On Photography and Reading

The Royal Academy of Arts is currently presenting a nice, small and carefully curated photographic exhibition by the name of Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th century. The poster show names that, I think, are supposed to be really well-known for the general public. The only one that rang a bell in me was Capa, but that’s enough to make me go see it.

A few years ago I discovered the great Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, mainly because of her links with Mexico. She was particularly close to the late Leonora Carrington, so close that Kati’s daughter was named Leonora. But anyways, Horna’s photographs of the Spanish Civil War as well as her experiments with surrealism were enough to keep her in my mind as I walked in the exhibition hoping to see some of her work. The truth is that, sadly, there is only one photograph by her. Amazing and quite unique.

Got this image from The Independent (always quote your sources) for you to have a look at it. I may be wrong but Horna is one of the most overlooked Hungarian photographers of the 20th century, even after being a very close friend of  Robert Capa.

The photograph is called Staircase to the Cathedral (1936) and shows in a mind-blowing photomontage the face of a woman on a wall with one eye literally behind bars. Just think that this was made in 1936 with the resources photography had at that time. Incredible.

But to make it up for the lack of more Kati Horna’s photographs, I came across the one and only André Kertész (1894-1985). The exhibition show many  photographs unknown to me, such as Homing Ship (1944). A nostalgic image of a boy carrying a huge sailboat who has possibly just removed from the artificial pond in the playground. His work features strongly in this exhibition, although the main star seems to be Robert Capa.

But what made me really happy about Eyewitness is that the show reminded me when I had my Kertész moment. It was in 2009 when The Photographer’s Gallery hosted a wonderful exhibition of his work called On Reading which is also available as a book. Kertész worked around the simple idea of capturing people reading. Just like that. And the result is one of the most treasurable images for us devoted readers. Newspapers, magazines and books are the main protagonists of his snapshots taken in the streets, balconies, roofs and allies of cities such as Paris and Cannes.

In these images, people are captured carried away by the pleasure that reading gives us, completely unaware to what’s going on around them. Focused only in words and the places where their imagination is taking them. I guess that is the reason we read. And to prove it enjoy this photo. I wish I could buy a copy to hang it in my livingroom.