Geoff Dyer’s “The Ongoing Moment”

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Geoff Dyer’s new book “The Ongoing Moment“. So anxiously that I forgot the release date. Anyway, it’s on the shelves, and it’s worth picking-up in hardback if you like to read and think about photography.

I read the first chapter on the train this morning and wanted to recommend it, not just for its discussion of street photography (the entire beginning is about the history of photographers taking pictures of blind people — er, blind people with accordians) but from its look at photography as a whole, and its choice quotes like this, from Dorthea Lange;

To know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.

If you enjoy Dyer, skip that last “yoga” book of his and pick up his earlier book on D.H. Lawrence, which is essentially a book about how he can’t write a “sober study” of D.H. Lawrence. It’s phenomenal.

Even better, this bit from Diane Arbus:

Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that’s what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It’s just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we’re given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there’s a paint between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you.

4 thoughts on “Geoff Dyer’s “The Ongoing Moment””

  1. Michael, just catching up on your posts this evening, but i’m enjoying them very much so far. The Lange quote really speaks to me, in that I have come to the realization that I can be quite obstinate in mindset when I go out to make pictures. I often think that I know what I’m looking for, or that I have an idea that I’d like to get across. So I look for imagery to capture, to communicate said idea.

    What ends up happening 80% of the time, of course, is that something I take note of throws a wrench in the works, and I follow that path. I’m glad I can observe and appreciate those things, but I am sure I could be much more receptive overall. Perhaps this is why I have not engaged in street photography for some time. I think it takes a willingness to be absolutely open and receptive in order to produce engaging street photos. You have to live in the moment and not pack your equipment with preconceived goals.

    This is probably why I’ve moved away from street photography. It wasn’t a choice, so much as it was a gradual transition, but the occupation still fascinates me and the thought process is relevant no matter the type of photography.

    In any event, your writing is giving me plenty of food for thought. I’m reminded of Pinkheadedbug, which I used to read often when I was bitten by the street photography bug. Cheers.

  2. I have just finished The Ongoing Moment and found it absolutely marvelous. Thrilling, even. I didn’t know it was possible to write about photography in this way – so personally yet so knowledgeably and artfully. I didn’t want this book to end so now, it appears I will have to read it again. In any case, it has sent me back to look at some of the images on which he meditates, many of which I happen to have copies of in various books. The big eye-opener for me was Michael Ormerod, someone I had not heard of before but whose work I now feel compelled to seek out.
    By the way, what prompted me to read this book, and something that anyone interested in the book should make an effort to find, was a review by none other than John Berger himself, in Harper’s Magazine for December, 2005.
    What’s more, this book helped me find this blog, which is another bonus!

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