In the history of photography and in photographic theory, there are a few icons, a few images that are discussed in almost every book on photography that exists. One such image is André Kertész’s Meudon, 1928. [Gasket]
[From the BBC] Meudon, a quiet Paris suburb, apart from the occasional high speed train. In 1928, roughly the mid-point between the invention of photography and our own digital age, Andre Kertesz, one of the great photographers of the 20th century, came here and took some pictures.
The photographs he took that day are as unremarkable as Meudon itself. But something about the place must have caught his eye, because a few days later, he came back and turned the ordinary into something extraordinary.
Kertesz's 'Meudon' captures something of the elusive genius of photography. With a photograph we can't help but wonder who the figure in the foreground is, where he has been, what he is carrying and where he is taking it. But Kertesz's photograph has no definitive answers. How can something that reveals so much keep so much to itself?
I'd like to say something personal here. I don't love this photograph, or more correctly, it's not my favorite picture by Kertesz. I enjoy a number of things about the image—the (apparent) happy accident of a composition of the guy in the foreground and the train in the back, for instance. I like there to be a take-away from the photos shown at Neomodern, and for Meudon, it's not its historical intrigue, although that's cool. The truth is that Kertesz staged this portrait: the guy in the foreground is an artist-friend. Kertesz had likely seen this cool scene, photographed the train there, and then returned a day later with his friend to see if they could nail a cool composition. Meudon is not a "decisive moment" so much as an opportunity constructed creatively.
If you want to get introduced to Kertesz, check out his photos at his friend's home, the artist Piet Mondrian (some of my favorite photographs ever). And later his enigmatic "Martinique." (Neomodern will do a Kertesz exhibit next year.) Still, Meudon is quite classic and it's rare to get to see a signed print. Here are an assortment of links about the image and artist:
Gasket essay by Johannes Rigal
Essay by Bowdoin student
Excellent comparison of Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson