The Distortions of Andre Kertesz
Introducing the dreamlike nudes of Andre Kertesz
Irrespective of the differing opinions on the importance of the photographs in the complete oeuvre of the famous photographer Andre Kertesz, the series of nudes that he photographed in 1933 using distortion mirrors still captivate the eye today. Nowhere else in his career did Kertesz work so intensively with one subject in such a short period. How is this apparent sudden fascination for the distorted image to be explained? This Hub tells you more about how these famous Distortions came to existence.
As befits any good artist, Kertesz sticks to the superficial: 'One can give what explanations one wishes of this work; all I can say is that making them was very exciting, very amusing.'
In 1925 Kertesz decided to leave his homeland, Hungary, and move to Paris to begin a career as a photographer. Very quickly his work caught the attention of people in the various avant-garde circles that existed in Paris at that time. Kertesz was well aware of the latest developments in the field of photography. Although he had no close personal contact with other progressive photographers in Paris such as Man Ray, Germaine Krull and Maurice Tabard, he knew their work from exhibitions and the periodicals for which he worked. If one looks at Kertesz's work from the Paris years, one is struck by how much he experimented with the visual vocabulary that was being developed in the theories of the Neue Sachlichtkeit. Many of his photographs are characterized by unusual perspectives and close-ups that are reminiscent of the work of photographers in Germany at the time, such as Moholy-Nagy and Umbo at the Bauhaus. Kertesz was likewise impressed by the work of the German photographer Alfred Renger-Patzsch, through the now famous book Die Welt ist Schon (The World is Beautiful) from 1928, although at the same time he found that it came across as a bit cold. This opinion is typical of his own ideas about photography. Although he made extensive use of the new visual language, the persons or things that he photographed were never really subordinated to the abstracting effects of formal elements in the composition. His photographs are always sensitive for a certain human aspect, which often gives the work a melancholy or dreamy character. During this French period, this symbiosis of modernity, realism and humanist objectivism functioned at its best.
This detour brings us back to the Distortions again, because now we can understand the peculiar place of these series in Kertesz's work. The photographs are characterized precisely by the pure formal investigation into the shapes of the female nude reflected in the wavy surface of the carnival mirror. Kertesz began the Distortions as an assignment for the humor magazine Le Sourire. Before 1933 Kertesz had already experimented seriously with distortions which were created by various surfaces, such as water, mirrors and glass spheres. For instance, around 1930 he had made several distorted, humoristic portraits of his friend and caricaturist Carlo Rim in the mirrors at Luna Park. Kertesz accepted the assignment from Le Sourire, and had two mirrors from Luna Park placed in the studio which was made available to him. Very quickly he became so fascinated with the disorienting results that he decided to make a larger series than was necessary for the commission.
In contrast to the portraits of Rim, which were intended to depict his personality in a sort of caricature, the nature of the Distortions is less simple to account for. Yet it cannot be denied that the twisted and stretched bodies of the two models, Najinskaya Verackhatz and Nadia Kasine, have a certain element that transcends the purely formal. Despite the often humorous results, the essence of the distortions remains elusive and discomforting in their effect. Every reference to reality is impeded, as in a hallucination. The edges of the mirrors are deliberately kept outside the frame of the photograph, so that the amorphous bodies come to stand by themselves, and only indirectly refer to the living model in front of the mirror. In a mysterious way, reflection and reality are reversed. This experiment with reflection brought the Distortions close to the ideas of the surrealists, who had assembled around Andre Breton. Inspired by Freud's theory of the 'uncanny', photography and the motif of the mirror took on a central role among the surrealists in their search for a deeper meaning behind reality. These parallels have caused some art theoreticians to explain the Distortions primarily through this theoretical framework of the surrealists. This may be true to some extent - Kertesz was certainly familiar with their ideas and work through magazines like Minotaure - but what they fail to recognize is that Kertesz never actually participated in the small circle around Breton, nor was too attracted by theories of any kind. Rather, in Kertesz's oeuvre the Distortions underscore the versatility and independent creativity of their maker.
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IMPORTANT NOTE: The images in this post are © of Andre Kertesz and have been acknowledged accordingly and no copyright infringement is intended. The images on this hub have ONLY been used as reference to the work and photographer and to explain the photos as an art form.