Photographers Looking at Photographs

Shadow & Light Magazine, January/February 2021I received this book a while ago and finally made some space in my life to take a look at it for a possible review. I am usually not a fan of this type of book. Many writers and many images (75). But this one is a bit different. We see many iconic images: Edward Weston, Excusado; Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936; Diane Arbus, Teenage Couple on Hudson St., NYC, 1963; and more.

Most of us have seen these images, but it is work from photographers who are not as well known (by me) who caught my eye and my interest. David Goldblatt, A plot-holder, his wife and their eldest son at lunch, Wheatlands, Randfrontein, 1962 (pictured) is one. This image is very disturbing, and the photographer caught the moment, precisely and compellingly. It was almost as if Goldblatt was a ghost, such is the intimacy of the scene. Did the boy in the picture not do his chores? All eyes are on him. Why?

All the writers who are paired with photographers of their choice do a wonderful job of pulling us into a particular image. To share the moment. Mikhael Subotzky writes of Plot-holder, “How on earth had he (Goldblatt) been in that home, at that table, at a moment when that family’s fears, hopes and struggles were laid bare in their array of expressions.”

And so it is that we take a journey, a soul search to a destination we may not understand, but one in which we feel the magnetism of those singular moments, images that will and have stood the test of time.

Allie Haesslein writes in the intro, “In 1973 MoMA published John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, a book many consider an extension of the dialog begun with (Szarkowski’s) The Photographer’s Eye. Since its first release, Looking at Photographs has been reprinted nine times, with an estimated circulation 120,000 copies.”

Shadow & Light Magazine, January/February 2021The accompanying short texts range from formal to technical, and some are a blend of both. Some of the pairings seem perfect matches, with the writing complementing the image so well that at times it seems as though once the writers selected their prints the words flowed freely. We have An-My Le on Lewis Hine, Linda Connor on E.J. Bellocq (pictured), Barbara Probst on Ruth Bernhard, Ed Panar on Todd Hido.

When I first received Photographers Looking at Photographs: 75 Images from the Pilara Foundation, I cruised through the images, read a couple of the writings and the goal was set: take a weekend and “own” this book, read every word, spend time with the images. I fulfilled that goal, but I do have another even more important goal: do it again to fully grasp the value of this publication.

At the beginning of the book there are a few pages describing John Szarkowski’s presence and influence in photography, and about his writing that led to the precursor of this book. Whether it was at the curatorial level or with his own fine art work, his legacy still lingers. This is a must-read in and of itself.

Once you pick up your copy, and I think you should, find a place for it on your bookshelf. I have!

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