing Faun (My brother as a “Scherzo”), Dunaharaszti, Hungary, 1919/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: André Kertész átugorja az itatóvályút, Szigetbecse, Magyarország | André Kertész jumping over the drinking trough, Szigetbecse, Hungary. Kertész Jenő felvétele I taken by Jenő Kertész, 1923/ c.1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: André Kertész átugorja az itatóvályút, Szigetbecse, Magyarország | André Kertész jumping over the drinking trough, Szigetbecse, Hungary. Kertész Jenő felvétele I taken by Jenő Kertész, 1923/ c.1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Aba-Novák Vilmos és Vulkovics Kató, hátul a műterem falán Ady halotti maszkja függ | Vilmos Aba-Novák and his wife Kató in Aba-Novák’s studio with poet Ady’s death mask in the background, Budapest, Hungary, 1923/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Aba-Novák Vilmos és Vulkovics Kató, hátul a műterem falán Ady halotti maszkja függ | Vilmos Aba-Novák and his wife Kató in Aba-Novák’s studio with poet Ady’s death mask in the background, Budapest, Hungary, 1923/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Chez Mondrian, Párizs, France | Paris, France, 1926 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Chez Mondrian, Párizs, France | Paris, France, 1926 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Árnyék önarckép, Párizs, Franciaország | Self-portrait, Paris, France, 1927/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary
André Kertész: Árnyék önarckép, Párizs, Franciaország | Self-portrait, Paris, France, 1927/1967 © Courtesy André Kertész Memorial Museum, Szigetbecse, Hungary