Book Mini-Review: André Kertész: The Early Years

This is the first in a series of brief book reviews. There are blogs (like 5B4 and The Photo Book) devoted to reviewing photography books, and I’m not going to try to achieve the the level of depth they can provide. Nor am I in any way qualified to review a photo book, except inasmuch as I am a reader of them. Consider yourself disclaimed. (Usage fail, I know.)

Andre Kertesz: The Early Years

I figure it makes sense to start off with my newest and smallest photo-book. Vital stats:

* Title: André Kertész: The Early Years
* Photographer: André Kertész
* Wikipedia
* Editor: Robert Gurbo and Bruce Silverstein
* Publisher: Norton
* Date: 2005
* Librarything
* Size: Little. (A bit over 5″x5″)
* Paid: $6.00 (New)

I picked up the book on a whim while I was browsing at Moe’s today. I suppose my attention was caught by the small, squarish form factor — this is also true, by the way, of one of my favorite works of fiction, Kay Boyle’s novella The Crazy Hunter. When I opened it, I found to my amusement that the images contained within are scale reproductions of contact prints.

Andre Kertesz: The Early Years

This is an awesome idea. The usual paradigm for photographic reproductions is that bigger is better, and this has certainly led to some aggressively sized photobooks. These usually wind up sitting on my floor, because they don’t fit comfortably onto my shelves.

This isn’t just a novelty thing, however. Gurbo goes into the history underlying the form factor:

Many of the ealry photographs are simply of family gatherings on the porch or out in the countryside, yet within this period André also created a number of images that would later be considered among his masterpieces.

At first, without an enlarger, the brothers made only contact prints. In a 1912 diary entry, Andre describes one of these prints as a “tiny picture, but sharp,” which he “could stare at endlessly.”

If there’s one thing I can respect, it’s the creative value of economic restraint. : )

The photographs themselves do not seem to be, for the most part, my cup of tea. They’re certainly significant for their historical value relative to Kertész’s later work, and the book is well worth buying for that reason. And it is certainly worth buying as an antidote to huge reproductions of heroic landscapes…

But before I can reach a final verdict, I’ll need to go over it closely a few more times, and perhaps do a bit more “endless staring.” I’ll post an update if appropriate.

By the way, miniature reproductions of photographs seem potentially quite relevant to contemporary popular photography, since so much of the photography we see online is presented via flickr or similar sites, and appears in thumbnail or near-thumbnail size….

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