Monday, 9 March 2009
André Kertész, Meudon 1928
Several years ago I wrote an article for Modern Painters, chiefly about this photograph. Meudon is a Parisian suburb and Kertész, sensing there was a photograph to be taken there, returned to the area, and to this spot in particular, a few times before getting this one.
Just what is it about this photograph? A touch of this Chirico perhaps?
Or perhaps this by the same artist?
Or this Paul Nash?
Nash had seen Chirico as had Kertész. It is how ideas and images move around, like shadows, like half-remembered motifs. Frail structures left dangling in the imagination. I like the Kertész best. It sings whereas both the Chirico and the Nash retain an air of programmatic, somewhat prosaic deliberation. Though it's a nice Nash, imitated, or remembered in its turn, or so I seem to remember, by Alfred Hitchcock in a scene from Marnie, a street with a ship at the end of it. (Am I dreaming this? Have I written about this before in the blog, a long time ago?)
And why is the Kertész so good? Is it simply a nice, phallic surreal train that takes his or our fancy? Far too crass! Is it the man in the hat with the picture under his arm? Is it the height of the viaduct? Is it the figures walking away from us at the end of the street towards the building site? Is it just a disturbing formal balance, the centre of gravity faintly tipping away from the foreground figure as his hat lines up with the central column of the viaduct? If the picture were any darker it would be a little too stagy, a touch self-conscious.It is 'found' and yet seems permanent.
It is, I think, much to do with the power of the not quite fully articulated symbol. The dark figure removing a hidden object, the sharpness of focus, the silvery quality in everything. The plume of smoke disappearing behind the eaves of the roof. Oh and yes, the memories we have of pictures such as those by Chirico, those peculiar Chinese whispers of association that Chirico himself depends on.
We are easily haunted. The photograph still takes my breath away, as if some secret of the universe were being revealed in it, one I could locate if only I knew where to look. But I don't so there is only the haunting. And the clarity.