In Les Halles
André Kertész, American, 1894–1985
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 6 5/8 × 8 3/4 in. (16.8 × 22.2 cm) Mount: 12 5/8 × 11 5/8 in. (32 × 29.5 cm)
Habits of Mind
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
SUBJECT AREASocial Studies
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Pronounce the artist’s name: Ker – tezh’
Les Halles was the central marketplace in Paris for nearly 700 years. This photograph, taken at that market before its 1971 demolition, shows a cart wheel and axle and the shadows they cast.
Kertész’s use of a small camera allowed him to move quickly and inconspicuously amid the subjects that attracted him. Here he has chosen an unusual point of view: he seems to be on the ground, photographing the wheel, the underside of the cart, and the shadows on the pavement. This work reveals Kertész’s interest in cropping his pictures to isolate simple elements, and in emphasizing abstract patterns and the contrasts of light and dark areas.
Kertész began his career in photography using a large box camera on a tripod. He was one of the first serious photographers to work with a 35mm camera, and after 1928 he used it almost exclusively. The smaller camera gave him greater flexibility, because he did not have to use a tripod and because the camera used roll film rather than single-sheet negatives. In describing his work, Kertesz said:
The moment always dictates in my work. What I feel, I do. This is the most important thing for me. Everybody can look, but they don’t necessarily see. I never calculate or consider; I see a situation and I know that it’s right, even if I have to go back to get the proper lighting.
André Kertész, one of the most innovative photographers of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest, Hungary. Kertész was one of the first photojournalists, building an outstanding reputation while working for major publications in Europe. Because of the political changes in Europe in the 1930s, he moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1944.
Kertész wrote, “Photography must be realistic.” The thousands of photographs taken during his seventy-three-year career reveal how diverse reality was for Kertész. There are realities that he discovered and realities of invention: journalist’s dreams of Budapest, Paris, and New York; nudes reflected in a distorting fun-house mirror; and still-life arrangements photographed in his apartment.
What is the subject of this photograph? Can you still see what is photographed, even though the photograph is cropped?
What was the artist’s viewpoint when he took this photograph?
How would the photograph be different if the whole object were shown? How has the artist chosen to frame the image?
This work reveals the artist’s interest in cropping his pictures to isolate simple elements, and in emphasizing abstract patterns and the contrasts of light and dark areas. How does the artist use light in this work? What is the effect on the forms in the photograph?
How would this photograph be different if the artist had used color photography (supposing that medium was available to him)? Do you think the absence of color is a lacking, or is it a positive thing?
What does the lighting suggest about the time of day this photograph was taken?
In your opinion, what mood is the artist trying to convey? What makes you draw that conclusion?
The photograph shows a cart wheel and axle and the shadows they cast. What does the image tell you about the time in which it was made?
Would you call this work abstract or figurative, or both? Why? Describe the abstract and figurative elements.
The work is called ‘In Les Halles’. Do you think the title adds something to the work? Does it matter where the photograph was taken?
Les Halles was the central marketplace in Paris for nearly 700 years. This photograph was taken there in 1929, well before its 1971 demolition. How does the detail of a cart symbolize the busy Paris market of Les Halles?
In describing his work, the artist has said: “The moment always dictates in my work. What I feel, I do. This is the most important thing for me. Everybody can look, but they don’t necessarily see. I never calculate or consider; I see a situation and I know that its right, even if I have to go back to get the proper lighting”. Do you agree there is a difference between looking and seeing?
Do you believe that photographs should be realistic? Why or why not?
• Discuss the invention of the wheel. What modes of transportation did this permit? Research the evolution of the use of the wheel.
• Discuss carts as a mode of transportation. How are they still used today?
• Research how transportation has changed through the ages, and the impact of new inventions and materials.
• Name different forms of transportation used in your community and discuss them as machines that move.
• Create and illustrate a class time-line of developments in transportation.
Subject Matter Connection
In the discipline of Social Studies, students need to be able to think conceptually and differentiate between which patterns and ideas are common across societies. Students need to be able to recognize those ideas— whether economic, social, or political—that are not bound by time and place, and how a group’s perspective may affect the historical interpretation of those ideas and principles.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.