John Szarkowski

predecessors in photography

By | photography

“Photography is now more than a century and a half old, and on most days its tradition still seems woven of ignorance and incoherence. Its most revered practitioners, even in the twentieth century, seem to have appeared spontaneously, as volunteers, from no known seed, and to have produced their work merely out of talent, intelligence, and will. But this is surely an illusion. Photographers are marked as deeply as painters or poets by work that startles them to high attention, even if that work comes to them without a name or a formal introduction. [….] Perhaps the relative simplicity and transparency of photographic craft helps disguise the process by which photographers learn from their predecessors.”

John Szarkowski:  “Atget” ©2000 MoMa, New York

2 quotes: Winogrand compared to Frank & importance

By | photography, street photography

“Although profoundly influenced by Frank, Winogrand’s work is informed by a more analytical and systematic intelligence than that of his predecessor; this intelligence has allowed Winogrand to deal successfully with experience more complex, subtle and philosophically unresolved -more mysterious- than that described in Frank’s work”

“[ … ]  most issues of importance can not be photographed.”

John Szarkowski, preface from “Mirrors and Windows, American Photography since 1960” © 1978 MoMa New York.

Szarkowski misquoted on Capa

By | photography

“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…”

Szarkowski quote: symbolic, not narrative

By | photography

“The compelling clarity with which a photograph recorded the trivial suggested that the subject had never before been properly seen, that it was in fact perhaps not trivial, but filled with undiscovered meaning. If photographs could not be read as stories, they could be read as symbols. […..] The great war photographer Robert Capa expressed both the narrative poverty and the symbolic power of photography when he said, “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”

John Szarkowski “The Photographer’s Eye” (Museum of Modern Art  © 1966)

less is more ? you think so ?

By | photography

“In photography the formal issue might be stated as this: How much of the camera’s miraculous descriptive power is the photographer capable of handling?”

(John Szarkowski about a Garry Winogrand photograph in “Looking at Photographs” ©1973, MoMA)

Szarkowski on Winogrand

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“Winogrand has made chaos clearly visible; he has disciplined it without breaking its spirit. It is not supremely difficult to make a clear picture of a truism, and it is easier still to hold up a mirror to the maelstrom and call it art. But to see and set down with acuity the flickering meanings that illuminate the menagerie we perform in – this is a creative miracle.”

© John Szarkowski (1925-2007), former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, in his Afterword to “The Animals” (MoMA 1969);  great mind, a master of language and one of the few real connoisseurs of photography- he taught us all because he understood…