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photo-eye Gallery NOW OPEN: Mark Klett | Seeing Time: A Forty Year Retrospective photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is thrilled to announce the opening of Seeing Time: A Forty Year Retrospective, an online solo exhibition by renowned photographer Mark Klett. This exciting exhibition uses photo-eye’s revolutionary new VisualServer X website builder and is the first in a series of our Gallery’s major online shows.

photo-eye Gallery is thrilled to announce that Seeing Time: A Forty Year Retrospective—an online exhibition by renowned photographer Mark Klett—is now open for viewing!

This exciting exhibition uses photo-eye’s revolutionary new VisualServer X website builder and is the first in a series of our Gallery’s major online shows. Held in honor of his new book Seeing Time (University of Texas Press, 2020), this exhibition presents selected photographs from thirteen different projects, some never before seen.

An artist of singular originality and vision, award-winning landscape photographer Mark Klett has built a profound and dynamic career that captures the space and history of the American West while evoking notions of time, perception, and cultural memory. Seeing Time: A Forty Year Retrospective runs online from August 5 to September 5, 2020 at seeingtime.photoeye.com

A selection of this work is currently on view at photo-eye's walk-in Gallery, Santa Fe. photo-eye Gallery is open by appointment only until further notice. Please contact us at gallery@photoeye.com or 505-988-5152 x121 to schedule your visit!

Entering a narrow cave, Salt Creek Utah, 5/9/90, gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches, contact for price

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

With a career spanning over four decades, Mark Klett has advanced a new notion of landscape photography, one that reframes our idea of what “pictures of the land” can mean. His projects explore relationships between time, change and perception while exploring the language of photographic media as it evolves technologically.

Influenced by late nineteenth-century expeditionary photographers including Timothy O'Sullivan, Mark Klett visually explores the contemporary versions of these landscapes and the marks left on them by humankind, whether it be the lights of a city, a hat, foot or shadow jutting into the frame, or debris/artifacts left behind by ancient or modern passers-by. Primarily working in the Southwestern deserts, Klett neither laments the peopling of the landscape, nor attempts to visually preserve the last of the pristine landscape of the American West. Rather, he explores the inevitable interaction of culture and habitat.


Four views from four times and one shoreline, Lake Tenaya, 2002, inkjet print, 24 x 66 inches, contact for price

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Mark Klett was born in Albany, New York, earned a B.S. in geology in 1974 from St. Lawrence University and an MFA in photography from the State University of New York, Buffalo, in conjunction with the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester in 1977. Klett has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Japan/US Friendship Commission. Klett’s work has been exhibited and published in the United States and internationally for over thirty-five years, and his work is held in over eighty museum collections worldwide. He is the author/co-author of fifteen books. Klett lives in Tempe, Arizona where he is Regents’ Professor of Art at Arizona State University.


Mark Klett signing copies of Seeing Time at a campsite in Colorado



For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
(505) 988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com





Book Review Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes' Unseen Photograph Edited by Odette England. Reviewed by George Slade This book marks the 40th anniversary of Roland Barthes’ renowned work Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire) in 2020. Artist Odette England invited more than 200 photography-based artists, writers, critics, curators, and historians from around the world to contribute an image or text that reflects on Barthes’ unpublished snapshot of his mother at age five.
Keeper of the Hearth. By Odette England.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT864
Keeper of the Hearth
Picturing Roland Barthes' Unseen Photograph
Edited by Odette England
Photographs by Various Artists


Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, 2020. In English. 
320 pp., 9½x11½x1¼".

There are at least two things that everyone knows about Camera Lucida, the last book by the brilliant French philosopher Roland Barthes. The book has two sections; each offers a dense nugget of enduring value to the image intelligentsia. Part One is a close, theoretical reading of the intellectual phenomenon of photography; the major take-away from it lies in the concept of studium and punctum. Part Two examines the author’s relationship to one image. Our understanding of that photograph lies entirely in Barthes’ words; it is not reproduced.

Here's how he introduces this icon in Camera Lucida:
“The photograph was very old. The corners were blunted from having been pasted into an album, the sepia print had faded, and the picture just managed to show two children standing together at the end of a little wooden bridge in a glassed-in conservatory, what was called a Winter Garden in those days.”
Keeper of the Hearth. Image by Ka-Man Tse.

The photograph, made in 1898, shows his mother, aged five, standing with her slightly older brother in the greenhouse on the property where she had been born, in a village a dozen or so kilometers southeast of Paris. Barthes encountered the worn object as he sorted through her belongings, shortly after her death in 1977. He had lived most of his life with her. In the “Winter Garden” photograph Barthes found “the truth of the face I had loved.”

Keeper of the Hearth. Image by Rosalind Fox Solomon.
With this image, Barthes posits a deeper dive into studium and punctum. The former is the knowledge one can gain about photography as a system; the latter is the unpredictable surprise that comes to the viewer apart from the photographer’s intentions. Studium is horizontal, punctum—a piercing, a prick—functions vertically.

We may understand the descriptive terms of the Winter Garden picture, but it would not mean to us what it meant to Barthes. “I cannot,” he writes, “reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph. It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ‘ordinary’… At most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound.”

In Keeper of the Hearth, the eloquent and engaging compilation by Odette England, some 200 photographers offer their own approximations of the Winter Garden Photograph. The photographs hover between expression and perception, intuition and intention, illustration and evocation. Three essayists—Douglas Nickel, Lucy Gallun, and Phillip Prodger—plus England and Charlotte Cotton contribute verbal exegeses.

Keeper of the Hearth. Image by Shawn Michelle Smith.

Barthes was not a photographer. His examination of the Winter Garden Photograph relies equally on his singular relationship with the person photographed and the philosophical structure he detailed in Part One of Camera Lucida.

Keeper of the Hearth. Image by Terri Weifenbach.
England’s project enlists photographers in an effort to project themselves into an approximation of the WGP. The result runs a gamut along the Barthes-ian continuum. Sometimes the photographer’s position favors content, other times form. Sometimes form as content.

Photographers were not required to provide explication for their choices. Not surprisingly, many of the images feature faces, blurred by distance, artifice, or erasure, winter scenes (although the eponymic garden was wintry by name only; Barthes does not specify the date or mention snow as a feature of the photograph), and other dimly totemic symbols of loss and mortality.

Personally, I like this book very much. It feels serious and dreamlike at the same time; it is a fine object in itself. There are so many ways to depict absence, and the mission seems central to England’s project. I particularly like the contributions that explore more circuitous tributes to the elusive Winter Garden Photograph. Nicholas Muellner sent England an apology for not finding a suitable photograph; his words activate and testify to the challenge of an “intransmissable” image. Lyle Rexer provides a prosaic image of backyards (his own photograph) which he then treats to a Barthes-ian reading. Some of the more oblique images prick me most effectively because I lack the contextual tools to understand what they’re getting at, which is Barthes’ point.

Keeper of the Hearth. Images by (left) Kristine Potter and (right) Alec Soth.

I have one major cavil with the book. As a reader/viewer, I was frustrated by an indexing system that works alphabetically but not numerically. That is, you can go to the back of the book, scan the list of names—there are many outstanding ones—and identify the page on which you will find said artist’s submission. By contrast, starting in the pictures and identifying artists is arduous; there’s no numeric list, and the fact that there are two hundred contributors makes the process overly cumbersome. If someone else wants to scan the index for these numbers, please let me know who I’ve singled out: tips of the punctum to 23, 31, 40, 54, 69, 80, 86, 99, 109, 115, 118, 124, 135, 146, 162, 182/3, 186, 188, 195, 197, 282, and 319. And to those whose pictures I recognized outright.

I’m picturing something Barthes-ian in this stymying but I’m not enough of a literary theorist to suss it out.

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Keeper of the Hearth. Image by John Houck.
Keeper of the Hearth. Image by Phil Chang.

George Slade, aka re:photographica, is a writer and photography historian based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization TC Photo. rephotographica.com/

Image c/o Randall Slavin
photo-eye Gallery New Work: Julie Blackmon photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present new work by Julie Blackmon. Focusing on the complexities of everyday life, Blackmon explores the conflicting demands of parenthood. Her carefully orchestrated narratives walk a darkly humorous line between lightheartedness and the chaos of our modern lives.

Julie Blackmon, Spray Paint, 2020, archival pigment print, edition of 7, $4000-9000

photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present new work by Julie Blackmon. Focusing on the complexities of everyday life, Blackmon explores the conflicting demands of parenthood. Her carefully orchestrated narratives walk a darkly humorous line between lightheartedness and the chaos of our modern lives.
For instance, beneath the sunny inviting surface of Spray Paint, darkness lurksunsupervised children appear next to dangerous objects like a chef's knife and a discarded mask. Blackmon's satirical image speaks to the contradictions of our uncertain times and the murkiness of parental expectations.

These images are part of an ongoing series that spans over a decade. See the links below to view more photographs from this series and to learn more about Blackmon's work.


 

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.


Julie Blackmon, Lindenlure, 2020, archival pigment print, edition of 7, $4000-9000


Julie Blackmon, River, 2020, archival pigment print, edition of 7, $4000-9000

 • • • • •

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

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



Book Review Mayflies Photographs by Dimitra Dede Reviewed by Blake Andrews After the loss of her mother the artist experiences the interruption of her own timeline on one end while having to fulfill her own role as a mother to the other end...
Mayflies. By Dimitra Dede.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ257
Mayflies  
Photographs by Dimitra Dede

Void, Athens, Greece, 2019. 112 pp., 8¾x12½".

Taking a page from the playbook of Gustave Courbet, Dimitra Dede’s debut monograph, Mayflies, begins at L’Origine du monde. The Greek photographer’s cover photo is less explicit than Courbet’s, but its yonic form is just as striking. It’s a hazy, vertical opening traced in faint silver on a black surface. The image resists immediate resolution. Is it a galaxy? A ghost? A vagina? …? It turns out to be none of these, just a dark hollow in the trunk of a tree. Even after the photo is decoded, it’s hard to escape comparisons to the Origin of the World. A fitting starting point, considering that the photos to come meander through themes of motherhood, death, and ephemerality.

All of these ideas are encapsulated in the title. Mayflies are insects whose brief lifespans are measured in hours; their scientific name, Ephemeroptera, refers literally to passing events. For Dede, life’s transitory nature intruded in the worst way possible, the premature death of her mother. This event — described poetically in the books’ final text passage — was the impetus for the monograph itself, as well as the experimental processes explored within.

MayfliesBy Dimitra Dede.

The cover is merely the entrance to confusion. On the inner pages, pictures of torsos, icescapes, clouds, portraits, and tarps revel in ambiguity. None are printed “straight”. Instead, Dede is focused on physical alteration; her pictures are the visual equivalent of screams, hair-pulling, and deep grief. Dede attacks them with chemical burns, wax, fire, solarization, paint, air bubbles, and more, teasing them away from whatever documentary instincts they might have once possessed.

For the first three-quarters of the book, her tweaked monochromes are printed in dark greyscale on black matte paper — the combination creates an extremely compressed tonal range. There are a few color photos in the mix, printed with a palette so desaturated and subdued that they feel underwater. All are enlarged past the point of comfort and printed full-bleed, so that they defy easy absorption during a casual reading. They take a bit of time, perhaps another reading, or three or four.

A chaotic quality spans throughout this work, which lends it emotional punch. Dede’s are-bure-boke recalls the Provoke-era Japanese provocateurs, whose impulses were also born out of trauma. Although the experience of losing a parent defies photographic description, Dede has fashioned a response that feels more honest and truthful than any straight photograph. This is Dede’s “way of dealing with life, coming to terms with reality, isolation, distance, thoughts, questions, and creating pictures, decoding subconscious images, or coding them.”

In the book’s last quarter, there’s an abrupt shift as the pages transition to white. A beautifully scripted poem and colophon are followed by several more pages of blurred landforms. Photographically the material is similar to its predecessors. But set against a bright background, this section feels surprisingly hopeful, couched in the deep red endpapers that tighten the book into a cohesive whole. It’s on this brighter note that the book closes, a hint of better times ahead. This too shall pass. Time heals all wounds. Humans live and die just like mayflies, albeit on a slightly longer scale. All bodies return eventually to the origin of the world.

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MayfliesBy Dimitra Dede.

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.


photo-eye Gallery Steve Fitch and Anne Kelly in Conversation photo-eye Gallery
As part of photo l.a.'s Virtual Connect + Collect, we hosted a live conversation between gallery artist Steve Fitch and photo-eye's Gallery director Anne Kelly. They discussed both his creative process and the history behind his extraordinary body of work. Watch this fun talk!
© 2020 photo-eye

As part of photo l.a.'s Virtual Connect + Collect, we hosted a live conversation between gallery artist Steve Fitch and photo-eye's Gallery director Anne Kelly. They discussed both his creative process and the history behind his extraordinary body of work. Watch this fun talk above!


Did you miss us at Virtual Connect + Collect? No worries, our 3D booth is still accessible! See the link below:


» Visit our 3D booth at Virtual Collect + Connect 




Exhibiting Artists:

 • • • • •

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. 
Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

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




Book Review 17 18 19 Photographs by Thomas Sauvin Reviewed by Brad Zellar The series 17 18 19 is drawn from a bag of negative film salvaged from a recycling plant on the outskirts of Beijing in 2010. The bag contained an archive of over 15,000 scratched black and white negatives, shot at one of the city's detention centers between 1991 and 1993...
17 18 19. By Thomas Sauvin.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ134
17 18 19  
Photographs by Thomas Sauvin

Void, Athens, Greece, 2019. 224 pp., 6x8"

Since its first splash in 2013, Thomas Sauvin’s ongoing Beijing Silvermine project (which has involved repurposing some of the more than 850,000 negatives Sauvin salvaged from a recycling plant on the outskirts of the Chinese capitol) has become a rare and reliable source of archival alchemy. With each new publication (most of which can’t properly be called publications—Sauvin makes beautiful and fascinating objects) what’s emerging is a sort of exhaustive visual Library of Babel—an analog precursor to Instagram—and a vast repository of proletarian dreams, desire, and deviancy.

17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.
I’m of the opinion that archival/vernacular/found photos don’t often enough get transformed into cohesive, compelling, or (especially) beautiful photobooks. Sauvin, though, has got it down. His aesthetic runs from the playful (verging on kitsch) to the purely elegant. The original Silvermine publication, a set of five, brightly-colored miniature albums, each containing a selection of themed photographs, was immediately irresistible to me. The photos in each of those albums—taken between 1985-2005 in post-Cultural Revolution China—were also instantly relatable to anyone who grew up in a Cold War-era working-class household where things like new cars, color TVs, birthday parties, vacations, weddings, and other special occasions were dutifully documented with a Kodak Instamatic camera, whose finished rolls of film were developed at the local drugstore. Such photographs were taken by people merely trying to preserve memories rather than consciously attempting to capture some Decisive Moment, and their pictures were often the most prized inheritances for pre-internet/cellphone families whose parents left behind little else of any value.

17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.

Sauvin’s latest book, 17 18 19, is dark and different and magnificent, but—unlike most of his other projects—it’s also difficult to write about without resorting to art mag jib-jabbery and hogwash. Mainly because these are pictures—not even really photographs, but grainy transfers of scratched and often puzzling negatives—that elude either facile analysis or high-minded blather. They practically scream out for a Walter Benjamin quote, but I don’t feel like quoting Walter Benjamin. The book is an especially beautiful object, beautifully designed and beautifully made (the sort of thing I expect from both Sauvin and Void, his publisher this time around). So much so that this is one of the rare photobooks that I’m reluctant to take out of its plastic sleeve and thumb through again and again. Instead, I made my way through it very very slowly, slowly turning the pages, and staring at the images for longer and longer stretches of time with increasingly forensic detachment. Because the images in the book are all—or so I presume—evidence of some kind, extracted from a bag of negatives shot at a Beijing detention center from 1991-93.

17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.
No more context is provided, and the negatives are printed—as negatives—in dusty silver ink on black paper. They look like they could be blown off the page or erased with a swipe of the hand. There’s a dark and banal vibe to the whole thing, yet it feels very much a piece with the other Silvermine projects, in much the same way that the best film noir gets so much of its power to shock by exposing the flipside of Hollywood’s happy and wholesome version of American prosperity. The blunt and often puzzling evidence presented in 17 18 19 read like a series of X-rays from the grimy underbelly of China’s burgeoning consumer class (all those TVs in Sauvin’s earlier work? There was somebody out there waiting for an opportunity to steal them).

17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.

 
Sauvin launches the inventory with a succession of apparent weapons—razors, shivs, clubs, iron rods, a baseball bat, all manner of knives, machetes, and meat cleavers, and even what appears to be a chunk of concrete—and eventually segues to accessories and items of clothing. The book goes on to assume the feel of a disturbing catalog for a company that specializes in bankruptcies or IRS liquidations. Yet every single item, floating in a sea of darkness, looks strange and inexplicable. There are boom boxes, VCRs, Walkmen, cassette tapes, jewelry, tools, bicycles, folding chairs, tires, a hairdryer, cigars, cigarettes, decks of cards, cameras, and a pair of handcuffs. By the time you get to the mug shots, they seem to be dissolving and mutating before your eyes and it takes a moment to even process that what you are seeing are human beings in profile.

As I was thinking about the book and trying to figure out if there was anything else I could find to say about it, I remembered a conversation I once had with a guy who spent his days staring at a TSA security screen, watching the ceaseless procession of mysterious and luminous images that were beamed to him from the conveyor belt. “Sometimes you get numb and start to space out,” he said. “But then you’ll see something you’ve never seen before, and it usually turns out to be something you’ve just never seen in that way before. It’s a messed-up experience looking at the world that way; it changes the way you dream.”

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17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.
17 18 19By Thomas Sauvin.

Brad Zellar is a writer who has collaborated with photographer Alec Soth on a number of projects, including The LBM Dispatch, a series of seven newspapers devoted to American community in the age of cyberspace. Zellar has also made books with Adrianna Ault, Raymond Meeks, Tim Carpenter, and Jason Vaughn, and is the author of Suburban World: The Norling Photos, Conductors of the Moving World, House of Coates, and Driftless. He lives in St. Paul.




photo-eye Gallery Reuben Wu and Kris Graves in Conversation photo-eye Gallery
As part of photo l.a.'s Virtual Connect + Collect, we hosted a live conversation between gallery artist Reuben Wu and publisher Kris Graves. We discussed the process behind the artist's work and the books they have collaborated on. Watch this amazing talk!

© 2020 photo-eye

As part of photo l.a.'s Virtual Connect + Collect, we hosted a live conversation between gallery artist Reuben Wu and publisher Kris Graves. We discussed the process behind the artist's work and the books they have collaborated on. Watch this amazing talk above!



Reuben Wu, RW4288, 2020, archival pigment print, 15 x 20 inches, edition of 10, $1000


Order a Signed Copy of Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes


Did you miss us at Virtual Connect + Collect? No worries, our 3D booth is still accessible! See the link below:


» Visit our 3D booth at Virtual Collect + Connect 




Exhibiting Artists:

 • • • • •

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.
Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

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




Book Review Far Photographs by Ekin Küçük Reviewed by Zach Stieneker "A haiku from one of Japan’s “Great Four” masters, Issa, greets us as we lift the iridescent cover of Ekin Küçük’s Far. “In the city fields / contemplating cherry trees / strangers are like friends.” We then turn the sheer page to enter Küçük’s ink-heavy, black-and-white record of contemporary urban Japan."

Far. By Ekin Küçük.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ301
Far  
Photographs by Ekin Küçük

self published, 2019. 160 pp., 7½x10½".

A haiku from one of Japan’s “Great Four” masters, Issa, greets us as we lift the iridescent cover of Ekin Küçük’s Far. “In the city fields / contemplating cherry trees / strangers are like friends.” We then turn the sheer page to enter Küçük’s ink-heavy, black-and-white record of contemporary urban Japan. Framed by this epigraph, we might expect scenes of amity despite the surrounding anonymity, moments of shared experience in which strangeness blossoms into familiarity. We might expect communion.

However, the book’s many photographs of people quickly and beautifully skew these expectations. The images are often made unbeknownst to their subjects, either from behind or mediated by some layer of opacity; instead of conveying friendship, they emphasize unknowability — distance rather than intimacy.

FarBy Ekin Küçük.

The first figure, for example, faces away from the camera and occupies most of the frame as a corpulent, looming mass of shadow. A play of perspective shrinks the woman passing beside him, rendering his silhouette even more imposing. It’s a compelling image, but there is certainly no discernible sense of friendship, a common thread among the series of images to follow. As the book unfolds, the eyes of animals, both dead and alive, meet the camera’s gaze more regularly than humans.

FarBy Ekin Küçük.
Küçük’s aesthetic, with tones regularly pushed to the poles, impenetrable blacks and bleached whites, along with heavy use of grain and blur, augments the sense of inscrutability that blankets the work. In an early portrait a spectral, mask-like countenance floats over a field of darkness, identifiable as a face only by the most basic shapes and contours. Many of the images are made through barriers –– rain-streaked windows, curtains, and chainlink fences become obstructions between the photographer and her subjects. From the sidewalk, she peers into restaurants and bars. These images bespeak a familiar metropolitan reality: the uncanny simultaneity of togetherness and separation.

Importantly, the graphic qualities of the book place it within the lineage of Provoke era post-war Japanese photography and artists like Daido Moriyama. Further nuancing the book’s conception of distance, Küçük is herself Turkish, both an outsider on the streets in which she photographs and the greater artistic tradition in which she presents them. Fans of the 20th-century vanguard of Japanese street photography will likely be interested by the dialogue Far elicits as it explores similar streets in a similar style but from an outsider’s perspective.

FarBy Ekin Küçük.

In Küçük’s diaristic account, there is also a current of superficial sex charging the work with the feeling of a one-night stand: a frantic, bottled encounter between people that comes to be labeled by its finality. There’s a sampling of framed photographs of faceless female bodies; a sign that advertises “Loove 24H”; one poster of a topless woman looking over her shoulder, lowering her underwear and another of Marilyn Monroe; a suggestive pairing of white high heels and a male gaze; a glossy, nude female robot. Here, again, the space between intimacy and anonymity is liminal.

There is, however, a piercing glimpse of knowingness found in a portrait of a woman, reclined, hands behind her head, with the hint of an almost flirtatious smile waxing across her face. It feels close, like the possibility of closing a distance. A meeting, a discovery, from among the multitudes, of another cherry tree contemplator.

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FarBy Ekin Küçük.
FarBy Ekin Küçük.


Zach Stieneker holds a BA in English and Spanish from Emory University. Following graduation, he spent several months continuing his study of photography in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Book Review The New How-To's: Three Recent Manuals in Review Reviewed by Kim Beil This week author & teacher Kim Beil looks at several how-to titles for the photographer: PhotoWork by Sasha Wolf, How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz, and Photographers on Photography by Henry Carroll.
PhotoWork. By Sasha Wolf.
The New How-To's
Three Recent Manuals in Review
PhotoWork by Sasha Wolf
How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz
Photographers on Photography by Henry Carroll


During most of the twentieth century, camera and film manufacturers were also publishers. They released hundreds of how-to guides aimed at amateur photographers, most notably Kodak’s long-running handbook, How to Make Good Pictures.

Now the how-to is built into the camera and there is no film. Smartphones allow photographers few opportunities to make “bad pictures.” The infamous marks of the amateur — tilted framing, camera shake, red-eye, or poor focus — are all fixed by software. At the same time, the elements that have emerged as indicators of “good pictures,” such as saturated colors and selective focus, are added to smartphone pictures automatically.

Where does that leave instructional literature? Rather than teach aspiring photographers to obey the rote directives of composition or master technical details, three new books concentrate on training photographers to develop their own unique pictorial sensibilities: Joel Meyerowitz’s How I Make Photographs (Laurence King, 2020), Sasha Wolf’s PhotoWork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice (Aperture, 2019), and Henry Carroll’s Photographers on Photography (Laurence King, 2018).

Photographers on Photography. By Henry Carroll.
PhotoWork and Photographers on Photography are both curated by their editor/writers who, each in their way, allow a range of photographer voices to be heard. Like Nathan Lyons’ classic Photographers on Photography (1966), Carroll draws largely on previously published statements and essays by photographers, ranging from the nineteenth century to the present day. He augments these with five new, short interviews with photographers, including Alec Soth and Olivia Bee. The arrangement of Carroll’s compendium is neither alphabetical nor chronological. Instead, he puts the photographers and their pictures into a loose conversation, exploring one idea, such as the relative importance of photographic equipment or the relationship of photographer to subject, before moving on to the next subject.

Wolf’s PhotoWork compiles the responses of 41 contemporary photographers to a twelve-question survey. The result is an illuminating index, which reveals not only the photographers’ direct answers (or evasions), but also their positions on ideas inherent in the questions, such as the resounding dissatisfaction with the words ‘style’ or ‘genre,’ echoed across responses from Robert Adams to Elinor Carucci and Justine Kurland.

Just as I began to suspect an emerging pattern, say, in response to the question of whether individual pictures or bodies of work come first, the trend would then be broken by a photographer who responded, adamantly, otherwise. Some questions, especially whether one ever returns to a body of work after its initial presentation, are often met with almost comic brevity: no.

Questionaire, from PhotoWork. By Sasha Wolf.

The repetition and narrow focus of PhotoWork is its great strength, like a core sample of the contemporary moment. In Carroll’s compilation, I sometimes wondered about the context of the pithy statements. Wolf avoids this concern by providing the complete list of questions and answers. I almost wished for a spreadsheet where I could re-sort the answers to make these comparisons more direct than the alphabetical organization allows.

How I Make Photographs. By Joel Meyerowitz.
Meyerowitz’s book stands as part of a long tradition of photographers writing about their medium. Since the earliest publications of the nineteenth century, these dispatches from the field served not only as instruction for less accomplished photographers, but as confirmation and ratification of emerging aesthetic standards. The how-to books that accompanied the rise of amateur practice in the twentieth century concentrated almost entirely on composition, lighting, and the selection of appropriate subject matter. Even the most sophisticated of these manuals, such as those by Berenice Abbott or Ansel Adams, laid out a rigid set of rules.

Those hard and fast rules have been almost entirely abandoned in this new generation of books, and Meyerowitz’s is no exception. He writes that composition “is really anything you want to make of it. You’ve got a frame, which you’re going to fill with the things that appeal to you” (91). The emphasis is on a photographer’s personal experience. He advocates for photography as a tool of self-discovery: “Anything we do with passion, obsession or desire teaches us not only about the medium we’re using but about ourselves” (111).

Meyerowitz’s own techniques for street photography are cogently identified: stand in the middle of the action and look for patterns, then build a picture with these pieces. He does not prescribe a subject, only a practice, according to which his readers will learn to identify their own preferences.

This shift towards individuality stands in contrast to the overwhelming homogeneity of photos seen on social media. When cameras and software make their own technical decisions, which are then reinforced by likes and algorithms, it’s hard to imagine pictures that look different from the norm. These three books, with their focus on choices made by individual photographers rather than on overarching rules, promise to expand the genre of instructional literature.

Purchase PhotoWork by Sasha Wolf

Purchase How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz

Purchase Photographers on Photography by Henry Carroll

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How I Make Photographs. By Joel Meyerowitz.
Photographers on Photography. By Henry Carroll.


Kim Beil is an art historian who teaches at Stanford University. She is the author of Good Pictures: A History of Popular Photography.