Title: Hotel of the Heart



Photographer: André Kertész
Author: Richard Milazzo
Publisher: Night Mail
Designer: Nanni Cagnone

 

Image Title: January 1st, 1972, Martinique
Book Genre: Poetry
Notes:

 On the first day of a new year, a figure’s gauzy silhouette faces a calm sea and cloudy sky, as if searching for his past, or scanning the horizon for clues to his future. André Kértesz made this image, Martinique, January 1, 1972, when he was 78 years old and had been photographing for more than 60 years. It is a remarkable picture in many ways, not least of which as a reminder of how enigmatic the world can be when described by a camera. A concise paradox of depth and flatness, mystery and fact, Martinique is as neat an amalgam as one may find of that admixture of document and surrealism that is a photograph. The silhouetted figure, unrecognizable behind a frosted glass panel (similar to the ground glass of a camera’s focusing mechanism), may be seen symbolically as anyone from the viewer to the photographer himself, in the last decades of a lifetime taking pictures, uncertain of what lies ahead, but still able to reduce reality to its breathtaking essentials.

 

 It is not surprising that an image so open to interpretation can be found on the covers of at least four books. It is most literally interpreted by designer Anne Fink, who uses it for the cover of André Aciman’s False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory. The metaphor is entirely appropriate: Kértesz’ diffuse figure is the exile; hidden, uncertain of his identity, gazing across the sea toward what was once home.


 The figure’s pose may also be seen as one of supplication, as in the rather plain and straightforward cover of Stephen Sandy’s Thanksgiving Over the Water.

 

 Another book of poems, Hotel of the Heart by Richard Milazzo, presents the most openly interpretive use of Martinique. In Nanni Cagnone’s design, Kértesz’ image

wraps around the book, verso to recto. On the front cover, the reader views only the right half of the photograph, which appears visually ‘empty’ and virtually abstract. The title and author’s name fit neatly into the space of the sky, compositionally balanced by the weight of water and balcony below. It is only when the book is turned over that the silhouette appears, as if suddenly discovered watching from around the corner.


 A footnote: I can’t help observing how reminiscent Martinique is, in both psychology and style, of Ralph Gibson’s work of the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s. This is not to say Kértesz was influenced by the much younger Gibson; if anything, the reverse was more likely. Perhaps the similarity may be seen less as influence, and more as borrowing from a common source.  KB



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