Somewhere around the end of last summer, I posted a photograph on Facebook. It was a rather unknown black and white photograph by the late Saul Leiter of his sister Deborah. It was made in 1947. I posted it after writer and lecturer Jörg Colberg had written a piece on his blog about the “gestures” of photography. “The age of innocence is long over in photography,” Colberg writes.“There have been way too many photographs made for anyone to be able to innocently take a picture anywhere.”

So when I posted the photograph of Deborah on Facebook, I wrote: “Let's pretend there still is some innocence to it. Let's pretend it can be somewhat pure, even though it probably never was – not even in 1947.”

I remember

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.”

The bees

Mark Strand, the late Poet Laureate for the Library of Congress, once wrote about the passionate feelings engendered by family photographs, noting that, in contrast, "When confronted with images of the world, we are rarely stung into revisions and reassessments of ourselves in relation to it.”

Wait. What? 

If that statement were even close to true, neither you nor I would be here right now. May I suggest that in fact Strand describes precisely the reason that you and I and our like-minded friends commune: because we are so often stung into revisions an reassessments of ourselves in relation to the world by photographs of that world.

Miles from our home

"[The photographer's eye is] a dreaming eye: quick to seize the instant in which the fortuitous dance of forms reveals the essential truth, the ineffable thusness of the object. Only in such moments can the photographer be said to have conquered his medium, as the poet conquers language, to have tricked light and shade into telling the truth which is beyond themselves (and the photographer, too)," wrote Michael Gregory in Aperture in 1961.

In a song called "Miles From our Home," Cowboy Junkies make the same assertion for life and love.

The photographer's non-photography syllabus: Mark Steinmetz

TIS is happy to present the second installment of “The Photographer’s Non-photography Syllabus,” for which we asked a number of folks to share with us the five or so books that they would recommend to other photographers. Fiction or non-, novels, plays, poems, whatever (even records or films) – the only rule is NO PHOTOBOOKS.

This syllabus comes courtesy of Mark Steinmetz, whose latest book, The Players, was recently published by Nazraeli.

Auto care, sincerely

"Personal and historical associations, irrational attachments and affections, to take their place as legitimate elements of the aesthetic experience,” wrote Dr. L.A. Reid in "A Study in Aesthetics." Last summer, the exhibition of Justine Kurland's project "Sincere Auto Care" gave me an opportunity to embrace some loaded, automobile-related personal associations and attachments, rational or not. And then an experience with the artist herself upped the ante.

The dog who catches the car gets killed, sometimes

When I moved to the Kensington section of Philadelphia, I was shocked by what I saw going on: drugs, sex and violence were openly sold and exchanged on the streets, and while the police had no apparent interest, I was curious about all of it. But I was afraid to get close. I was afraid to engage with the people in the neighborhood. 

But then I started using photography to find my “limit” and test my boundaries. What was too much? What was too close? What made me uncomfortable? How did that affect the work? All excellent questions. But inevitably they lead to others: What happens when you do cross that threshold? How far is too far?

A round and about

"You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story . . . I myself prefer to say that a story is a dramatic event that involves a person because he is a person, and a particular person – that is, because he shares in the general human condition and in some specific human situation."

So saith Flannery O'Connor, and so it is. Some thoughts on resistance to "aboutness" in photography.

The photographer's non-photography syllabus: Christian Patterson

Today we very happily launch “The Photographer’s Non-photography Syllabus,” for which we asked a number of folks to share with us the five or so books that they would recommend to other photographers. Fiction or non-, novels, plays, poems, whatever (even records or films) – the only rule is NO PHOTOBOOKS.

Our first contributor is Christian Patterson, whose new book Bottom of the Lake will be published in a trade edition by König Books later this summer.

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