Kati Horna (1912 – 2000)
Kati Horna was a surrealist photographer and a cosmopolitan and visionary artist. Compassionate and engaged, she introduced a personal and feminine approach to reportage photography and developed an innovative, powerful, and poetic visual narrative. Nevertheless, her work is still in the shadow. She was born in Hungary and grew up between Berlin, where she was influenced by Bauhaus, Surrealism and Constructivist avant-garde movements, and Budapest, where she met her friend Robert Capa. From Jewish origin, Kati was forced to emigrate to Paris when the Nazis started to rise to power. Her Parisian photographic series reveals her wit, along with her interest in capturing scenes of street life. Kati had always believed that photography was an instrument of emancipation and revolution which played a crucial role in social and political education; nevertheless, her imaginative narrative also comes to light through her work – a Surrealist creativity runs through the metaphors she uses, as does her desire to experiment and break the rules. As Kati began to introduce motifs such as dolls and masks to her images, the line between the animated and unanimated became a fil rouge or common element of her work.
In 1937 she moved to Spain to document the Spanish Civil War. Here, she worked for various anarchic publications and met her husband, artist Jose Horna. Contributing to photojournalism in a unique way, Kati applied experimental techniques, such as montage and collage, to her reportage photography. These techniques expressed both the conflict and its resolution, keeping distance while transforming memories. Reporting the otherwise unseen and untold, Kati embraced the life which co-existed among the widespread warfare. Looking at the consequences of the war on ordinary people’s lives, she depicted the conflict through portraits of women, mothers, and children, showing the war from the perspective of women. Architecture is also a frequent theme of Kati’s photography. She shows the war in empty spaces, ruins, and broken objects; instead of dead bodies, Kati depicts haunting scenes of urban life – life over death. Resilience is her ultimate message of antifascist resistance.
Kati moved back to Paris in 1939 but when the Second World War broke out, she flew to Mexico where she died in 2000. Exiled all her life, she finally found her home and her family in the European Surrealists circles where she met Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, among others. She portrayed the Mexican cultural Renaissance while teaching and working for different magazines, turning her camera again towards marginalised people and reporting on the abuses in psychiatric institutions, such as La Castañeda. Truly emblematic – in the sense of getting as close as we can to Kati’s perspective – is the work she carried out for S.nob, the most caustic magazine in Mexico at that time. Explorative and experimental, Kati’s photography is a dreamy, allegorical, and evocative dance of unusual connections. The fascinating series she conceived during this period symbolises more than ever her anarchic inventiveness, her perpetual search for individual freedom and the right to be different.
Kati Horna’s work can be found Jeu De Paume.