Friday, 17 July 2009

Andre Kertesz: Reading Rituals

Andre Kertesz's On Reading opened at London's Photographer's Gallery today and amazingly this is the first time that the Hungarian photographer's collection of bookish snapshots have been exhibited in the UK. 
     It's a clever little collection, full of unwitting members of the public caught in private moments; sprawled out on balconies with a novel, inspecting the bargain bins of Fourth Avenue book stalls or ignoring passersby like the man in Pont Des Arts, 1963, pictured left. 
     The exhibition - like Elliott Erwitt's Handbook - underlines why a cute concept and a sense of humour are a million times more important than staged gimmicks or superior finishes. However, revisiting the collection more than 90 years after Kertesz began taking the first images included here also lends the display a nostalgic edge, and one which got me thinking later on.
     Subconsciously, I had left the book-themed exhibition and headed to Borders, around the corner from the gallery on Oxford Street. The flagship store was closing down, with all stock being sold off at a 50% discount. While this is no doubt due in part to the effects of online retailers and supermarkets undercutting them through bulk purchasing, I can't help feeling that it also could be as a result of people increasingly turning to digital means for their information fix. And wouldn't On Reading have been a far less interesting collection if all it showed was people huddled over laptops, iPhones and other assorted gadgets? 
     Now of course, I am an avid blogger, but I also love cracking the spine of a fresh paperback or grabbing the paper on my bleary-eyed sprint to work each morning. Maybe it's the relaxing ritual of it all, like making a cup of tea? Or maybe it's because you can never truly get lost in a story when you are reading it on a machine that is hooked up to millions of other people? Who knows. If you only one other thing on this rain-sodden evening, make sure it's grabbing yourself a good book - for Kertesz, if not for me. 

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