Archive for May, 2010

On Photography, by Susan Sontag

Recommended summer reading for AP Photo students

In the book, Sontag expresses her views on the history and present-day role of photography in capitalist societies as of the 1970s. Sontag discusses many examples of modern photography. Among these, she contrasts Diane Arbus’s work with that of Depression-era documentary photography commissioned by the Farm Security Administration.  She also explores the history of American photography in relation to the idealistic notions of America put forth by Walt Whitman and traces these ideas through to the increasingly cynical aesthetic notions of the 1970s, particularly in relation to Arbus and Andy Warhol.  Sontag argues that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish within people a “chronic voyeuristic relation” to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal. This idea did not originate with Sontag, who often synthesized European cultural thinkers with her particular eye toward America.  As she argues, perhaps originally with regard to photography, the medium fostered an attitude of anti-intervention. Sontag says that the individual who seeks to record cannot intervene, and that the person who intervenes cannot then faithfully record, for the two aims contradict each other. In this context, she discusses in some depth, the relationship of photography to politics.

INTERVIEW: Stephen Shore

…”Shore: Just as I was talking about having a mental image when you’re looking at the world, when you look at a photograph you also have a mental image. Because that’s all we can see, that’s all we have. There’s an illusion that there are these little guys in our heads who are looking out these windows, but that’s not how it works at all. Our eyes are very much like a digital camera. There’s an array, a sensory array that converts the light to an electrical signal. And in our brain our mind creates a mental image. Some photographs can give signals to the mind about how to create that image. And some can tell the mind to give a more convincing illusion of three-dimensional space than others. Some can be very flat and the mental image is right on the picture plane, and others can be very deep or have a tension, you know those gestalt diagrams that you can read one way or the other way. Your mind can see it as flat and three-dimensional at the same time. If a photograph is convincingly telling your mind to create a three-dimensional image, there’s a sensation as you’re looking at it of your eyes re-focusing, as though they were actually looking at something further away.”

FULL Interview

Documentary Photography Essential Reading List

5000+ Days: Press Photography in a Changing World” by BPPA
After Photography” by Fred Ritchin
Beautiful Suffering” by M. Reinhardt
Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning” by John Tagg
Life of a Photograph” by Sam Abell
No Caption Needed” by Robert Hariman 
On Being a Photographer” by Bill Hurn and David Jay
The Ongoing Moment” by Geoff Dyer 
Things as They are: Photojournalism in Context Since 1955” by Mary Panzer, Christian Caujolle and World Press Photo.

(I recommend reading at least one of these books over the summer, for those taking AP Photo next year)

Disaster Unfolds Slowly in the Gulf of Mexico

 In the three weeks since the April 20th explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the start of the subsequent massive (and ongoing) oil leak, many attempts have been made to contain and control the scale of the environmental disaster. Oil dispersants are being sprayed, containment booms erected, protective barriers built, controlled burns undertaken, and devices are being lowered to the sea floor to try and cap the leaks, with little success to date. While tracking the volume of the continued flow of oil is difficult, an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil (possibly much more) continues to pour into the gulf every day. While visible damage to shorelines has been minimal to date as the oil has spread slowly, the scene remains, in the words of President Obama, a “potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”   LINK to Slideshow

A Moment in Time

Here it is: Earth, covered by stacks of thousands of virtual photographs, corresponding in location to where they were taken by Lens readers at one “Moment in Time” (15:00 U.T.C., Sunday, May 2).

LINK to Interactive Globe of Images

Rosalind Solomon’s Singular Journey

Rosalind Solomon may be one of the most interesting photographers you’ve never heard of.

Hers is a bold, humanistic and highly personal view of the world, deftly executed in square format using black-and-white film. Through images like “Catalín Valentine’s Lamb, Ancash, Peru, 1981,” Ms. Solomon confronts our pre-existing ideas. She challenges us with a subversion of the Madonna archetype that is simultaneously nurturing and for some, macabre. We glean much about ourselves through our interpretation of the spectacle.

LINK to full article in NYTimes Lens Blog

An Uncommon Interview with Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore is a prominent photographer and photographic educator. A pioneer in the field of color photography, Shore has published numerous books of photography, included his seminal book, Uncommon Places, published in 1982 (reissued in 2004). He has also been director of the photography program at Bard College since that same year.

Excerpt: BRS: In your early work, you describe your process of making the work as being responsive to a “wordless thought” in terms of photography. Later you talk about becoming a teacher and having to concretely verbalize ideas to students. It seems that photography is somewhere in the middle, you can’t really stab at it through the center but you sort of embrace it on the sides.

SS: That’s a great way of putting it. I went through a big learning process when I started teaching, as you said, all those years before, my decision-making and thinking was visual thinking and that it was wordless, and that was perfectly fine. I could happily and consciously make images, but I didn’t ever have to formulate it in a formal way. Having to teach, I’m no use to the students unless I can stand up there and say something, so I went through a learning process of trying to figure out concretely what went into my visual thinking, and can it be put into words. If it can, how can I explain it, and can I explain it clearly.

BRS: Is having a verbal explanation necessary for the understanding of photography?

SS: No. I think a person can understand photography in a non-verbal way, but I can’t write a non-verbal book… but there are not a lot of words in the book, so I’m getting close to it! What I was able to do in this edition, was with each idea, there’s a portfolio, and the portfolio isn’t an illustration of the text, it’s carrying it forward, exactly the way you’re suggesting. Though the text is setting it up, the portfolio continues the dialogue in a non-verbal way. So there are some ideas I’m putting in the book that are expressed just in terms of photographs, and are not expressed in words. I thought that if I didn’t use the words, it wouldn’t concentrate the reader’s mind towards a particular aspect.

Link to Full Interview