You'd think that after six years of doing this almost every single day of the year, I'd eventually start to get wise. But no. I still write posts, like Sunday's, that cost me a lot more money than I earn from them. Did you know, for instance, that you can buy the entire set of Antal Dorati's Haydn Symphonies from iTunes for fifty bucks?!? That amounts to 9.36 cents per movement. That's $1.51 for the equivalent of a single CD in the set's hardcopy form (which is cheap now too, despite costing four times what the download does). When I really, really wanted that set, back when it came out on CD, the price was the virtual equivalent of a bazillion bucks: I might as well have considered buying a Lamborghini. I am going to resist the download as hard and as long as I can, but it's a doomed project. There goes another fifty bucks I really shouldn't part with. I should just give in now, and skip the angst and fretting.
There's another desirable purchase that's been nagging at my brain, too. Just a couple of years ago now, when Sarah Greenough's book went out of print, I realized to my amazement that there was no good overview of the work of Andre Kertesz that you could buy new, at no more than retail price. There were a couple of oddities and scraps and chapbooks and such, but virtually none of the classic books were in print.
That amazed me. Kertesz is essential. When I was coming into photography I would have put him in the the top ten of photographers that any photographer should get familiar with. Not only is he a visual genius, but his personality leaps out of his life story, and his life story limns a vivid journey (highs and lows) that can't help but interest and inspire (and perhaps caution) anyone who has embarked on a similar one. I guess now I would demote him to merely the top thirty, since photography has changed so much lately. But he's still essential.
What's nagging at me is the magnificent new book Kertesz from Editions Hazan in Paris (that's the amazon.com link; here's the U.K. link, and here's the link to The Book Depository). It's nominally a catalog from a major retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, but what I've read of the text by Michel Frizot and Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq is incisive, and I love the illustrations in this book—although Kertesz holds few surprises for me, the authors have done a masterful job of providing a cornucopia of illustrations in a flexible and inventive way, with the pictures reproduced in many different sizes and in subtly different colors to reflect the uniqueness of specific prints.
My only problem is that I have at least five excellent books on Kertesz already (my favorite being probably Andre Kertesz of Paris and New York by Sandra S. Phillips, David Travis, and Weston Naef—Naef retired as the top curator at the Getty in early 2009). I hardly need yet one more. But I'm just circling this exciting volume—it's calling to me, or more accurately nagging at me, like a duck pecking steadily at my consciousness. I just don't think I'll be able to resist, in the end, no matter how I try.
Kertesz is not unlike Haydn, come to think of it, in some ways—effortlessly prolific, tuneful you might even call him if you're feeling flexible about your metaphors; there is something both cheerful and workmanlike about each. I forget who said it, but in one of the books I have the author says something to the effect that Kertesz is like a master composer who confines himself to the middle of the keyboard, seldom reaching for the highest highs or lowest lows. There's something to that. There's an easy, graceful poetry to his genius, a love of life and the world, even in his life's bitterest periods. His pictures convey both a perceptive intelligence and a sense of delight and appreciation for humanity, an abiding geniality.
I don't own this book yet, but I suspect my efforts to remain sensible are doomed. If you don't have one great book about Kertesz, or, even better, if you've yet to become acquainted, well, lucky you. The easy-to-get Kertesz book of our era, circa 2011, is a gold mine, deep and rich.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Harold GLIT: "Hello Mike—I got this book last year when it came out and despite having two books of Kertesz, this one is not only my favorite Kertesz book but it is also one of my favorite five photobooks in my photo library (something tells me you would approve of the other four). So not only will you be unable to resist but you should not, because if you don't get it you will regret it when it goes out of print (and it will go out of print). Go for it."
Mike replies: You are not helping here, Harold. :-)
Featured Comment by Doug Stocks: "Good evening Mike, I just heard that Patricia Albers, the art historian/biographer and author of the excellent Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti and most recently Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter is currently at work on an extensive biography of Kertesz. Something to look forward to."
Featured Comment by Glenn Brown: "As a young photographer I met Andre in Toronto in the late '70s or early '80s and asked advice on developing a career. I live and work by his advice: 'Never forget they are just snaps, just make them good snaps.' I will always remember his humility and warmth."
Featured Comment by expiring_frog: "I suspected this was a post about Kertesz just from the title (and perhaps a glimpse of the top half of the cover photo, which I hadn't seen before). We have one of his books (I think 60 Years of Photography) back home in India, so resisting the temptation for now :). One of my absolute favourite photographers."
Featured Comment by Ben Rosengart: "Kertész is my North Star."