Kati Horna

Profile taken from Time

When Kati Horna covered the Spanish Civil War, she was alongside documentary photography giants such as Robert Capa, her childhood friend. Yet, her unusual, surrealist-inspired images of that conflict stand in stark contrast to Capa’s frontline photographs, making her contributions to the annals of conflict photography even more singular.

Horna’s adventurous life took her from her native Hungary to Berlin, Paris, and ultimately Mexico. She was born Katalin Deutsch in 1912 to a Jewish family in Budapest; there she met Capa (then known as Endré Friedmann) when she was a teenager. The two quickly became inseparable, signed up in the same left-wing movement, and took up photography, often making each other’s portraits.

In 1930, Horna and Capa were separated when she went to live in Berlin. In the German capital, she worked for Simon Guttman’s agency, Dephot, and met with playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht as well as painter and photographer Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. The latter’s photomontage work and his double-exposure photographs were to be a lasting influence.

In March 1933, when the National Socialist Party came to power, Kati Horna fled to Paris, where she was reunited with Capa. Armed with a 6×6 Rolleiflex, she did reportages on Paris flea markets and cafés for the agency Lutetia-Press, but, immersed in Surrealism’s birthplace, she quickly developed a taste for the staged shot, superimposition, and the image as a poetic narrative.

Four years later, when the Confédération Générale du Travail union asked her to document the Spanish Civil War, she left with Capa and his assistant, Chiki Weisz, as well as Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour. For the next 18 months, she photographed at the Aragon front, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and a number of remote towns and villages. Her photographs were published in Spanish anarchist magazines such as Umbral (where she met her future husband, Jose Horna), Tierra y Libertad, Libre-Studio, Tiempo Nuevos and Mujeres Libres.

Like Chim, Horna rarely photographed battlefronts and concentrated on the effects of war on the everyday life of the civil population, especially women and children. Her images of a lonely child, sitting on a house’s stone steps in Vincen, his finger in his mouth; of children playing; or of women washing laundry in a Barcelona fountain, their backs turned to us, radiate a lyrical and melancholy feeling.

Kati Horna images of men behind the lines – one shaving, face covered in foam, another sitting down in a field next to a trench to write a letter – display humor and a strong sense of intimacy with her subjects. Others, such as La Madre Espana, her hand hiding her face, and another of an old woman in profile, her black headscarf blowing in the wind, become symbols of suffering or defiance.

Information from http://www.marco.org.mx/index.pl?i=994

1912 Born on 19 May in Budapest, the city where she learned the techniques of photography. She met the photojournalist Robert Capa and the photographer Emerico Chiki Weisz.

1930 Arrived in Berlin, along with her compatriots Robert Capa and Chiki Weisz and met the German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht and entered his circles.

1933 Arrived in Paris where she consolidated her education as a photographer and realized various documentary assignments for the French company Agence Photo.

1937 She traveled to in the footsteps of Weisz and Capa. She worked on an album for outside propaganda for the Republican Government and as a graphic reporter in magazines like Umbral where she met José Horna.

1938 Kati and José Horna were married.

1939 When World War II broke out, the couple left Paris to seek refuge in Mexico where they came in contact with other exiled artists like Remedios Varo, Benjamín Péret, Leonora Carrington, Gunther Gerzso, Wolfgang Paalen, Alice Rahon, Mathias Goeritz, entre otros.

1939 After arriving in Mexico, she participated with different magazines. In Todo she published the visual story Así se va otro año (Lo que va al cesto), 1939; in Mapa she published La evacuación de los sin culpa, 1940, and Tránsito, 1941; in Nosotros she published Lucha contra las tinieblas5445, 1944, Loquibambia, 1944, Asilo para ancianos, 1944 and Títeres en la penitenciaría, 1945; and, in the magazine S.nob she participated with Oda a la necrofilia (Fetiche núm. 1), Impromptu con Arpa (Fetiche núm. 2) and Paraísos artificiales (Fetiche núm. 4), 1962, among others.

1949 On 20 October Norah Horna was born, the only child of José and Kati.

1958-1965 Kati collaborated with the magazine directed by Anita Breen, Mexico This Month. In January of 1965 she published House of History with photographs of Trotsky’s house. Other projects by Kati for this publication show the work of some artists like Germán Cueto, Pedro Friedeberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mathias Goeritz and Leonora Carrington. She converted herself into the great portrait photographer of the artistic and literary vanguards of Mexico.

1961 Participated in the group show of “Los hartos” at the Galería Antonio Souze.

1963 José Horna died on 4 August.

1973-2000 Directed the Taller de Fotografía at the Antigua Academia de San Carlos.

1983 Sold 270 negatives to the Ministerio de Cultura Español that were taken during the Spanish Civil War. That archive is actually in the Archivo General de la Guerra Civil Española in the city of Salamanca, Spain.

1985 Donated 6,750 negatives, 3,817 contact prints, 408 slides and 496 original impressions to the Centro Nacional de Difusión e Investigación de las Artes Plásticas (Cenidiap), an institution under the aegis of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) of Mexico.

1993 In May, she agreed to a televised interview by Emilio Cárdenas Elorduy, a unique document with her talking about her life.

2000 Kati Horna passed away in Mexico City on 19 October. Her legacy is made up of 20,000 celluloid negatives and 6x6cm slides and 3,000 vintage photographs.


Large photographs from the Civil War                        http://www.irmielin.org/nothere/kati-horna/

Below video shows a retrospective exhibition of her work at Concord, Paris from June to September 2014.  More about the exhibition.

Interesting and full bio and critique of her work  :    http://faculty.hope.edu/andre/artistPages/horna_bio.html

Another study of her life and work                                          http://artblart.com/tag/kati-horna-ode-to-necrophilia/

Displacements: the real and surreal photographs of Kati Horna  http://www.artslant.com/par/articles/show/39976