Jacques Henri Lartigue & André Kertész
Un pas de côte / A step to the side
Through 160 photographs, the double exhibition establishes a dialogue between images by the photographers André Kertész (1894 Budapest—1985 New York) and Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894 Courbevoie—1986 Nice). The selection of works, structured in five chapters, focuses on the view of modern photography, which focuses on developments in everyday life since the 1920s. Almost seismographically, the photographs also testify to the changes in the visual language, which the two photographers consistently anchor in their respective present time and again, parallel to the themes. Societal current affairs permeate their photography, but in turn they also influence the pictorial concepts.
André Kertész and Jacques Henri Lartigue were born in the same year. They could have met in Paris between the wars, but they only met for the first time in New York in 1972. One of them is known as the photographic master of the spontaneous and the moment, the other is famous as the master of critical photography. Bringing their two works together and placing them parallel allows to look for similarities in terms of biographies and artistic attitudes, but also the differences.
With regard to the subjects and motifs, the main interests of the two photographers not only differ significantly, in some cases they are even diametrically opposed. While André Kertész pursues the almost unspectacular everyday life in his work from the beginning, Jacques Henri Lartigue often photographs his personal living environment. Kertész not only continues the tradition of “photography humaniste”, he also has a significant influence on photographic image ideas. Because the understanding of photography as a socially relevant, critical medium is inherent in his œuvre. Lartigue’s work, on the other hand, is characterized by sophisticated extravagance and carefree cosmopolitanism. The interface between these two different perspectives on society(s) is formed by the constant attempts to find or invent modern visual languages for what is seen and photographed.
All exhibits are on loan from the Médiathèque du patrimoine et de la photographie. This institution of the French state, as part of the Ministry of Culture, manages France’s national cultural assets.
The exhibition was co-curated by Marion Perceval, Head of the Lartigue Estate Donation and Matthieu Rivallin, Deputy Head of the Photography Department, Médiathèque du patrimoine et de la photographie and was created in collaboration with the Médiathèque du patrimoine et de la photographie (MPP) and the Espace Richaud Versailles and is funded by the state of Brandenburg.
Both André Kertész and Jaques Henri Lartigue were self-taught. Both came to photography through family and friends and learned from their surroundings.
Jacques Henri Lartigue’s aesthetic influence came from contact with the amateur photographers who surrounded him and from the influence of the illustrated press. For him, photography was initially an opportunity that allowed him to depict the everyday life and social practices of a privileged French family before the First World War. What is evident here is the increasing development of the early form of a leisure society.
André Kertész received his first camera in 1912 and began photographing friends, family and the Hungarian landscape around Budapest. His formal ideas were oriented towards a more documentary image concept. They formed a contrast to the artistic styles that were modern in Hungary at the time, which often tended towards symbolic imagery.
Kertész and Lartigue each created a repertoire of forms from which they drew throughout their careers. They established viewing habits, perception patterns and image concepts. On this basis, both photographers continually developed their visual languages by making their individual, formal habits the basis of their work.
The 1920s were years of intense creativity for both Kertész and Lartigue. Although they distanced themselves from the major artistic movements of the era, they were still sensitive to the artistic tendencies of their time. Surrealism and New Objectivity in particular fueled their aesthetic ideas.
Jacques Henri Lartigue often based his photographic ideas on classical artistic practices. On a formal level, he initially repeated and transferred principles of painting into photography. This phase culminated in a two-year, extremely fruitful collaboration with his model at the time, Renée Perle, between 1930 and 1932.
In the 1930s he increasingly devoted himself to painting, without ever giving up photography. In addition to the photographic image production of this time, the attempts to show his photographic work in exhibitions and publish it in magazines also testify to the ongoing interest in this form of expression.
André Kertész, who settled in Paris in 1925, quickly became one of the most important photographers in the Montparnasse artistic scene. His pictures were increasingly published in avant-garde magazines. His compositions competed in their boldness with works from other visual practices, such as painting and graphics, but his photographs are never radical, formal reductions to a simple play of lines or abstractions. Rather, these graphic concepts are combined with recognizable figurative motifs. As a result, they always have a socially relevant narrative inherent in them.
Through publications in important media of the time, photography opened up a way for both photographers to finance their living without leaving the field of artistic and aesthetic questions. André Kertész and Jacques Henri Lartigue always differentiated themselves from journalistic or documentary approaches to photography through their respective image concepts and themes.
Faced with the rise of fascism in Europe, André Kertesz emigrated to New York in 1936, where he struggled to assert his style in the face of the American aesthetic then dominated by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and Edward Weston (1886-1958). A contract with the Condé Nast publishing group allowed him to continue working as a photographer. In his photographs of this period, which were always inspired by his Parisian style, the representation of the human figure was increasingly reduced and he increasingly concentrated on fixing shapes and shadows.
The dissemination of his photography in the immediate post-war period was also a central concern for Jacques Henri Lartigue. Thanks to his second wife – Flore Orméa, known as Florette – he managed to professionalize his practice. On the one hand, she dedicated herself to archiving and marketing his old negatives, but on the other hand, she influenced his artistic image development and served as his model. Lartigue depicted the realities of (everyday) worlds with a mischievous wink, subtle humor and a pinch of (self-)irony. Thanks to his social networks, he learned to combine his public, professional and private life within his photography into an almost fictional-real narrative and thereby create a certain world of projection and longing in the images.
1963 was a pivotal year in the careers of both photographers: André Kertész was exhibited in Venice and Paris, while MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) presented photographs from Jacques Henri Lartigue’s early years in New York.
For both photographers, this international recognition was accompanied by an unmistakable development in their work. The influence of American “street photography” renewed their practices and pushed them to examine their own image genesis and attitude and to explore new paths that went beyond photography as a field of the visual.
Here, Jacques Henri Lartigue reactivates the formal vocabulary established before the First World War – women strolling on the street, but also seemingly absurd leaps into the air or funny scenes that see the human body as a projection surface for the fantastic.
With André Kertész, on the other hand, the more recent image productions reflect clearly visible retrospectives of his own biography. Photographic observations of the street, i.e. of public (everyday) life, once again became the field of visual experiments when he worked from his window with a telephoto lens or returned to the important places and stations of his life in Hungary, France and Buenos Aires where he photographed at his brother’s house.