Szarkowski misquoted on Capa

By 08/07/2009photography

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it”, Rod Stewart sings… Well…no, not if it’s a photograph. Garry Winogrand says there isn’t a photograph in the world that tells a story, and consequently he doesn’t have any storytelling responsability. He should know, he has taken a few in his lifetime. A photograph shows what something looks like…to a camera. Szarkowski agrees; the great MoMA scholar was a personal friend of Winogrand (it was him who first recognized the photographer’s importance, and in fact genius), and must have discussed this subject with him.

In “Photography: a Critical Introduction” (third edition) edited by Liz Wells there is an almost Freudian misquotation of the text written by John Szarkowski from “The Photographer’s Eye”: “The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative property [sic] and the symbolic power of photography when he said “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”  This should have read “narrative poverty” since this is the point Szarkowski is making! To a lot of people it really remains very hard to believe there is no story in the photograph, and we don’t find the clear cut truth most of us seem to find so comforting. “Your photograph is like a little story” is still considered a compliment, since people assume that’s what you are striving for; and it’s not nice to ask, “what story…”

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