Lost in America by André Kertész
This business about art's purpose to be the expression of emotion can be a slippery slope. There is a fine line — easily crossed — between self-indulgent photography-as-therapy and the exploration of universal emotions that are a part of being alive. Far too often, I find the self-indulgent kind of photography to be all about me, me, me — and therefore incredibly boring, boring, boring. André Kertész leads the way in the opposite direction. His photographs are all about emotional content, but simultaneously about a universal emotional content that we can all relate to and feel with him. He explores not the internal workings of André Kertész, but rather the internal workings of the human mind, the human heart, and the process of living.
What is doubly fascinating about Kertész' work is that most of his photographs are of fairly mundane subjects. He appears to studiously avoid the visually spectacular. No grand waterfalls or landscapes, no fashion beauties or statuesque celebrities, no peak moments of sports or nature will ever be found in his images. Instead we see a wilting tulip, the still life of the glass figurine, raindrops on the window, a cloud passing skyscraper — ordinary, normal, unexciting objects that are overflowing with human emotion. He's the ultimate in anthropomorphic projection of human emotion into the inanimate world. Anthropomorphism is frowned upon in philosophy, but in his photographs is a powerful tool.
Almost by definition, art is a thing of metaphor and symbolism. The famous f/64 group from California espoused the idea that the best use of the camera is to simply show "what is." It's hard to argue with the success of their philosophy and impact on photography except with one irrefutable fact: human beings are metaphor-producing, symbol-interpreting, simile-thinking creatures. Our brains are constructed for comparison. It is second nature for us to think about what something is like rather than what it is. Perhaps that is why Kertész is such a successful photographer. Every one of his photographs encourages us to connect the object photographed with something we have felt — or are feeling. I've always thought of Kertész as more of a projector than a camera — that is to say he doesn't so much "take" photographs as he projects them. His ability to throw his emotions into a scene or an object is simply uncanny. Perhaps that's why I find myself going back to his work time and time again and in each viewing discovering more to see, more to unravel, more to understand.
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