A selection of Andre Kertesz’ still life Polaroids
I went to the Royal Academy recently to see Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century. I so enjoyed this exhibition – the Hungarian photographers have a style and visual language that’s very close to what I love to do myself. I’ve always adored Andre Kertesz’ work – he’s got to be in my top ten list of favourite photographers – and there was lots of it here as well as loads of other amazing stuff.
I like pretty much everything Kertesz has ever done, but my absolute favourites are the series of Polaroids he took towards the end of his life. In many ways Kertesz is a sad figure – after considerable early success in Hungary and Paris, he emigrated to New York and then war broke out in Europe leaving him unable to go back. Unfortunately New Yorkers didn’t appreciate his distinctive style and approach, and although he continued to work for magazines there were frequent disputes with editors and cancelled commissions, and he also found himself too busy to work on his personal projects. It wasn’t a happy time for him – he never really learned to speak English very well, which added to his isolation, and he always felt like an outsider. Many of his New York photographs reflect the sadness of that time.
His wife Elizabeth, whom he adored, died in 1977. There’s a terribly poignant photograph called “Flowers for Elizabeth”, taken while his wife was in hospital. In the book ‘Kertesz on Kertesz’ he says: “I wanted the apartment to be painted for her when she came back, but she never came back.”
More or less confined to his apartment, and depressed after Elizabeth’s death, he started playing with a Polaroid camera that was lying around. In his own words:
Years ago I was given a little primitive Polaroid camera and I didn’t like it – it was for snapshots. But one day I took it out. I had discovered, in the window of a shop, a little glass bust, and I was very moved because it resembled my wife- the shoulder and the neck were Elizabeth. For months and months I looked at the bust in the window, and finally I bought it…….And I took it home, put it in my window, and began shooting and shooting with the Polaroid camera – in the morning, in the afternoon, in different lights. Something came out of this little incident, this little object. They made a book of all the pictures I took. It is dedicated to my wife.
Kertesz on Kertesz, 1985
I think these photos are small and exquisite treasures; they represent everything I’d like to be able to do with still life. I’ve been trying to get a copy of the book, which is out of print, for some time now and was thrilled to get an email from Amazon this morning saying that it’s on its way – I can’t wait to see it.
After going round the exhibition, Eileen and I sat outside in the forecourt for a couple of hours, talking, people-watching, enjoying the evening sun, and taking photos. Here are a few.
Buildings reflected in a sculpture by Jeff Koons, at the Royal Academy