When André Kertész and his wife Elizabeth moved into an apartment on New York’s Washington Square Park in 1952 it was the catalyst for a new body of work that would dominate the rest of the photographer’s life. Situated on the twelfth floor, the apartment afforded splendid views over the square, and gave Kertész a permanent position from which to photograph from a high vantage point – a passion from his earliest days in Paris, and a key Modernist trope practiced by others including Alexander Rodchenko.
Until his death in 1985 Kertész exhaustively photographed the square from his apartment, often using a telephoto lens to create a foreshortened effect. For over twenty-five years from 1952 he rehearsed finding the perfect composition of trees, fences and people in the square which was celebrated in his 1975 book, Washington Square. The resulting photographs are often either carefully constructed compositions that lean towards abstraction, or serendipitous moments captured stealthily from above. Reclusive by nature, Kertész became an increasingly isolated figure in his apartment as he grew older. He was also dogged with constant regret and disappointment that he had never gained recognition in national institutions. The physical distance in these photographs between subject and photographer hints at Kertész’s emotional withdrawal from the world. There is often a sense of loneliness and detachment from the everyday life captured below him.
This photograph is the best known of the Washington Square series. Photographing from the high vantage point, Kertész silhouetted leafless trees against the snow in the park. He released the camera shutter to perfectly capture two pedestrians in mid-stride through the wintry landscape, introducing an element of dynamism to the carefully constructed composition. Its snowy setting helps to reduce the composition down to contrasting lines and shapes, as well as to generate an atmosphere of peaceful, wintry solitude.
Kertész gave silver gelatin prints of Washington Square Park as a Christmas cards to his friends
(By Flora La Thangue)