Coming out of windy streets, a sharp winter light flattening
the metallic Manhattan angles, a group of modernist pictures
not any bigger than daguerreotypes confront us, the legacy
of a gifted photographer who died much too young in a concentration
Looking at Imre Kinszki’s photographs, never before
shown in New York, the game of influences and resemblances
is easy enough to play: There is modernism in his extreme
close-ups and angles from above, in his choice of subjects
such as train tracks or a typewriter’s keys. We might
think of early André Kertesz images, such as that of
his brother’s shadow projected at night on a house’s
But although Kinszki was a sophisticated artist, evidently
attuned to Moholy-Nagy’s writings and to the work of
Brassai, Paul Wolff and Albert Renger-Patzsch (Kinszki corresponded
with all of them and was a founding member of the group Modern
Hungarian Photographers, a circle of artists close in
spirit to the New Objectivity), these comparisons are ultimately
unsatisfying. They only brush the surface of his work, missing
its true singularity.
above to view works ]
Photography is traditionally compared to painting. Yet in Kinszki’s
case the imagery has the resonance of a discreet music and the
tactility of a marble sculpture by Brancusi. He looks at a world
that is now disappeared, that of Budapest in the 1930s, and
his profound attention, akin to a meditation, detects mystery
in the quotidian.
Never before have we seen the pawn, queen and king of a chess
game take on such an eerie presence, towering like monuments.
A circle of winter poplars seems to dance and extend their branches
towards the sky. High open windows promise a peek into a room
that is denied by a white blind. The foam frothing like milk
at the flank of a boat, the glistening train tracks, the paved
streets are etched in ways both melancholy and almost giddy
with a secret joy.
The only full-face portrait in the show is that of a gypsy girl.
The other characters, absorbed in their occupations, are mostly
turning their backs to us, or walking away. A small girl stands
in a building’s entrance and her elongated shadow extends
towards the foot of the staircase, as if ready to climb. The
artists ’s daughter Judit is relaxed in sleep under a
delicate net of shadows while her open-eyed doll is on guard
to protect her from nighttime’s ghosts.
Kinszki has a predilection for the deepest moment of the night,
when just a few windows are lit in a courtyard, letting us imagine
life in the hidden rooms. He loves slate roofs, empty streets
streaked with snow, or soaked in a spring rain’s dewy
A Jew from the intelligentsia, Kinszki died at the Sachsenhausen
concentration camp in early spring of 1945, just before the
war’s end. In retrospect his work seems haunted by a sense
of life’s poignancy and precariousness. Kinszki is a poet
uninterested by exoticism, excess and militancy, attuned to
small miracles drawn in light and shadows. His acute epiphanies
of everyday life now touch us like the light of long-disappeared
stars that have tumbled into the black hole of history.
-- Carole Naggar
511 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
On view until March 26.