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Book Review At the Edge of Pictures Photomontage by John Stezaker Reviewed by Brian Arnold "When I was working towards my MFA, I had the unique opportunity to study with the innovative collage filmmaker, Lewis Klahr. I learned a great deal from Lewis, specifically some of the primary vocabularies and strategies of collage. He taught me to trust my impulses and intuition, and to work quickly and uncritically, to use collage loosely and spontaneously in order to open and explore my unconscious motivations..."

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DU083
At the Edge of Pictures
Photomontage by John Stezaker

Kerber, 2020. 96 pp., 44 illustrations, 6½x9½".

“How can you be an artist in a culture of images?” 

— Dawn Ades, on the art of John Stezaker 


“In our culture, now, the image is always on the edge of disappearance, it is never there long enough to see. So, we never truly grasp the image; we only grasp what the image is standing for. It is connected with narrative, and I want to remove it from narrative.”

— John Stezaker 


When I was working towards my MFA, I had the unique opportunity to study with the innovative collage filmmaker, Lewis Klahr. I learned a great deal from Lewis, specifically some of the primary vocabularies and strategies of collage. He taught me to trust my impulses and intuition, and to work quickly and uncritically, to use collage loosely and spontaneously in order to open and explore my unconscious motivations. When I think of collage today, I still visualize work within this paradigm, as a formless, surrealist attempt to unlock the unconscious mind and undermine popular media. British artist John Stezaker, however, takes collage to different places. I’ve been interested in John Stezaker’s work for years, primarily because his methods deviate from my expectations of collage. Rather than relying on impulse and spontaneity, he has developed a remarkable vision that appears much more rigorous, disciplined, conceptual, and methodical — an approach to collage that feels patient and deliberate, and so much more illuminating and original as a result.


The new book published by Walter König, John Stezaker: At the Edge of Pictures, offers a critical investigation of Stekaker’s work and career, spanning from the 1970s to the present. Compiled by art historian and curator Yuval Etgar, the book analyzes Stekaker's work in its historical context, using a prism of social and artistic developments from the 1970s and 1980s to understand Stekaker's life and work. At the Edge of Pictures includes three essays by Etgar; a transcription of a 2017 conversation between Etgar, Stezaker, and Richard Prince; and numerous reproductions of Stezaker's work as well as pictures by his influences and contemporaries. Collectively these texts analyze the photographic materials Stezaker collected for his collages and silkscreens and provides keen insight into the motivation and aspirations of his work, how these ideas evolved over time, and how Stezaker’s work relates to similar patterns in art history and among his contemporaries.

The first chapter of the book, “Photo Roman (1967-77)” is a biographical study of Stezaker, concentrating on this life as an art student in the late 1960s and his early career after school. The narrative about his education is quite interesting. Born in Worcester, Stezaker moved to London to study at the Slade School of Art, part of the University College of London, where he intended to study painting. As a young man, he was a novice to city life, and ended up renting a room in a brothel. As a student he was often more enraptured with art history and philosophy than his studio classes, even to the chagrin of his professors. In 1970, he began a relationship with pioneering artist and philosopher Victor Burgin. Labeled as a Conceptual artist, Burgin was more intent on usurping and undermining the ideas that defined Conceptual Art of his day, an ambition soon characteristic of Stezaker’s work as well. Some other early influences included Walter Benjamin, specifically his ideas about captions and photographs, and the Situationist International, a French intellectual and artistic movement led by Guy Debord and defined by the Parisian riots of 1968. The influence of the Situationist International proved key, specifically their approach of détournement, a technique that reappropriated and undermined photographs and visual information (a notion at the heart of Debord’s most famous work, The Society of the Spectacle) in ways both deviant and enlightening. This first chapter ends with Stezaker hitting a new stride, at the point in which the work that came to define his career emerged.

The second chapter, “The Trial (1976-84),” picks up by establishing the theoretical and conceptual framework of Stezaker’s voice as a mature artist. His collages during this period are defined by their use of postcards from the early 20th century, film stills from the 1940s, and headshots of actors from the 1940s and 1950s. The photographs he worked with had tropes and features that make them accessible to a wide audience, which helped serve Stezaker’s counter-cultural ambitions. As Etgar states, “The photographic materials possess a familiar, generic appearance, and yet few observers would actually recognize the precise subjects. The resemblance to famous Hollywood actors or great monumental destinations serves as bait to lure the viewer closer to the picture.” Quite striking to me are the remarkably minimal techniques and treatments Stezaker employed in making his work from this period. He often did things as simple as laying one small postcard on top of a larger picture to mask or obscure parts (a method Stezaker called Inserts, suggesting something more complicated and subversive than simple placement), one diagonal cut to stitch together two separate faces, or even just rotating a picture — treating it like a Duchampian ready-made and using a simple reorientation to circumvent our understanding of the image and all that it represents. Despite this economy of means, or perhaps because of them, Stezaker's collages reveal remarkable psychological and cultural complexity, often mixing humor with the grotesque, resulting in images equally compelling and unsettling, and ones that require multiple viewings to fully engage.


In “The Trial (1976-84)” Etgar also discusses Stezaker’s influence by Max Black, a philosopher who engaged in a study of metaphor. Black’s investigations into metaphor were extensive, but in looking at Stezaker’s work Etgar focuses on a particular definition, in which the language or object functioning as the metaphor evolves in a continuous exchange with the original idea or object, the metaphor and the object engaged in a dialog that changes both. Pausing to think of this, even in the most basic ways, provides tremendous insight into the collages and motivations found in Stezaker’s work, allowing insight into the ideas Stezaker sought while juxtaposing photographs, creating an elusive, ongoing exchange of ideas, a slippery metaphor allowing both the pictures to become something new and unintended.

The third chapter, “At the Edge of Pictures,” makes an argument for a resolved, fully matured aesthetic framework for understanding Stezaker’s work. Etgar begins by pointing to the primary threads he sees as necessary for understanding the artist’s work. He first suggests that literary and linguistic theory — found in his studies of Walter Benjamin, Black’s explorations of metaphor, and his relationship with Victor Burgin — are essential for understanding Stezaker’s work and achievements. Etgar argues that Stezaker created a new vocabulary in collage by synthesizing these different literary and aesthetic philosophies. The second thread Etgar identifies positions Stezaker as part of the zeitgeist of his time; that the works emerging in the 1970s and 1980s by artists as diverse as Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, and Sherrie Levine suggest a new cultural consciousness based on the power of the mass media, popular culture, and image reappropriation.

At the Edge of Pictures ends with a conversation between Stezaker and Richard Prince, facilitated by Etgar. This doesn’t bring too much to the text, but it is the first time we hear Stezaker’s own words as he reflects on his role in the art world in 1970s and 80s. The two artists talk briefly about their work, their professional connections, and some of their peers (Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler, Jenny Holzer, and Barbara Kruger, specifically). Etgar’s text frequently refers to this moment in art history, comparing and contrasting Stezaker with his peers working with appropriated materials. The conversation with Prince helps contextualize Stezaker's work within this period, offering simple ideas as how he considers his work alongside his contemporaries.

Finishing At the Edge of Pictures changed my understanding of both the medium of collage and the enigmatic vision of John Stezaker. Yuval Etgar is successful in creating a substantial and intriguing framework for situating Stezaker’s collages and silkscreens, all developed with a close understanding of the ideas that most influenced him. Etgar’s writing is clear, engaging, and rigorous, but also for those more academically inclined. The reproductions are good, but more would be better. The book will also be valuable for those interested in the history of collage, image appropriation, and postmodern history and theory.

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Brian Arnold
is a photographer and writer based in Ithaca, NY, where he works as an Indonesian language translator for the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University. He has published two books on photography, Alternate Processes in Photography: Technique, History, and Creative Potential (Oxford University Press, 2017) and Identity Crisis: Reflections on Public and Private and Life in Contemporary Javanese Photography (Afterhours Books/Johnson Museum of Art, 2017). Brian has two more books due for release in 2021, A History of Photography in Indonesia: Essays on Photography from the Colonial Era to the Digital Age (Afterhours Books) and From Out of Darkness (Catfish Books).
Book Review PHOTO | BRUT Collection Bruno Decharme & Compagnie Reviewed by Shannon Taggart "PHOTO | BRUT, the catalog for the eponymous exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, boldly proposes a new photographic genre with its title. Although the art market has accepted ‘outsider’ or ‘visionary’ art for decades, defining this category for photography is tricky. Democratic by nature, the camera invites untold numbers of amateurs to make pictures with its ease and availability. In the twentieth century, photography was only slowly taken seriously by museums and galleries, and its classification as ‘fine art’ is relatively recent. Bonafide masters of the medium — such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Ansel Adams, Sebastião Salgado, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard — are famously self-taught. How, then, is ‘Photo Brut’ determined?"

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ776
PHOTO | BRUT
Collection Bruno Decharme & Compagnie

Flammarion, 2020. 322 pp., 9¾x11x1¼".

PHOTO | BRUT, the catalog for the eponymous exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, boldly proposes a new photographic genre with its title. Although the art market has accepted ‘outsider’ or ‘visionary’ art for decades, defining this category for photography is tricky. Democratic by nature, the camera invites untold numbers of amateurs to make pictures with its ease and availability. In the twentieth century, photography was only slowly taken seriously by museums and galleries, and its classification as ‘fine art’ is relatively recent. Bonafide masters of the medium — such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Ansel Adams, Sebastião Salgado, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard — are famously self-taught. How, then, is ‘Photo Brut’ determined?

In essence, PHOTO | BRUT champions photographic works made with enigmatic purpose and without an art world intention. The contributors trace its lineage back to Jean Dubuffet’s 1940s conception of ‘Art Brut’ (Raw Art) — art ‘uncooked’ by cultural forces, made by creators working outside of the academy, often alone, or in institutions, hospitals, or prisons. Although related to vernacular photography, PHOTO | BRUT’s photographs, prints, photomontages, and photocollages defy the ‘daily life’ category in mind-boggling ways. The five hundred-plus pieces by fifty-three artists are spectacularly odd, emotionally explosive, and shockingly intimate. Despite the range of originality, biographical texts make clear that there is at least one thread uniting this unleashed creativity: trauma.


PHOTO | BRUT
is a collection of visions inspired by psychological need. ‘Private Affairs’, the first of four sections, focuses on sexual desire, obsession, and fetish. Among the works are Morton Bartlett’s tender yet terrifying photos of handcrafted, anatomically correct child mannequins. Of these tableaux, Bartlett once said: “Its purpose is that of all proper hobbies—to let out urges that do not find expression in other channels.” The next category, ‘Reformatting the World,’ presents inspirations of epic proportion, such as Henry Darger’s enchanted masterpiece on the ‘Vivian Girls.’ The selections here speak to Darger’s process, revealing his use of commercial imagery to construct the intersex nymphs that fill his war-torn, watercolor world. The section ‘Performing, or Another I’ reinvents identity and gender. Amidst the self-portraiture is a series by Tomasz Machciński, known as the ‘man of a thousand faces.’ Machciński changes himself into both famous and unknown characters of different ages, sexes, and races. Of these documented metamorphoses, he states: “I don't use wigs, tricks, but I use everything that happens to my body, such as hair regrowth, tooth loss, diseases, aging, etc.”

The final chapter of PHOTO | BRUT concerns an area of photographic inquiry that has long stood outside of the canon. ‘Conjuring the Real: Spirits, Fluids and Threatening Forces’ addresses attempts to picture the invisible. It opens with John Brill’s ghostly images that mix analog and digital processes. Although Brill’s works are contemporary, their theme harkens back to photography’s earliest days, when some of the most prominent figures in Western culture tried to capture the supernatural with cameras. Among those distinguished researchers was Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Charles Richet. In 1919, Richet co-founded the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris, the source for many of PHOTO | BRUT’s examples of thoughtography, spirit photographs, and images of ectoplasm. This introduces one of Photo Brut’s most compelling aspects — exposing photography’s problem with truth. Paranormal experiments were the first to challenge the idea that cameras could faithfully record reality. The resulting images are among the most bizarre, absurd, and uniquely unsettling moments within the medium’s history.

The artists in PHOTO | BRUT externalize their inner worlds with photographs made or borrowed. Some also play with the artform’s stranger possibilities. Photography’s ability to freeze time and preserve disembodied presence connects it to ancient ideas about magic; the notions that a person’s soul is in their reflection or that the eye can cast a spell are among the world’s oldest superstitions. With examples such as Gunter K.’s sexual mementoes, Zdenêk Košek’s tattooed formulas, and Adolf Wölfli’s sigil-like collages, PHOTO | BRUT reconsiders the photograph as talisman. The book’s works plunge emotional depths, and their authenticity feels implicit. An uneasy realization affects the viewer — this art was not made for us, it has a private function. We were likely never meant to see these images, and maybe we shouldn’t be looking. PHOTO | BRUT celebrates photography’s feral features, inviting questions about voyeurism, transgression, myth-making, and transformation. Finally out from under the shadow of painting and embraced by the establishment, the medium’s full potential may now be ready for reassessment.

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Shannon Taggart is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been exhibited and featured internationally and has been recognized by Nikon, Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, American Photography, and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. Her first monograph, SÉANCE, was published by Fulgur Press in November 2019 and was named one of TIME’s best photobooks of the year.

photo-eye Gallery New Showcase Artist: Walter Plotnick photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present a new portfolio, Surprise Inside, by Walter Plotnick.

Walter Plotnick, Aiming for a Brighter Future, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950

photo-eye Gallery is thrilled to welcome Walter Plotnick to the Photographer's Showcase.

Walter Plotnick is a photo-based artist who received his BFA from Tyler School of Art and MFA from University of the Arts.  His current work is a hybrid of wet photography and digital process, and he draws his influences from the work of Bauhaus, Constructivist and Surrealist photographers from the 1920s through the 1940s.

He has exhibited both in the USA and in Europe and is represented in a number of collections. Major series by this artist have included the 1939 World’s Fair, abstract photograms and 1930s circus performers.

Recently, we had the pleasure to talk to Walter about his practice and his remarkable series Surprise Inside. Take a look at the interview below!

Walter Plotnick, Swinging' Sisters, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950

Patricia Martin: When did you get into art and photography?

Walter Plotnick: My mother was a painter, my father, an amateur photographer. When I was twelve years old my father set up a make-shift darkroom in the basement of our house. He taught me to process film and enlarge prints. I have been making images ever since. Throughout Junior and Senior High, I carried my camera everywhere. In college, I majored in photography at Tyler School of Art. Professor William Larson suggested I try not to carry my camera everywhere, but begin to make images in my mind and then go and create those images. During that time, photographer Arthur Tress’ book Theater of the Mind was an inspiration because he chose specific locations and used props, rather than capturing the decisive moment.


Walter Plotnick, Holding Pattern, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950

PM: Could you tell us what inspired you to create the Surprise Inside series?

WP: As a child I use to disassemble my cereal boxes, especially the small single-serve boxes that would open along the front. Inside there was always some printing, glue, or color codes from the printer. I liked the geometry of the folds, and that someone designed the box. Around that time, I saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, where Boo Radley leaves a cigar box hidden in a tree for Jem. This also stayed with me, that the objects in the cigar box told a personal story. The Surprise Inside series has grown organically from these childhood memories of discovering some secret by opening and unfolding a box. Several of my pieces incorporate imagery of children, and the newness of discovering what is inside. 

Walter Plotnick, Summer Soaring, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950

PM: The visual correlation between the images and boxes in Surprise Inside is very interesting — the folds of the boxes and the placement of the images make the collages playful and cinematic. How do you choose to pair and assemble specific images and boxes?

WP: I have been collecting boxes in my travels, anything from a small bar of soap box, to medicine boxes from Italy with braille, to large boxes with die-cut windows. I usually think of a visual theme, specific images, and then root through my stack of boxes to find the right one to collage the images on. In some way my work is related to the moving image, sequencing and movement are ideas I play around with — a certain interplay that feels like a storyboard of ideas. I have always enjoyed the beauty of acrobats and daredevils, I play with balancing, levitating, flying, all activities I am too risk-averse to try myself. In print, a controlled near-disaster gives me a thrill.

Walter Plotnick, Junkyard Special, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950

PM: Your collages evoke a strong sense of nostalgia, yet they feel new as they literally unravel. Could you speak about the role of memory and what you describe as the “metaphor of anticipation” in your work?

WP: The past is perhaps the overriding theme. Whether it is a memory, an actual event, or inventions of both. There are certain 20th Century time periods that I gravitate towards design-wise, architecturally, and emotionally. An earlier body of my work was Reimaging the World of Tomorrow. This was based on images from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A time between the depression and WW2 where people were imagining and designing for a modern futuristic world. The Surprise Inside series employees a similar nostalgia, incorporating vintage 1930s-40s images, warm-toned and somewhat romanticized, often spring-loaded with a tension ready to pop, like moments of anticipation felt in childhood. 

Walter Plotnick, Child's Play, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950
 
PM: Which artists currently inspire you?

WP: My go-to list includes Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Moholy-Nagy, Maurice Tabard, Willy Kessels, Ilsa Bing, August Sander, El Lisssitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, John Heartfield and pretty much all of the Constructivist artists.


PM: What has been one of your favorite reactions or responses that someone has had to your work?

WP: I am thrilled when someone sees something new that I did not notice or intend.


PM: Is there anything that you’re working on currently, or a different direction you think your work might take in the future?

WP: I am not done with the Surprise Inside series, I am knee-deep in boxes.

Walter Plotnick, New York, Uprising, silver halide print, 16” x 20,” edition of 15, $1950





• • • • •


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 
505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com
 

Book Review How to Look Natural in Photos Curated by Beata Bartecka & Łukasz Rusznica Reviewed by Kim Beil "How To Look Natural in Photographs comes out of a 2014 exhibition curated by Beata Bartecka and Łukasz Rusznica, which featured surveillance photographs made by Polish secret police during the Communist Era. The duo discovered the photographs, and thousands more, in Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance..."

By Beata Bartecka & Łukasz Rusznica.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ687
How to Look Natural in Photos
Curated by Beata Bartecka & Łukasz Rusznica

Palm* & OPT, 2021. 304 pp., 7¾x10½".

How To Look Natural in Photographs comes out of a 2014 exhibition curated by Beata Bartecka and Łukasz Rusznica, which featured surveillance photographs made by Polish secret police during the Communist Era. The duo discovered the photographs, and thousands more, in Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. The book expands on the exhibition with a remarkable sequence of images and an illuminating essay by the historian Tomasz Stempowski.

The book takes its title from an instructional manual used to train officers in making mugshots. The secret police guide suggests that mugshots are best taken by surprise, so that subjects don’t have the opportunity to alter their facial expressions. A natural-looking expression makes people more easily identifiable to surveillance officers on the street. The guide warns: “Even slightly puffed-out cheeks, retraction or protrusion of the chin, or a grimace may cause changes in appearance.” Most chilling is the recommendation to make the subject comfortable in front of the camera; this mirrors exactly the advice given to photographers creating any kind of portrait. Naturalness has been prized in portraits since the nineteenth century, but this book reveals that the goals of accurate, naturalistic representation can be used to achieve varied ends. The book, and especially Stempowski’s essay, is rich with moments like this where photography reveals itself to be a tool that can be used equally for good or evil.


The secret police photography program began in 1946, concentrating first on photographing known subjects under surveillance, before expanding to include the general surveillance of Polish citizens in 1950. Photographic procedures were standardized in 1956 and a 10-week training course was developed to prepare agents for their photographic assignments. The officers had training in photographing altercations and people entering or exiting buildings, all subjects that appear frequently in the book. Stempowski also notes that the “surveillance section was often criticized for its lack of skill in producing actionable photographs.” There are many prints of peoples’ backs, some of which are labeled with grease-pencil numbers, which seem to uncannily mark them for punishment.

The image sequence is rich and evolving. Without accompanying text, many of the photographs seem innocuous at first. The book begins with an interior in a small cottage marred by mold or abrasions on the print surface. These white blooms are followed by a bouquet of white flowers, then a blonde boy sitting next to crates of Coca Cola. Then a pile of men’s boots next to an open safe. Bartecka and Rusznica intersperse mundane shots of evidence with images of people, sometimes photographed surreptitiously, sometimes in mugshots. At first the book is reminiscent of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Evidence, full of mystery and strange play. But, there are also photographs in How To Look Natural In Photographs that make it shockingly, irrevocably real: an apparently headless body in a wheelbarrow, many officers displaying wounds, more disfigured corpses. These pictures are all the more poignant for being set alongside the banal images of evidence: a jacket, a telephone pole, a briefcase.

As Stempowski argues, these photographs now represent a crucial chapter in the country’s collective memory. Not only do they document how the country suffered under Communist rule, but they also document the country period. Whereas in the US, there are scores of archival images that document periods of protest and civil unrest, whether its Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the General Strike in San Francisco or photographs of the Civil Rights movement. In Poland, outside of family photographs, national events are remembered by propaganda photos. The book is an unsettling and necessary reminder of photography’s complicity in these deadly decades.

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Kim Beil is an art historian who teaches at Stanford University. She is the author of Good Pictures: A History of Popular Photography.
photo-eye Gallery Julie Blackmon: New Work photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is pleased to introduce Night Swim, a new work by represented artist Julie Blackmon.

Julie Blackmon, Night Swim, archival pigment ink print, 22" x 29," edition of 7, $4000

photo-eye Gallery is pleased to introduce Night Swim, a new work by represented artist Julie Blackmon.
 
Endlessly creative, Blackmon continues to produce images that are equally surreal, haunting, and masterful. In Night Swim, unsupervised children swim and row contentedly in a lake on a warm summer night. As if lured by the dark lapping water, some of them drift away in nightgowns, oblivious to the unexpected dangers they could face.

Inspired by art history, Blackmon’s photographs utilize classical compositions, which are then mixed playfully with carefully placed everyday items evidence of contemporary culture. Blackmon’s photographs are often humorous while touching on personal and popular fictions.

To learn more about Julie Blackmon and view her work, click on the links below. And please contact us if you would like more information about the featured photograph.

© Julie Blackmon
 
 

Prints are available in the following sizes:
22x29” - $4,000
32x42” - $6,500
40x53” - $9,000

*All prints are available in three sizes and in limited editions of seven. All prints are currently available in the first price tier. Prices are based on how many prints have sold from the editions and are subject to increase. 
 
 
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For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at
505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com
 
Book Review Wild Flowers Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz Reviewed by Blake Andrews “We live in a world in which we are bombarded by images. Thousands of them hit our eyeballs every day through various channels: TV, Internet, video games, print, vernacular reality, and good old-fashioned photographic prints. The deluge is so constant that it might be hard to remember a time when reality’s mediation was less pervasive..."

Wild Flowers. By Joel Meyerowitz.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DU057
Wild Flowers
Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz

Damiani, Italy, 2021. 128 pp., 9½x12¼".

Joel Meyerowitz’s photobook Wild Flowers has long been a personal favorite. Although it was published in 1983 it has always felt like more of a seventies book to me. Most of its photos were shot in that decade or the late 1960s, a time when street photography was ascendant, and one could still make some headway in the art world scavenging aimlessly with a camera. Wild Flowers came at the tail end of this era, and Meyerowitz was determined to close the door with an exclamation mark. His flower photographs seemed to declare all subjects up for grabs. Perhaps the genre boundaries had morphed like funk into disco into new wave.

Wild Flowers was ostensibly a book of flower pictures. But that was merely a visual convenience, for most the photos were not really about flowers at all. In fact, the nominal subject sometimes required some sleuthing to spot. They were inadvertent subjects, “gathered unknowingly” in various locations by Meyerowitz’s Leica and later “stumbled upon” in editing, as described in the book’s afterward. Like the best photographs, these flower pictures could not be cultivated. They had to be found by chance in the wild, and the sheer variety of Meyerowitz’s hunting grounds was astounding. He found many while prowling the streets of Manhattan. But a flower might bloom just as easily in a desert vista, a bedroom wall, a tattoo, or a tablecloth. Mix up these scenarios into a book stew and the result created a wonderful sense of anticipation. It left me disarmed as I browsed the pages, with no idea where the next unlikely flower would be spotted.


If Wild Flowers was about the thrill of the hunt, eventually the book came to operate a bit like a wild flower itself. Copies became scarce, as it fell out of print and scattered on the secondhand winds. I still remember the rush of discovery as I stumbled on a rare first edition years ago in a small used bookshop in rural Maine. Some years later I was with a friend when he hit a similar lucky strike in Stockholm, spying Wild Flowers on a back shelf posed like some rare orchid ready to be plucked.

For those who have had less success gathering Wild Flowers, there’s good news. A new edition has just been published by Damiani. The basic bones are intact, but they’ve been substantially revamped. The image volume has grown by almost a third, from 63 to 81. The book itself has grown taller and thicker, transforming from landscape to portrait format. Since the majority of pictures are still horizontal, the layout has loosened up to accommodate the mix of formats. Whereas the original kept a steady rhythm of one photo per page, with uniform size and placement, the Damiani edition showcases a variety of layouts. Some photos spill through the gutter. Some stay on their page. The vertical shots are given room to stretch out to full book height. The variety feels altogether more contemporary and visually active than its predecessor.

As for the images, there have been changes there too. Meyerowitz has injected roughly twenty new photographs shot in the intervening years since 1983. He has also spiced in a few older pictures which had been previously overlooked, some quite strong. A photo of two men in New York City strolling with toddlers is a bravura display of timing and visual balance. A shot from Little Italy is just as poignant, if less of a decisive moment. With minimal hues and ambiguous layering it resembles a colorized Friedlander. The palette and precision of these pictures show Meyerowitz near the height of his powers (the book came roughly midway between his landmark monographs Cape Light and Summer’s Day). That neither photo was chosen for the original is somewhat of a mystery, or perhaps just a lesson on the whims of editing.


To make room for the new material, a handful of the original pictures have been weeded out, most notably those of Meyerowitz’s first wife Vivian Bower. She made a strong impression in the original, earning the book’s dedication. But alas, times change. They have since divorced and Vivian has disappeared from the new book. In her place are several photos of his current wife, the ever-smiling Maggie Barrett, who brightens the mood of all her photographs. If a few veer into mawkish mugging, it’s forgivable. She is Meyerowitz’s biggest fan, and her erudite foreword lends the book a positive spirit.

All of the photos in the new version have been color corrected to contemporary standards. This can be attributed to improved technology, and also perhaps to Damiani’s photobook expertise (the original publisher, Little, Brown, and Co. dealt mainly in text-based books). Some readers may have found a certain charm in the over-saturated tones and Kodachrome colorcast of the original. But I consider the updated colors an improvement. For whatever it’s worth, they hew closer to the reality of the original scenes. My only gripe is that with some of the additions shot recently, the representations are almost too real. Exposed using high-end digital cameras, Meyerowitz’s recent work manifests a hyper clarity similar to HD television. It would be scarcely noticeable on its own. But mixed in with the sometimes muddy resolution of his older photos, the contrast can be jarring.

After the considerable changes mentioned above, a reconfigured sequence seems only natural. Indeed Meyerowitz has made adjustments here too. One can still find the skeleton of the old progression, but its traces are faint. The opening few images of the Damiani book maintain some fealty to the original. Some of the two-image spreads are the same as the first edition, including one of my favorites, which matches a sultry dance with an enormous floral eruption. Many photographs seem to appear in positions roughly parallel to their former appearance. But by and large, the sequencing changes are dramatic. Taken as a whole, the alterations dominate any lingering holdovers from the original.

Wild Flowers is a reprint. But by many measures, it can be considered a new title. Floral patterned end papers are a nice touch. Font, layout, and sequence are new. Meyerowitz may be entering his golden years but his drive to create new forms and reconsider old ones is just as strong as in 1983. “Making this new edition of Wild Flowers,” he writes in the afterword, “has given me the opportunity to do some weeding and transplanting as well as adding some newcomers. In that sense, this particular body of work is akin to gardening, in that it continues to be a work in progress.”

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.
photo-eye Gallery Representing Space and Place in Photography photo-eye Gallery
Space and place play such a significant role in photography that we often want to know where a photograph was taken.

Space and place play such a significant role in photography that we often want to know where a photograph was taken.

Since its inception, photography has proved to be an ideal medium through which to convey the unique characteristics of a particular site. The idea of space and place remains a rich subject for contemporary photographers, who sometimes use unconventional approaches to investigate it.

This week we are thrilled to explore this exciting subject by taking a look at some of our favorite photographs from our flat files and sharing them here with you. Please contact us if you would like more information about the featured images.


Maggie Taylor, Cloud 9 , 2019, archival pigment ink print, 8" x 8," edition of 15, $1500


Michael Kenna, Dawn Mist, Mont St. Michel, France, 2014, gelatin silver print, 8" x 8," $3000


Tom Chambers, Transfiguration / Transfiguracion, 2010, archvial pigment ink print, 19" x 22," edition of 20, $1200





David Trautimas, When the Place You Know isn't the Place You Know, 2016, archival pigment ink, 34" x 34," $1800


Thomas Jackson, Kool-aid #2, Montara, California, 2018, archival pigment ink, edition of 4, 20" x 25," price on request


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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202