I don't expect you to have an answer to this.
I've been thinking about it for the last twelve hours and I still don't have an answer. Here's the question:
If you could have any original photograph, from all of history, to hang in your home and look at every day, what would it be? Price or practicality no object.
I keep thinking I've gotten it down to five finalists, but then then I think of more candidates and the list expands again.
However, one thing I noticed it that my little lists of finalists really define who I am as a lover of photography: it defines my value system within photography, you might say. Because if you try to distill your love of photography down to one image, you don't have room for catholic taste or a range of interests: you've got to zero in one something that really does it for you.
I assume my value system is quite different from yours. I'd love to see Geoff Wittig's five finalists, for example, or Oren Grad's. I suspect they'd be quite different from mine. Don't feel yours have to agree with anyone else's choices.
Something to think about, maybe. I think I'll post some of my own candidates on Monday. This has been fun to think about for me. It started out as an utter throwaway question but has actually led me down some rich pathways.
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Featured Comments from:
Dennis: "This is a really interesting question, the more I think about it, but I think I'd need some serious time (like weeks or months) to sort it out, as I look through my books.
"I've always thought of myself as someone who enjoys looking at genres of photography that I don't enjoy shooting. But there's a difference between perusing a book of photographs (and then another book the next week) and hanging a photo on the wall to look at every day. I'd really have to give that some thought because I'm pretty sure that a lot of these photos that are the type I don't like to shoot are also the type I don't want to hang on my walls. None of the classic photojournalism type photographs (street, war, etc.) that I enjoy looking at would be candidates. Probably no Lewis Hine, Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange. And yet, I do enjoy looking at their photos. Is it that I don't want to look at them every day or that I only want photos on my walls that are more traditional 'decor'? I'd have to figure out whether this exercise truly defines my value system. That last question is a sticking point, and yet, I feel like there is definitely something to it."
Harrison Cronbi: "Great question! I don't suppose I'll find it any easier to answer than you, but I'm certain of some of the properties the photograph will satisfy for me:
- It will be a photograph I've known for many years. (Is this counter-intuitive? Given a free choice I'd pick a photograph I already know so well I could virtually sketch it from memory.)
- It will be a black and white print made from a film negative. Because that, kids, is true photography.
- It will be a quiet photograph (i). This won't be a wall-filling Gursky, but rather a smallish print in a simple modest frame. It will have versatility in terms of where and when it can be enjoyed in my home.
- It will be a quiet photograph (ii). It will remain unrecognised by all but the most discerning visitors. It will not be a poster-edition-worthy Erwitt. (I've always found more fondness for lesser-known musical artists and cult movies than their blockbuster peers. I don't know what that says about me.)
- It will be an image that invites interpretations.
- It will be an image that I admire for what it does to me rather than than what it looks like."
Mike replies: You're a lot further along in knowing your answer to the question than most of us are.
Eolake: "I can't help wondering: if you did this exercise absolutely perfectly, wouldn't you then be done with photography?"
Mike replies: Like the nine billion names of God in the Arthur C. Clarke short story?
Bill Mitchell: "I'm very lucky. I bought most of my favorite photographs years ago (while originals were still 'cheap.') I wake up in the morning to Edward Weston's 'Pepper No. 30' and Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'Picnic and Children Playing' on my bedroom wall. Then have breakfast with Ansel Adams's 'Moonrise' and 'Clearing Storm,' before Googling TOP under Karsh's 'Churchill' and Clyde Butcher's 'Cabbage Cut' (digital print!).
"There are lots of other goodies around, not all original prints, such as Strand's 'Blind Woman' and 'Sandwich Man' (both photogravures from Camera Works), as well as Aperture prints by Gene Smith, Dorothea Lange, and Steichen.
"There are a few more that I'd like to have, but time has not been good to me financially, and these will soon have to go.
"I would really like prints of Ut's 'Napalm Girl' and Bruce Davidson's 'Waif with Kitten,' and 'Priscilla' (don't remember the photographer). And of course the famous Earth from the Moon/Apollo image. And Marie Cosindas' sailors in the Key West whorehouse.
"As long as they're good prints, I don't really care if they are originals—thank Gawd for high quality printed books!"
psu: "Maybe this, or something like it by Rowell. Maybe a Eugene Smith Pittsburgh photo. Maybe some piece of Ralph Gibson abstraction. Maybe some Paris at night picture by Brassai. Or maybe I would be supremely egotistical and just pick one of mine, influenced by all of the above and more. I'd have to get it printed by someone who can do that sort of thing of course. 😃 "
D. Hufford: "Like some tune in my head I can't get rid of, I'll be thinking about this for a while. I can think of tons of candidates—at least two from Koudelka—right off the bat, but am pretty sure that there will be no peppers in there. And I haven't even begun to consider color yet."