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Matinee: 'Andre Kertesz' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 December 2013

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the eleventh in our series of Saturday matinees today: Andre Kertesz from the BBC series Master Photographers.

This 32-minute production was made in 1983, two years before Kertesz passed away. He's seated at his desk by his window, leafing through prints he wants to talk about, his hand shaking.

The questions are formal, scripted. The answers are not.

You recognize almost right away that you are sitting in the room with a luminary. A Zen monk with a few extra koans. A philosopher who knows how to crack nuts. A poet who can hum a few bars.

You know if you listen closely, you might learn a few things. But you discover the real value of it is that it gets you thinking about what matters.

It's worth watching just for the portraits Kertesz took of his fellow artists in Paris. Chagall, whom he spent a lot of time with, most of all. They are remarkable works, revealing portraits, without props.

You get the feeling the sitter was looking at someone who knew him well, a friend, a person to whom they were used to showing their real face rather than their public mask.

Then there are the poetic prints. Just one example. The umbrellas on a rainy day seen from above, crossing the street in a line that flows down the print to a shiny white arrow in the street that pretends to point the way.

Fortuitous? Not likely. Kertesz is a patient man, he admits. Have to be.

Finally, and most touching, are the photos he took of things around the apartment when he was too old to get out and about any more. His wife had died by then. It is almost as if when the mechanical ability to survive was failing him, the desire to photograph kept him vital.

They are just photographs of little things -- knicknacks, objects d'arte -- he picked up here and there. He explains the importance of them is just that they attract you in some way. He talks about how he framed them and how the sky lit them and how he saw in them something you could not see when they were sitting on a shelf in the store.

How they came alive.

"The eye is an optic," he says near the end. The camera, you might say, is just a tool. He dismisses the technically perfect prints of his competitors whose merely documentary photos Life magazine was buying as it rejected his "sentimental" images that told stories all by themselves.

He always knew, he said, the image he wanted to make. No surprises (unless it didn't turn out). And he waited for it, describing the necessity of anticipating the right moment in a way that makes you wonder if the anticipation itself composed the image.

Or if there is some other force besides the world turning, time ticking and the photographer waiting. The force that sometimes manages to align even the stars.

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