Masks, Refugees and Vagabond: Kati Horna’s Revealingly Surreal Photographs

Kati Horna's photographs approach us truth through surrealism, shadows and masks

“I fled Hungary, I fled Berlin, I fled Paris, and I left everything behind in Barcelona… It’s for vagabonds like me. Because my clothes got torn on the route, I selected photography.”
– Kati Horna


Kati Horna

Kati Horna , Paris, 1939 – the Muñecas del miedo series [Dolls of Fear]

Kati Horna was born Katalin Deutsch in 1912. She worked in her native Hungary, France, Spain and Mexico. She was a refugee,  part of a generation of Hungarian photographers forced to flee their country in the 1930s.

Fellow artists who fell foul of Nazis and their views on “degenerate art” and hatred of Jews included André Kertész, Horna’s childhood friend Robert Capa, Eva Besnyö, László Moholy-Nagy, Nicolás Muller, Brassaï, Rogi André, Ergy Landau and Martin Munkácsi.


Kati Horna

Ascending to the Cathedral, Barcelona, 1938

In March 1933, when the National Socialist Party came to power, Horna fled to Paris, where she was reunited with Capa. Armed with a 6×6 Rolleiflex, she became a street photographer, recording life in Paris flea markets and cafés for the agency Lutetia-Press.

Her eye often fell on things that didn’t quite fit, like fractured dolls and masks. Artist Saul Steinberg, a fellow Jewish artist forced to flee Nazi Europe, shared an interest in masks. “The personal remark, the visible emotion, has no place in society,” he said. “Of course [a mask is] something that’s useful, it’s necessary, but it’s also something ugly, because it takes away all the poetry, the spontaneity of life away from people. The more organised society, the more we have these masks.”


Kati Horna Paris, 1937 – From the Hitler series

Horna photographed the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), at the request of the Spanish Republican government between 1937 and 1939, working alongside Gerda Taro and Capa. She photographed at the Aragon front, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and a number of provincial villages. Her work was published in the Spanish anarchist magazines Umbral (where she met her future husband, Jose Horna), Tierra y Libertad, Libre-Studio, Tiempo Nuevos and Mujeres Libres.


Kati Horna

Kati Horna : Vélez Rubio, Almeria province, Andalusia, Spanish Civil War, 1937

“Photography, with its various possibilities, allows you to liberate and develop your own sensibility and express it in graphic images.”
– Kati Horna


Kati Horna mask

Kati Horna : Remedios Varo, Mexico, 1957

.“The camera is not an impediment. It is oneself!”
– Kati Horna


Kati Horna : Robert Capa in the Studio of József Pécsi, Budapest, 1933

Kati Horna :  Umbrellas, Meeting of the CNT, Spanish Civil War
Barcelona, 1937

Kati Horna

Carnaval de Huejotzingo, Puebla, 1941

Woman with Mask, Mexico, 1963

The Bottle, Mexico, 1962

Mexico, 1962 – Ode to Necrophilia

La Castañeda psychiatric hospital, Mixcoac, Mexico, 1944

José Horna Working on the Maquette for Edward James’s House, Mexico, 1960

Robert Capa by Kati Horna – Budapest, 1933

First publish in 2014. The exhibition at Jeu de Paume

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