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Subject in Kertész photograph discovers herself in image at Academy Art Museum exhibition
Kem Sawyer of Washington, DC, visiting the Academy Art Museum in Easton, MD, where she discovered a 1962 photograph by André Kertész of her at age nine.

EASTON, MD.- When children’s author, Kem Sawyer, of Washington , DC , learned that there was an exhibition of Hungarian photographer, André Kertész at the Academy Art Museum in Easton , MD , she was thrilled. Sawyer had been told by a friend some ten years earlier that a photograph of her, taken at age nine in her mother’s children’s dress shop in New York City was in the book, “On Reading André Kertész” (W.W. Norton, 1971), however, she had never seen the photograph herself. The photo was taken by Kertész in 1962. The Museum of Contemporary Photography , at Columbia College , Chicago , was unaware of the identity of the sitter.

On the day of the opening at the Museum, Anke Van Wagenberg, curator at the Academy Art Museum, received a phone call from Sawyer, who had learned from the “Washington Post” that the exhibition, André Kertész: On Reading, a series of photographs made by legendary Hungarian-American photographer André Kertész (1894–1985), was on display at the Academy Art Museum, Easton, MD. Sawyer, who wanted to surprise her mother, Evelyn Knapp, on her 85 birthday and take her to see the photograph, called to arrange the visit and see the photograph for the first time. Coincidentally, Sawyer’s mother had seen the same listing in the Washington Post and had contacted Van Wagenberg too. Mother and daughter traveled to Easton during the Thanksgiving break, along with Sawyer’s husband Jon, to finally see the photograph for the first time.

From 1912 onward, Kertész had taken candid photographs of ordinary people, showing a new penchant for playful observations and unusual angles, beginning in his native Budapest , Hungary , and later in Paris and New York . He had settled with his wife Elizabeth in Greenwich Village in 1936, where he spotted Kem Knapp, now Kem Sawyer, reading a book in her mother’s shop. The elder Knapp owned The Green Frog, a children’s dress shop. Kem appears to be reading to her doll seated next to her in a rocking chair. A distinctive smocked dress hung in the shop window – a dress Sawyer would bring with her to the Museum, along with the Nancy Drew book that she was reading in the photograph. Nancy Drew mysteries were some of Sawyer’s favorite books as a child. Although a lifelong reader, little did she know that one day she would become a children’s author herself. She was not aware that Kertész took her picture.

Kertész said, “The moment always dictates in my work .... Everybody can look, but they don't necessarily see .... I see a situation and I know that it's right.” It is easy to understand how Kertész glimpses of ordinary people and places changed the course of photography art. He created a new visual literacy.

Upon seeing the image for the first time, Sawyer’s mother, Evelyn Knapp of Washington, DC, commented, “The photograph brings back the past. It’s nice to remember the store on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village .” Sawyer adds, “We now have a seven-year- old granddaughter. This photograph makes me think of her.”

Sawyer works in Washington as a biographer for intermediate readers. She has written biographies on such historical figures as Gandhi, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Harriet Tubman. She has also written a novel, “Freedom Calls: Journey of a Slave Girl.”

The Kertész’s exhibition examines the photographer’s interest in the poetry and choreography of life in public and also private moments at home, examining the power of reading as a universal pleasure.

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