Andre Kertesz Captured the Art of Reading

BY Katherine Stevens  November 3, 2010 at 2:04 PM EST

The images produced by Hungarian photographer Andre Kertesz are worth far more than the normal allotment from that trite “thousand word” adage. A new exhibition called “On Reading,” which is currently on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, suggests the photographer’s images are worth an entire newspaper, journal, book.

Through the images in ‘On Reading,’ Kertesz compels his viewer by capturing the intellectual intensity involved — the gravity between reader and text.

Kertesz’s fascination with photographing literacy spanned his career. The earliest example in “On Reading” dates back to 1915 when Kertesz was a fledgling teenage photographer in Hungary, while the oldest image was printed in 1977 during one of Kertezs’s many late-life photographing trips abroad.

Born in Hungary in 1894, Kertesz lived as a resident commercial and artistic photographer in Budapest, Paris and New York before his death in 1985. His characteristic unorthodox camera angles, complex composition and pedestrian subject matter lead many to hail him as one of the founding fathers of photojournalism.

Carnegie Museum of Art photography curator Linda Benedict-Jones recognized the historical importance of “On Reading” in our disappearing paper-based society. But she maintains that Kertesz would be capturing the same mental intensity between people and words were he still photographing today. His subjects, however, would be pouring over electronic devices such as iPads and Kindles.

Benedict-Jones was also attracted to Kertesz’s work because she thought the photographers’ Eastern European origins would resonate with Western Pennsylvanians, many of whom are descended from Eastern Europeans who immigrated to the United States during the creation of Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

Rather than order the photographs chronologically, Benedict-Jones sequenced them by location, subject matter and composition: An image of a rooftop sunbather in New York City precedes a similar subject in Paris and follows a man reading on a bench in Central Park.

“On Reading” is based on a book of the same title that Kertesz published in 1971. The exhibition, which includes 100 photographs, was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Photography at the Columbia College Chicago. It has traveled both domestically and internationally since 2008 with stops in London and Portland, Maine prior to the exhibition’s final show in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

‘On Reading’ at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh runs through Feb. 13, 2011.