In 1936, hired by the Keystone agency, André Kertész left Paris to settle in the United States. The move proved difficult. Apart from a few photographs in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Kertész had trouble finding his place in New York, where commercial demands differed greatly from those in France.
In June 1939, he saw an opportunity to reconnect with the success he had in Paris for VU magazine with a report on New York Harbor for Life magazine. Over the course of two months, he roamed the harbor, taking an interest in the lives of its sailors and tugboat captains. He attended the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth from Normandy, which had been engaged in an endless battle for the title of the most reliable shipping line between New York and Europe. Borrowing a dirigeable, Kertész photographed ocean liners docking in the harbor, the largest on the Eastern seaboard. He even traveled up the Hudson and photographed the New jersey ports. When he presented his report to Life at the end of August, it contained nearly 200 medium-format images taken with a view camera.
Unfortunately, war broke out between France, England and Nazi Germany on September 3 and the magazine decided not to publish Kertész’ work, which was too far removed from current events. At the end of his life, Kertész said about this report, “At Life, they told me, ‘Your images have too much to say. We need documents. We have journalists to tell us what the images mean.’” This failure marked the beginning of some difficult years for Kertész, who was unable to make his photographs understood on the American market. The pictures of New York Harbor would only be published years later in magazines like Eelk and The Compass, a luxury magazine belonging to the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. On each of these occasions, Kertész was reminded of his years of collaboration with VU.
Read the full article on the French version of Le Journal.