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Good Writing on Photography (an Appeal)

My first creative efforts were as a writer. Other than 2point8, Unphotographable, and a currently unpublished project, I haven’t written much in the last year. Instead, I’ve been scouring essays, reading biographies, and raiding libraries to find good writing on photography.

When I got my MFA (in poetry) a few years ago, I felt (and still feel) that modern American poetry is mostly in a conversation with itself. A varied and fascinating discussion, but insular nonetheless. Poets write books for other poets, mainly. Press runs for books are stunningly low, and sales are, well…

By contrast, photography has risen to a higher level of respectability within the culture. One thing that helps me take photography seriously (it’s hilarious, no?) is to consider it the artistic equal of any of the widely-accepted arts (including poetry) by treating it as such, in words.

To that end (I’m getting there), I’ve been surprised by the lack of good, strong writing about the experiential side of photography’s impact - from a viewer’s perspective or from a creator’s perspective. Which is why I need your help.

Please leave a comment or get in touch if you have any examples (other than the ones below) of great writing about photography. I’m less interested in essays or biographies that explicate photography’s history, as in, “X took pictures like this, and then X took pictures like this…”

I’m seeking sharp insight and brave criticism. I’m mainly looking for examples of writers who can show what it means to love photographs as much for their mystery and inability to speak, as for what photographs potentially communicate. I prefer essays by photographers, and I steer away from the lit-crit, po-mo, dissertation-type doldrums.

  • Any or all of John Szarkowski’s essays (particulary the one on from “Figments from the Real World“) are tops
  • Robert Adams’ book “Why People Photograph” is excellent; the quips and quotes on the wall of his recent “Turning Back” exhibition at SFMOMA were more engaging (for me) than the photographs themselves
  • Parr’s preface to History of the Photobook vol. 2 is a good example of a photographer who can write, but the Gerry Badger paragraphs within the book are a graduate lecture on how to quickly say something of value and weight
  • Any Luc Sante fans?
  • Sophie Howarth’s “Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs” looked good, but most of the essays leaned toward the biographical and historical, rather than examining the singular image itself
  • I’m currently reading Andy Grundberg’s “Crisis of the Real” and it’s admirable, but again, quite biographical and historical
  • Sontag

I know this is a tilted list. In short, I’m looking for essays about photography that steer toward the experiential, rather than the biographical/historical. Lend some ballast if you can. I need to right this ship.

Tag: Tidbits