Perhaps this will indicate just how circuitous my thought process can be sometimes. Writing the previous article summary about the twice-lost Cartier-Bresson prints sent me off looking for an illustration for it. Most of my illustration ideas come from my head, and I thought of John Loengard's excellent portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson in old age, so I went off looking for that. I couldn't find one I could use (the only one I found has a disfiguring watermark on it), but, in the process of searching, I discovered that John's fine book As I See It is still in print. (Here's the U.K. link.)
Considering how fast many photography books seem to go out of print these days, I'm always surprised to find that good ones published in years past are still available. This was published way back in 2005. Four years is a middlin'-long lifespan for a book these days.
As a photographer, John Loengard was like a golfer who never went to Q-School* or played a mini-tour—he became a LIFE magazine photographer when he was still in college. Later, he was the picture editor for the monthly incarnation of LIFE, from 1978 to 1987.
Many of his books are more about LIFE magazine and other photographers than they are about him, like the excellent and entertaining collection of early-'90s interviews with former LIFE photographers, What They Saw. His "must-have" book in my opinion is Pictures Under Discussion, which pairs photographs with short essays in the manner of Szarkowski's Looking at Photographs (speaking of which, you do have that one by now, don't you? If you don't, chop chop). But both those books of Loengard's are out of print. As I See It is a retrospective monograph of his own photographs. Although John Loengard's contributions to photography have been multifaceted and not limited to his own work, his pictures are underrated. They're very fine, as well as being interesting and entertaining to look at because of their subjects (he's especially good with portraits of other photographers, for instance. Which I guess is where I started here).
*There are only a handful of golfers who have never had to run the gauntlet of Q-School to qualify for the tour. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, a few champions from other countries, and a scant few others. Even Tom Watson went through Q-School—once.
Featured Comment by Mike Peters: "When Pictures Under Discussion first came out, I pored over it for months, reading and re-reading. The book was quite illuminating for a young photographer.
"One day, I decided that I should show my work to John Loengard himself, secretly hoping he would see the work of a budding genius, or maybe just provide me with a nugget of advice or inspiration.
"So, I called the offices of LIFE and asked for his extension. Astonishingly, he answered the phone and gave me an appointment. I was on cloud nine, knowing that this would be my break. So, I prepared my portfolio, making the best prints of my best work.
"On the appointed day, I made my way to LIFE from my home in N.J. And there I was, in same hallways where the giants of 20th century photojournalism once and still roamed. We sat down and he pored over my work, inspecting, tossing aside, looking again. Finally the moment came where he had something to say, I sat forward, my heart leaping out of my chest.
"He leaned back and told me that my pictures were boring. He may have said other things after that, but my mind was stuck on boring. Dejectedly, I left, crushed, totally flattened, ready to quit photography.
"And now 25 years later, I realized that I was boring, even to myself, and my photos reflected who I was. When I was in my 20s I should have been living life to the fullest, doing interesting and crazy things, taking chances. Instead, I lived a life full of fear and negativity. Well, duh, that's what was in my photos.
"Thank you John Loengard for being honest with me, and giving me that nugget of truth.
"My copy of Pictures Under Discussion continues to give insight to all who experience it. I pass that book around to all of my friends who become interested in photography, and each person wants to read and re-read it just as I did. It has become well worn, but it's capacity to inspire is undiminished by time or technology."