Talking Pictures 2 – John Szarkowski

It’s 45 years since John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs was published.  I wonder how many photographers read it now (or any other critical texts on photography for that matter)?  I think he still has a lot to offer, his take on the very nature of photography, for example.  He talks about ‘pictures containing enormous amounts of precise information’ and the ability of photography to render an accurate description.  At the same time he recognises the importance of Honore Daumier’s dictum that photography can describe everything yet explain nothing.  The greatest photographers take their work beyond mere descriptions, imbue it with an expressive content and seek a symbolic role in the subject to transcend everyday narrative.  The photographer’s job is to transform the subject, not merely describe it.  The best photographs value complexity and psychological insights above the formal precision of the medium.

Photo: Dunwich Cliffs, Suffolk, July 2018

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2 Responses to Talking Pictures 2 – John Szarkowski

  1. Roy says:

    Well said Brian, and you will enjoy Bill Jay’s book ‘Occam’s Razor’ when I’ve finished it as he says pretty much what you have here.
    I’ve had ‘Looking at Photographs’ since way back. Must read it again.

    • brianhuman says:

      It’s a pity that we don’t seen to have modern equivalents of Jay and Szarkowski, or maybe I’ve just missed them. I wonder what the latter would make of photography today? There is an issue that I’m going to raise in my next posting that suggests a way in which the medium has changed.

      I’m looking forward to seeing ‘Occam’s Razor’; I think my Bill Jay book is still somewhere over the Atlantic.

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