Category Archives: Research for C&N

Donigan Cumming

Following my assignment 3 submission, Thou Shalt not Age, my tutor recommended that I look at the work of Donigan Cumming. I had never heard of this American photographe,r born in Virginia, in 1947. The project my tutor recommended was Pretty Ribbons.(1)

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Une prière pour Nettie, Galerie Pons, Paris, France – 1995

This project concerns a woman, Nettie, who had been an actress  and a journalist and she agreed to allow Cummings to photograph her decaying body as she edged towards death. There is nothing Pretty about these images but somehow because we believe that Nettie cooperated fully with Cummings we don’t pull back from the result. Instead a sort of empathy develops between the viewer and the dying Nettie.

I wanted to look at more work by this photographer and to try to get into the reasoning of ‘why’ he took these images. In my own submission my tutor had picked up on the humour behind my own work. There is nothing we can do to avoid that march towards aging. So we can, instead, try to be amused by it. Cummigs does something similar.

There is nothing to recommend, visually, a twisted decaying almost corpse. And yet as in this extraordinary review (2) of Cummings work and his very detailed interview on Cumming’s videos, we have to agree with, Mike Hoolboom,  the author, that instead of “spitting out” and rejecting these images we keep looking.

Cummings’ ‘models’, all seem to be part of a small group of people on the margins. In the interview Cummings touches on his own, one time, addiction to alcoholism. It seems that he met one of this group at that time. They struck up a friendship. This gave Cummings an ‘in’ into the chaotic lives of these people who were living on the edge. He stresses that he always worked with them, by appointment and with their full consent, giving the impression that these people were behaving like ordinary people. I find this hard to understand.

When pressed, by Hoolbloom, about the difference between his life style and economic standards, Cummings agrees that his life is indeed very different, from that of his subjects, but he insists that his ‘models’ were always willing participants. He indicates that he always showed them the results and they signed their agreement to release the material. Cummings believes that the people involved had no opportunity to tell their stories to the world, other than through his lens. He indicates that they were at least willing, and often enthusiastic, actors in their own stories. He says he fails to understand why viewers sometimes describe his work as the pornography of misery. (2). I was unable to view any of his videos so I have to rely on the written word of others to write about this work.

It is a very frank and honest interview in which he admits to ‘staging’ or reworking many of his videos until he is satisfied that the end result presents the story he wants to tell. I could not put it any better than he puts it himself: The basic formula of my work is that the material has to carry the seeds of its own critical destruction. It is not a transparent window into otherness.(2)

In a recent article (3) on WeAreOCA, Les Monaghan, discusses the dilemma photographers face in photographing projects of this type. When is it voyeurism and when is it beneficial? I struggle with this concept.

  1. Pretty Ribbons. 2016. Pretty Ribbons. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.donigancumming.com/DC2012/GAL_prettyribbons.html. [Accessed 02 May 2016].
  2. Donigan Cumming | Mike Hoolboom. 2016. Donigan Cumming | Mike Hoolboom. [ONLINE] Available at: http://mikehoolboom.com/?p=3. [Accessed 02 May 2016].
  3. WeAreOCA. 2016. Photography Matters ii – WeAreOCA. [ONLINE] Available at: http://weareoca.com/fine-art/27054/. [Accessed 03 May 2016].

Late Photography: A Review

Late Photography is difficult to describe and in many cases difficult to understand. David Campany likens late photography to an undertaker, summariser, or accountant:

It turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened, totting up the effects of the world’s activity. (1)

It is a fairly recent genre that has developed since the end of the 90’s. It involves either being commissioned or going independently to an area, where something has already happened, and making still images. This ‘something’ may be a natural disaster or a man made one. Man made disasters include wars or activities associated with war such as testing of war equipment. There are no ‘rules” about how these images should be made. Books are often created from the resultant images or they are exhibited in galleries.

The number and nationalities of photographers producing “late Photographs” is growing. Individual motivation, for the work, differs from one photographer to another. For some it is commissioned work as in the case of Paul Seawright (2), who was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum London to undertake a war art commission in Afghanistan and his photographs of battle-sites and minefields have subsequently been exhibited. Others create their work out of personal traumatic events that they have witnessed. Willie Doherty’s, work is rooted in the politics and topography of his native Derry (3). He witnessed the horrific events of Bloody Sunday which has greatly influenced his ‘late’ photography. For me his overwritten monochrome images of the 80’s are easier to interpret. Later he abandoned the practice of overwriting his colour images. I find these later images very difficult to understand. To me they look like very depressing images of bleak landscapes. Nadav Kander explores the vestiges of the Cold War through the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia (4). His images were exhibited under the title Dust. This work is self explanatory and very striking. It can be easily understand. Sophie Ristelhueber is described as a ‘late photographer’. I am not sure she would consider herself as such. She describes her work in Kuwait, Fait, as not about war but it’s only a work about scars. (5). Joel Meyerowitz said his reason for creating Aftermath (6) was to leave a record for history of how Ground Zero looked following the downing of the Twin Towers.

It is not always clear why photographers become late photography. It is tempting to surmise that it suits the perpetrators of war better to have these ‘after the fact’ images rather than the raw reality of war. It is said that Vietnam was that last ‘photographer’s war’. The war in Iraq was the first in which photographers were embedded. Photographers were dressed like soldiers and travelled with the armies both British and American. In this way the warring countries were able to ‘control’ what images the public were allowed to see. Simon Norfolk, a onetime photographer of literal battlefields in Afghanistan is extremely exercised by this whole new turn of events. We, the public, are being controlled. He describes working as an independent war photographer in Iraq. He used his large format camera and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. In so doing he believed no one could take him seriously and in this way he could shoot what he wanted to. He has now tuned away from war photography to become a photographer of how war makes the world we live in. For Norfolk it seems to be an inevitable progression to try to get behind the scenes, the cyberspace of modern warfare (7)

It is hard to know where war photography is going. Embedding photographers is one worrying trend which results in sanatised images reaching the public. Another, for me, is this ‘late photography’ which creates stark, melancholic images of places where something, often wars, has happened. Equally worrying is Joel Meyerowitz’s work at Ground Zero which resulted in magnificent, hauntingly beautiful images of that tragic event on the 11th of September 2001. What are we, the public, to be allowed to see of war in the future?

  1. Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ | David Campany. 2016. Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’ | David Campany. [ONLINE] Available at: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
  2. http://www.paulseawright.com/paul-seawright/
  3. Willie Doherty: DISTURBANCE, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane free admission. 2016. Willie Doherty: DISTURBANCE, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane free admission. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hughlane.ie/past/403-autumn-programme. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
  4. Nadav Kander – Dust – Exhibitions – Flowers Gallery. 2016. Nadav Kander – Dust – Exhibitions – Flowers Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.flowersgallery.com/exhibitions/view/nadav-kander-dust. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
  5. Sophie Ristelhueber Interviewed – FOTO8. 2016. Sophie Ristelhueber Interviewed – FOTO8. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.foto8.com/live/sophie-ristelhueber-interviewed/. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
  6. Joel Meyerowitz : Photographer. 2016. Joel Meyerowitz : Photographer. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.joelmeyerowitz.com/photography/book_aftermath.asp. [Accessed 02 April 2016
  7. War/Photography: An Interview with Simon Norfolk – BLDGBLOG. 2016. War/Photography: An Interview with Simon Norfolk – BLDGBLOG. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bldgblog.com/2006/12/warphotography-an-interview-with-simon-norfolk/. [Accessed 13 April 2016]

 

Behind the Image by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana

The book is written by two University of Creative Arts staff members. Its audience is primarily students of photography. I believe it should be required reading for students starting out on a photography course rather than further into the course.

There are six chapters. It is written in a simple and straightforward language making it easy to understand. It is well illustrated with images both by the authors and other photographers where relevant. Much of the content is things one already knows. Tied neatly into chapters it reinforces this knowledge.

The opening chapter is about planning and researching proposals for projects. The second is about research methods and sources available to develop a project. There are brief descriptions of different photographic genre in the next chapter. Because of the breadth of the topics covered no one genre is dealt with in depth. This leaves the reader wanting to discover more. Blogging and information storage is dealt with in Chapter four. The fifth Chapter is about the final product. Emphasis is placed on archiving research so that it can be accessed later. Taking time to reflect and revisit images before final decisions are made. Where and how to exhibit material is also touched on. The final chapter deals with taking time to reflect on work in progress and eventually archiving it.

Each chapter ends with an activity. I did not do these activities but think they would be very useful for anyone preparing for a college degree in Photography. In brief, a great little handbook.

Victor Burgin (1941 – ): Conceptual artist, Writer, Photographer

I am reviewing this artist/photographer at the suggestion of my tutor. I found his work really interesting not least because I was moving towards the addition of text to my images before I looked at his work. The first online reference I looked at was Galerie Zander. In “Seeing Double“(1) he adds text but unfortunately the images online were not good enough to read the text.

Further research produced a very interesting paper (here (2)) on appropiations which is defined in Wikipedia as:  the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.

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Figure1.28 Victor Burgin: “Life Demands a Little Give and Take” (1974)

The text, for this image, was given as follows:

Evening is the softest time of day. As the sun descends the butterfly bright colours which flourish at high noon give way to the moth shades. The tones are pale, delicate. These are the classic Mayfair colours. White, naturally, takes pride of place, but evening white lightly touched with silver or sometimes gold . . . The look is essentially luxurious, very much for the pampered lady dressed for a romantic evening with every element pale and perfect.

This text is about the targeting of fashion towards white people rather than black. The author asks if, without the text, the message would be clear?

In my own assignment submission I used an Dior ad to state that even models carry at least 1kg of bacteria. I was interested to see how closely it resembled Burgin’s poster “Possession” which he created

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Nuala Mahon

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Figure 1.29 Victor Burgin, “Possession”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although my ‘message’  was a much simpler one and not political. Burgin was highlighting the uneven distribution of wealth in the world. Apparently his message fell on ‘blind eyes’ as very few people actually read it.

Burgin uses the above image in his exhibition curated by David Campany On Paper. (3)The blurb for this exhibition attributes the following statement to Burgin:

My decision to base my work in contemporary cultural theory rather than traditional aesthetics, has resulted in work whose precise ‘location’ is uncertain, ‘between’: between gallery and book; between ‘visual art’ and ‘theory’; between ‘image’ and ‘narrative’ – ‘work’ providing work between reader and text.

I love the idea.

Contrary to the ‘simplicity of his images to read and interpret, his essays are written in a sightly simpler style than Barthes but nonetheless they are not bedtime reading.

From his essay Seeing Sense (4) Burgin suggests:

A significant social effect of a photograph is the product of its imbrication within such discursive formations. It is easily appreciated that advertising activates such formations as, for example, those which concern family life, erotic encounters, competitiveness, and so on. The role of the veerbal in advertising will be ust as readily conceded – writing is physically integrated into nearly every advertisement. But art photographs are not exempt from such determinations of meaning, determinations which are achieved even where actual writing is absent.

Which I take to mean both art images and advertisement rely on written or implied words to project their meaning.

When discussing an image, by Garry Winogrand, of four women walking down the street passing garbage bags stuffed with rubbish, Burgin says, that we already have in mind the expression ‘old bag… He maintains

We cannot choose what we know, and neither can we choose what part of our dormant knowledge will be awakened by the stimulus of an image, reciprocally reactivated and reinforced by it.

This happens no matter how hard we try to maintain neutrality. Everything we have lived and experienced will influence what we experience when looking at a photograph.

In discussing Photography as art Burgin quotes Greenberg (5):

The art in photography is literary art before anything else. The photography has to tell a story if it is to work as art. And it is in choosing and accosting his story, or subject , that the artist-photographer makes the decisions crucial to his art.

In addition to Greenberg’s story, Szarkowski (6) talks about the sense of an image but Burgin believes we must add a third parameter which is the seeing subject, the observer of the image.

One of Burgin’s essay’s entitled “Looking at Photographs” provided me with a sore head from the level of concentration required to decipher its meaning. I decided to reread it today but in my mail this morning was a link to a Japanese photographer (7), Lukasz Palka. His ideas about reading photographs which fairly closely agreed with Burgins that to complete the work an observer is necessary, He says

The signifying significance of a photograph,……, at once depicts a scene and the gaze of the spectator, an object and a viewing subject

Burgin goes further than Palka in what he believes an observer brings to the image. He or she interprets the image on the basis of all his pre-knowledge and learning. Burgin also discusses the fact that a photograph is framed and in being framed it excludes part of the story. This is why so many professional street photographers like the Leica with the viewfinder to the side. In this way they can keep the whole surrounding in view and make the decision what to include and what to exclude in the final image.

Burgins ‘reading’ of the image, by James Jarche General Wavell watches his gardener at work, is extraordinary. One wonders if the photographer intended such a level of interpretation or indeed if that matters since the observer is part of the looking experience and is entitled to interpret as he thinks fit.

It is hard to make sense of Burgins conclusions about Photography and the codes contained therin.

 

  1. Works – Victor Burgin – Artists – Galerie Thomas Zander. 2016. Works – Victor Burgin – Artists – Galerie Thomas Zander. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.galeriezander.com/en/artist/victor_burgin/works. [Accessed 23 March 2016].
  2. 1.3 Appropriations. 2016. 1.3 Appropriations. [ONLINE] Available at: http://courses.washington.edu/hypertxt/cgi-bin/book/wordsinimages/appropriations.html. [Accessed 23 March 2016]
  3. Victor Burgin: On Paper | David Campany. 2016. Victor Burgin: On Paper | David Campany. [ONLINE] Available at: http://davidcampany.com/victor-burgin-on-paper/. [Accessed 23 March 2016].
  4. 2016. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sichtbarkeit-sichtbarmachung.de/data/user/WiSe_2012_13/Sonstiges/internationale_Tagung/BURGIN__Seeing_Sense__1980_.pdf. [Accessed 24 March 2016].
  5. Four Photographers by Clement Greenberg | The New York Review of Books. 2016. Four Photographers by Clement Greenberg | The New York Review of Books. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1964/01/23/four-photographers/. [Accessed 24 March 2016].
  6. Szarkowski, J, 1966. The Photographer’s Eye. 1st ed. New York: The Museum of Modern Art
  7. A Photograph is an Experience. 2016. A Photograph is an Experience. [ONLINE] Available at: http://petapixel.com/2016/03/24/a-photograph-is-an-experience/. [Accessed 25 March 2016].

 

“Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

I do not think, even with a million words, I could write a review of John Berger’s book “Ways of Seeing, which would be as informative or as amusing as Austin Kleon’s mind map of the book’s contents.

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I bought a hard copy of the book because I was travelling and thought I could read it en route. But when I returned I watched all four episodes of the original BBC presentations which I found even better than the book (2,3,4,5). I found the typeface annoying and the images in the book unclear so the YouTube of the programmes was a more pleasing way to illuminate the book’s contents.

In the TV presentations Berger looks straight into the camera as he discusses the earliest European oil painting. These works of art were exclusively commissioned for and by  rich. They exuded wealth both in their content, framing and where they hung. The content showed the rich and their possessions. The paintings were about the present. The possessors wanted to show, the world, their wealth.

When landscape became introduced into oil painting it often showed property owners in their landscape. It continued to be about the wealthy and their possessions. The poor could never aspire to ownership of any of these objects.

Berger points out that everything changed with the invention of the camera. The paintings could be reproduced and became more universally available. The camera could zoom in and out. it could isolate parts of the images which could then be used in different circumstances and loose their contact with and meaning within the original painting. We too can have a reproduction of any work of art on our pin board. Art became accessible to us all..

To protect the ‘art world’ art and to prolong the mystique around oil painting,  critics and experts emerged with a language of their own. But some of the originals became extremely valuable because they were the original and the rich were prepared to pay to possess them. They had a commercial value and became commodities to be traded. We became in awe of these paintings. A whole language developed around art and art criticism and we almost forgot to look at the paintings.

Berger maintains children see more clearly than many adults. He gathered a group of children to examine a painting. Their brutally honest ‘normal’ language managed to see what many adult observers had missed, the ambiguity of the sex of one of the persons represented in the painting. We, because of our education and learning, are programmed to experience art in a certain way. We loose the spontaneity of just looking and loving or hating.

Berger then discusses the position of women in painting and advertising which I felt was somewhat misplaced in the sequence of essays. I realise the essays can be read in any order but I still felt this essay did not fit in and would have been better as a separate book. It is oviously a subject very important to Berger.

The book concludes with a discussion on ubiquitous publicity. The message is that “you can have it all if you buy this or that”. Unlike the oil painting the promise is for the future. Utopia will be ours tomorrow. Very often reproductions of oil paintings or the compositions used  in them are re-used in publicity. We are receiving the ‘message’ consciously or subconsciously that we can now possess whatever we want. All we need is the means to purchase but therin lies the rub. In the programme Berger shows the women in a factory working n the Yardley’s production line where fragrances were being filled into bottles. These women were unlikely to be able to achieve the dreams offered in most advertisements in 1972, when the programme was made. Berger believed that this publicity bombardment blunts our awareness of the real state of things in the world.

I believe the situation has deteriorated even further since Berger wrote this book. The rich have got richer and the poor, poorer. Wars and unrest are ravaging our world. Meanwhile the flood of publicity continues to offer us Utopia tomorrow…..

 

 

  1. WAYS OF SEEING BY JOHN BERGER. 2016. WAYS OF SEEING BY JOHN BERGER. [ONLINE] Available at: http://austinkleon.com/2008/10/19/ways-of-seeing-by-john-berger/. [Accessed 15 March 2016]
  2. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972) – YouTube. 2016. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972) – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk. [Accessed 15 March 2016].
  3. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972) – YouTube. 2016. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972) – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1GI8mNU5Sg. [Accessed 15 March 2016].
  4. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 3 (1972) – YouTube. 2016. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 3 (1972) – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7wi8jd7aC4. [Accessed 15 March 2016].
  5. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 4 (1972) – YouTube. 2016. John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 4 (1972) – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jTUebm73IY. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

 

 

Review of Christian Patterson Joan Fontcuberta and Yukichi Watabe’s work

Christian Patterson

My tutor had pointed me to Redheaded Peckerwood (1) a book by Christian Patterson about the teenage murders carried out in Nebraska fifty years ago. The book follows the path of Starkweather and Fugate, who murdered ten people in 1958, some of which included members of Fugate’s own family.

The first material I found was an interview by Daniel Augschöll and Anya Jasbar for Ahorn Magazine (2) . In this interview Patterson explains how and why the work had taken five yerrs to complete. He returned to Nabraska each January for about a week to continue his research. He met people who were willing to share their stories about the murders and to point him to other sources. He continues to find and be given material pertaining to the story. His book, now on its third addition contains some of this recent found material. He is extremely interesting on what, in his book, is fact and what is fiction. he leaves the whole thing purpously vague which I love. He also says he is not sure if his next story will be based on a true story or not. He is drawn to the idea of an invented story created to make it absolutely believable.

The interview also contains a lot of information about the making of the original ten handmade books and the eventual printing, by MACK, of the commercial editions. Everything from the cover to the inserts looks fascinating and I would so love to possess this book.

I wish I had know about this photographer before I worked on my assignment1.His work makes my little assignment look so amateur. Below is a video of Patterson talking about his book. His attention to detail and passion for his subject is evident. He openly admits it is part truth and part fiction but this does not matter to the book. It is a work with which the reader must interact. There are inserts and pages superimposed on the images. It looks splendid.

Joan Fontcuberta

Where Patterson’s work follows, meticulously, events in Redheaded Peckerwood and uses some of the actual material Fontcuberta invents ‘almost’ everything in his work. He has been exhibiting his work since 1984 (Hemograms) to this present day, the latest exhibition I could find, until I saw his work in Arles, was 2014 (Camouflages). He takes an idea or invented story and creates a whole narrative around it. Fauna was, he claimed about work he had found from a German scientist who had researched extraordinary animals. Fontcuberta added documents, research notes etc. to his exhibition, of the supposed scientist’s work, thus giving the appearance of authentication.

In “Googlegrams,” the Spanish witchking employs a freeware photo-mosaic program that composes big pictures from zillions of tiny pictorial tiles. All culled from the World Wide Web.(3).

Zoom detail of Googlegram 8: Auschwitz, 2005

Zoom detail of Googlegram 8: Auschwitz, 2005

The critic of his exhibition Googlegrams says of it that it turns your eyebrows into exclamation points of alarm and I can well believe it. While I admire his work and his creativity I cannot say I actually like it. Then I don’t think that is the object of his work I think it is done to provoke and stretch out thinking which it certainly does.

Yukichi Watabe,

A Criminal Investigation, the work recommended by my tutor,  was in fact, the only work by this photographer that I could find online. I was able to peruse the book on YouTube but found this frustrating as the written parts were not clear. A review by Jesse Freeman (4) did throw more light on the work. It would appear that the Photographer, Yukichi Watabe was allowed to photograph two detectives as they went about their work trying to solve a brutal murder in the 1950’s. The book is printed and bound to look like a police report. It is packed full of black and white images, many of the two chain smoking detectives. Some of the images are really aesthetically beautifully composed. This, unlike the other two photographer’s work is very real despite being represented in a cinematic, film noir style. I think it would be necessary to hold and look at these images to fully appreciate the work.

In conclusion I really appreciate being introduced to these three photographers’ work. it has made me reflect about truth, manipulation, and even creation of truth like images.

 

  1.  Patterson, C, 2011. Redheaded Peckerwood. 3rd ed. London: MACK.
  2. Interview with Christian Patterson. 2016. Interview with Christian Patterson. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ahornmagazine.com/issue_9/interview_patterson/interview_patterson.html. [Accessed 19 January 2016].
  3. JOAN FONTCUBERTA: “The Con” | #ASX. 2016. JOAN FONTCUBERTA: “The Con” | #ASX. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/06/joan-fontcuberta-con.html. [Accessed 21 January 2016].
  4. Jesse’s Book Review – A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi – Japan Camera Hunter. 2016. Jesse’s Book Review – A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi – Japan Camera Hunter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.japancamerahunter.com/2014/07/jesses-book-review-criminal-investigation-watabe-yukichi/. [Accessed 21 January 2016].

Review of The Photographers Eye by John Szarkowski

This book is based on the 1964 exhibition of the same name. The first edition was printed in gravure in 1966 and was printed in 1980. The edition I received as a Christmas gift was a reprint from 2007 with relevant updates and some unavoidable cropping of plates.

There is an introduction by Szarkowski, which he opens with the phrase: This book is an investigation of what photographs look like and why they look that way.

He describes the process whereby the photographer tried to find his place in the existing art world. But because the process was cheap anyone with the means to purchase the material could practice photography. No training was involved. He quotes an English writer saying “photographers … run rampant over the globe, photographing objects of all sorts, shapes and sizes, under almost every condition, without every pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic?”

Photographers learned by doing and from looking at other photographs. The photographs in the book, 162 in all were made over a century. Szarkowski says the images have little in common except their success.

His set of images is divided more or less equally into five category heading: The Thing Itself, The Detail, The Frame, Time and Vantage Point

In the first category, The Thing itself, images by well known photographers, among them, Edward Weston, Julia Margaret Cameron, Elliot Erwitt and many unknown photographers are presented. What I found interesting was that there was very little difference in the quality of the images between the unknown and well known photographers. Many of these images were portraits. For me the most interesting were the portrait of Ezra Pound by Richard Avedon and Maurice Lartique by Jacques Henri Lartigue. Many of the others were routine representations of “the thing” or the person.

I found chapter on The Detail, more inspiring although I would take issue with the inclusion of some of the images. Outside the studio the photographer could only choose that part (of the scene) that seemed relevant. He sought and found the significant detail. Bernice Abbot’s did just that in choosing to photograph Jean Cocteau’s Hands 1927. Garry Winogrand’s untitled image from 1963, of nuts being fed into the trunk of an elephant, contains, for me, a narrative although Szarkowski maintained that outside the studio the photographer’s work was incapable of narrative.

The next section discusses The Frame,  what the photographer decides to include but equally what he decides to exclude. Joel Meyerowitz explains that he uses a Leica camera because the viewfinder is to one side and he can see what is outside the frame.  Szarkowski says the photographer’s edge defines content. Elliot Erwitt’s Yale’s Oldest Living Graduate 1956, includes only part of the Cadillac in which the old gentleman is traveling but the image is perfect. Arnold Newman’s Portrait of Arp 1949 shows only the hand and the eye but somehow we get a full picture of Arp from this snippet.

The book moves on to the category Time. The opening image is of Eadweard Muybridge’s Gull Flying 1883 – 1887. This is a perfect demonstration of time passing as the gull flies along. Other early images such as Otto Steinert’s A Pedestrian 1951 shows the person blurred due to a  long exposure. Blur, due to movement, was acceptable. Even earlier images eliminated people entirely who were moving, during the exposure.

The angle photographers chose is described as The Vantage Point (27) and this section includes some really fascinating images with which I was not familiar. Bill Brandt’s No. 43 from Perspective of Nudes is stunning as is his Child Resting 1950. To get these images the photographer had to move his camera and shoot his pictures from above or below or from too close or too far away or from the backside, inverting the order of things’ importance, or with the nominal subject of his picture half hidden.

In conclusion this is a book to treasure and to return to over and over again and I am very grateful to my daughter for having chosen it as my Christmas gift.