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Sunday, 29 March 2009


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It is indeed highly interesting to look at "everyday" photographs.

What I'm wondering is whether there has been much change over the years in disseminating photography ideas. Previously you saw daily hundreds of images in newspapers, now you have access to millions (billions?) of images on the net.

There is a lot of copying of ideas and styles, even to the point of tiredness, but in the "long tail" there is a great deal of originality also.

Could some day there be a "Forgotten Photography" collection (or curatorship) in the digital realm?

Beaumont Newhall did more than simply shape the image of photography to match the art world's requirements. He placed a heavy thumb on the scale, imposing a very narrow interpretation of what photographic art could look like. Pictorialism was actively disparaged in ways both subtle and obvious. A.D. Coleman's scathing and witty "Conspicuous by His Absence: Concerning the Mysterious Disappearance of William Mortensen" discusses how Newhall and his associates ruthlessly expunged all traces of a very prominent artist from the photographic "canon". Mortensen certainly produced a lot of tacky kitsch, but also many genuinely beautiful images, and he taught many photographers who went on to great things. Yet Newhall and friends "disappeared" Mortensen from photographic history as efficiently as any Stalinist censor with scissors and glue.

I love the Vesuvius eruption you chose. My other big favorite so far is the San Francisco fire picture.

I seem in general to really like photos skimmed from the past's photostream by a good editor. Everybody knows about shorpy.com, right?

Well, I can tell you from perusing the AIPAD show going on in New York right now, if you put a famous photographer's name on a photograph that's nothing particularly special, but is a "vintage" print, bring money.

The father-and-son Kodachrome is astonishing. One longs to understand artistic intent--for example, did the photographer deliberately build the image to balance the man and his reflection in the car window? You have to assume so, and it is an absolutely wonderful image in any case.

A great gallery.
The reminder about shorpy.com was good too.

Vernacular & found photography can be great; of course it's all down to the eye of the collector/curator. I love the shot of the cat leaping out of the suitcase.

Thank you for a wonderful essay, Rodger. This truly looks like a wonderful rich stew. I kick myself for not pulling the trigger on buying it immediately. By the time I made a decision to break my self-imposed vow not to buy any more photo books they were back-ordered.

The "history" of photography and the works paraded as iconic examples have, indeed, begun to show their wear and their relative shallowness. I believe, however, that this is just beginning to change due to a confluence of several factors. Here are two.

First consider that the first full generation of serious photo collectors is now dying. These are people who bought prints since the 1950's, the 1940's, and even the 1930's for relatively tiny prices. Many of these collectors had very eclectic tastes and took great pride in finding odd works. Many of these collections are now being donated to museums.

Museums, in turn, are very much on the hunt for fresh exhibitions, particularly at a time when it's becoming more challenging to attract visitors. Photography is a -big- draw at museums that have significant permanent collections and are near art schools. Yes the public wants to see the "classics" but, since most people occasionally snap a shutter themselves, they also want to see new "classics". They're starved to broaden their perspectives on photograph's history. As a small example, the Art Institute of Chicago will, in 2010, feature an exhibit on photographic scrap-booking. This is a collection of amateur works, many of which date back a century or more. It's a subject barely ever touched and it's taken the curator years to build. But there's already tremendous interest in the exhibit.

So be patient and enjoy the ride. Photography is a very, very young art form.


as vernacular as it gets.

I don't think I have any particular pearls of wisdom to add, but I'd just like to say that that was a fantastic essay that has inspired me to really explore the history and purpose of photography. Thank you, it really was special.

Just a brief note to remark that I've just received a copy of this book. What a wonderful gem...for only fifteen bucks, no less!

Thanks so much for the heads-up on this, Mike. And, of course, thanks to Rodger and the other authors of this work. Really terrific stuff.

Personally, I plan to begin needling the curatorial staff at the Art Institute of Chicago's photo department to assemble such an exhibit. Among the over seventeen thousand pieces in the collection I absolutely know that we have what it takes for such an exhibit. (Plus we have a new chair, Matt Witkovsky, who's very eager to pursue such stuff.)

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