André Kertész – Meudon, 1928

Kertesz - Meudon

The allure of Kertész’s Meudon emerges not only from its vivifying surrealist aesthetic, but from Kertész’s ability to unify several individual artifactual existences into the momentary world contained within this otherwise unremarkable alleyway. Although compositionally the photograph exudes a spontaneous quality, previous negatives of the same location from similar perspectives (lacking pedestrians) show that Kertész was in fact acutely conscious of every element’s essentiality. Striking dispositional resemblances to Lyonel Feininger’s The Viaduct, Meudon and Giorgio De Chirico’s The Soothsayer´s Recompense and Mélancolie Mystère et d’une rue, painted in 1911, 1913, and 1914 respectively, suggest that Kertész was influenced by these surrealist works in particular, and perhaps had an entirely specific form in mind when photographing Meudon.

A fascinating incongruity of emphasis is one of several factors which purports the photo’s surreality. The focal point, prompted by the skew of the buildings, resides largely in the central column of the viaduct and the negative space surrounding it. This somewhat indeterminate focus is axially flanked by two instances of contrast, the train and the hatted man in the foreground. These two components actively draw the viewer’s eye away from the core of the optical experience, albeit in opposite directions. The culmination of these visual nuclei creates an atmosphere of nebulous amorphicity. One’s eyes naturally seek out a primary element upon which to direct their attention, but are instead confounded by a plurality of significance and subsequently impelled to envelope themselves within the photo wholly. The ambiguous angular character of the photo dichotomizes it from conventional planar perspectives, resulting in an unnervingly surreal experience of the moment which captured Kertész.

For me, much of the photograph’s appeal is brought about by the enfolded subjective existence of each passerby. Meudon gives us a mere fragment of actuality, of which contains a splinter of the lives of the man in the foreground, the woman and child, and the three men and three woman walking in opposing directions. Although given only a glance, we cannot help but to speculate the nature of the past and future of every individual and the alley they found themselves in. The man at the foreground of the photo carries a covered object, his contrast gleaned from its’ milky hue. We know this object exists – its’ apparent form silhouetted by newsprint – but we know not of its’ character or essence. Thus the covered object has proven existence, much like the lives of the passersby, yet the content of either will never be revealed to us. Hitherto, the hatted man holds in his hands a symbolic manifestation of his own mysterious mental content. The passing train is also evocative of these elements, in that we see a glimpse of its’ temporal existence, but cannot know of its destination and origin without knowledge from outside of the piece’s context. Thus the brilliance of the photo resides in Kertész’s ability to integrate discrete realities into one intersubjective moment, in which every individual component holds just as much emphasis as their composite.

Although Meudon exhibits surrealist facets independently, these attributes become ever more evident when juxtaposed with the manifest surrealism of Feininger’s The Viaduct and Chirico’s The Soothsayer´s Recompense and Mélancolie Mystère et d’une rue. These works present arches, trains, and mysterious human forms from unexpected angles, depicting clear parallels to Meudon. More broad equivocacies can be drawn to Chirico’s two pieces; Kertész embraced the enigmatic locomotive from The Soothsayer´s Recompense and the angled perspective from Mélancolie Mystère et d’une rue. Whether or not Kertész was influenced by Chirico’s works directly is indefinite, a more approximate affiliation to surrealist configuration may be more plausible. However, The Viaduct presents the basis for an argument that Kertész was in fact cogently influenced by these works in his composition of Meudon, and perhaps even inspired by them to photographically explore Meudon’s particular alleyway. The parallelism between The Viaduct and Meudon is beyond pronounced; both works share a waning alley, pervasive arches of the viaduct scaled by train, and pedestrians in both the fore and mid ground of the piece. Whether it is more likely that these shared qualities indicate a common fascination with France’s recently built viaducts and their uncanny encroachment on urban life or direct influence on behalf of Feininger is inconclusive.

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