Falseness close to kin
The picture necessarily fails both its maker and its subject matter. As painful as that sounds, it's actually ok: as a new thing in the world, the photograph is not to be judged by fidelity to mind or referent, but by its own internal standard of usefulness.
While walking with Mark Steinmetz
Who better to roam the French capital with than Mark Steinmetz, author of Paris in my time? We started our conversation over breakfast in a bustling café in Montmartre and then made our way to the Place de Clichy, with Mark all the while making pictures (listen closely for the shutter) for an ongoing project. We talked about Atget and Cartier-Bresson, light and weather, punks and tennis. About Winogrand and exceeding yourself with a camera.
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Past experience (the self) and the current moment (the world outside the self) come together in a creative moment that only exists because of our hope, because we realize the possibility of bridging self and not-self and making it communicable to others in the future.
I lost it
A moment of unexpected loss is accompanied by a Lucinda Williams song . . . which invokes Vic Chestnut . . . who then summons Wallace Stevens and his "fabulous blackbird / Of thirteen stages." After that it's not too far to Lee Freidlander, Andrea Modica, and Mark Steinmetz, and the beauty of inflections and innuendoes.
While walking with John Gossage
A couple months after our publication of John Gossage's A Dozen Failures, we talked with John about that title, some of his previous projects, and the history of photobooks running from Atget to Evans and Frank to Baltz and up to today. The conversation was edited into “A Walking Conversation with John Gossage,” for SPOT magazine, published by the Houston Center for Photography.
And that failures book he talks about? You can get your own copy here.
The forest for the trees
I’d always thought of the title of William Eggleston’s The Democratic Forest as a sort of mischevious redundancy. Left to its own devices, a forest is a model of democracy, and it can hardly be otherwise. It takes human intervention in the form of monoculture to strip the diversity from the woods, making them more easily exploitable but less able to survive in a challenging environment on their own. In its recent and weighty Steidl expansion, Eggleston’s forest has suffered just such an intrusion. And to similarly ill effect.
Intuitions of unity
My copy of Beauty in Photography is pretty heavily underlined throughout, and nowhere more than in the title essay. But with all the marks and margin notes I’ve made, there is only one instance of double underlining:
Why is Form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering without meaning.
There’s much to unpack in that short Q and A.
Some things I really liked this year and one I didn’t
Books are fun. Music is fun. People are fun (lots). Pictures are fun. Lists are fun. This past year was fun, for the most part.
Here are a few things that gave me hope in 2015.
I remember writing these words, from the play In the Park by Edgar Oliver, in my notebook immediately after I saw him perform the piece last summer:
Longing is the only magic of which we are capable
I remember how I felt when I heard the first few lines of Edgar’s play:
I am a hesitant man. It seems to me that I have spent my life half lost in some rapturous dream I dreamt as a child from which I have never awakened. Perhaps I don’t want to wake up. If I woke – I think I would find that I have failed to live. I think that I died as a child. Well – some part of me stopped. But some part of me kept going. I keep on wandering.
I remember when some part of me stopped. At least, I sort of remember.
The spirit of the case
Judy Fiskin says that Walker Evans succeeded where his FSA boss Roy Stryker failed "because Evans settled for art. Stryker succumbed to the false promise of photography, strove to represent literally the world’s profusion, and inevitably produced a body of work whose scope seems puny compared to its model." Evans worked in a "more condensed, allusive, and circular manner."
Flannery O'Connor calls it "distortion," and TS Eliot says that it's "pressure" that distinguishes art from experience, and creates a new thing in the world. And in fact, it's this artifice that, according to Michael Chabon, "makes explicit... the yearning... to analogize the world, and at the same time frankly emphasizes the limitations, the confines, of [our] ability to do so.”