Alec Soth's Archived Blog

July 9, 2007

Tell me your Papageorge story

Filed under: Papageorge — alecsothblog @ 1:43 pm

In Bystander: A History of Street Photography, Joel Meyerowitz says:

One day when I was with Garry (Winogrand), he got a phone call from this guy who said he wanted to be a photographer and could he come up to talk. It turned out that he had come straight to to New York from college, where he had been a literature major, but now he was interested in taking pictures. So he (Tod Papageorge) began to hang out with Garry too. There was a long period in 1964-65 when the three of us- Garry, Tod, and me- would go out shooting together, and I believe Tod began doing some of Garry’s printing then as well. Garry was progressively pulling away from the darkroom, and my recall is that probably half of the pictures in The Animals were printed by Tod.

In Tim Davis’s essay, Sit-In at the Fotomat, he writes:

For years, Tod Papageorge, the head of the Photography Department at the Yale University School of Art, would begin student critiques of color pictures with the question, “Why color?” Color was an aesthetic choice and Papageorge felt students needed to account for it.

Tell me your Papageorge story.


  1. Everyone is entitled to an opinion about my work, or me, and anyone else’s work or putative personality, of course–which is not to suggest that I don’t appreciate Alec Soth’s generous appraisal of my book, and the nervous-making exercise he’s set up here where, it being “My Week,” friends and strangers are invited to talk about me. I have to say , though, that when the facts are wrong (and the error then ratified by the printing press in multiple editions) my sense of patience is left wanting: to wit, Joel Meyerowitz’s history (above) of how I met him and, more pertinently, Garry Winogrand.

    At the risk of sounding querulous and nitpicking, let me sing my song:

    First of all, I didn’t move to NY until late Oct., 1965, and not straight out of college, but directly from an extended stay in Spain and Paris (all described in the afterword of my book)–where Joel, possibly spurred to some degree by my love of those places, traveled with his wife the following year for an even longer stay.

    Second–well, if anyone’s interested in how I actually met Garry, they should read the relevant pages in my introduction to “Public Relations,” the exhibition of Winogrand’s work that I curated for MoMA in 1977. It was written while Garry was still alive–and, therefore, met HIS high standards for factual accuracy. As you might guess, it only faintly resembles Joel’s account, which has always seemed to me to tilt in the direction of suggesting that I was an arriviste of a type I’ve always found distasteful.

    But, finally, let me sing out for friends (even those of us who get the facts wrong) and the blessings they can bring to us, especially at that moment in our lives when we’ve set our energies on an exalted, if vague, goal and need all the disinterested help we can get: In my case, and pertinent here, Garry Winogrand, a great artist, spirit and mind; and, filling the hearts of many of us today, John Szarkowski.

    Comment by Tod Papageorge — July 9, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

  2. Tod was one of the formative influences on my relationship to
    photography. He convinced me to stop taking pictures–I didn’t have
    enough to say with my own work. That’s not how he put it, but how I
    interpreted his responses after a semester. His lyrical, erudite, and incisive
    responses to photographs–what I always chalked up to the rechanneled energies of a frustrated poet–convinced me that the medium merited a lifetime’s study. His essay on Winogrand in Public Relations was, and still is, a touchstone for me, along with his Evans/Frank “Essay on Influence.”

    Several years ago, almost twenty years after I was in his classes, he called to ask me about getting some foundation support for publishing his work. He didn’t remember me, which after that much time and that many students is understandable. But I spent several minutes rattling off mutual connections and bona fides, none of which clarified matters for him. I mean, it was as though I was trying to sell him on something. Finally, he said, “A former student recommended I call you, and even though I don’t remember you and don’t know why she urged me to call I still hope you can help me get money for my book.” I had minimal resources, or, frankly, incentive, to help, but I told him I admired his work (which I do–at least the Central Park pictures) and will forever respect his contributions to my understanding of photographic syntax.

    His reputation among the female students and co-professors in the
    program was not a good one. Inquire of Andrea Modica, Lois Conner, Michaela Murphy, Jan Groover, Susan Lipper, etc. from the early and middle 1980s. I think having a child mellowed him out a bit. My friends with young families in New Haven saw a tamer, more domesticated Tod at their kids’ soccer games.

    I recall him saying that he was a fan of the singer Carla Bley.

    He told a funny story about a commission from AT&T (that resulted in
    the 1979 book American Images, edited by Renato Danese); a picture of
    his was removed from the traveling version of the project’s
    exhibition because of the “nude Buddha” on a California beach–there were 20
    photographers in the project, each with the same number of photos in
    the book. But Tod’s exhibited portfolio was one short of the others because of the corporate censors.

    He used to talk about “leaf, reed, lander”–Lee Friedlander–as
    though those elements were all that made up Lee’s work.

    One final crit I recall him being presented with THE Walker Evans Chair in Photography–the literal embodiment of his title, a bentwood rocker taken straight out of Hale County, Alabama.

    There are countless stories about him; I must leave for other reporters accounts of the late 1980s or 1990s, when Yale assumed its reputation as the hotbed of contemporary photographic art. I just know that Tod was a signal influence on my career and my connection to the medium. In the wake of Szarkowski’s death, and the imminent passing of another curator closer to Alec’s home, I must acknowledge my gratitude while simultaneously and fondly recalling some more idiosyncratic aspects of Tod’s career. Congrats, Tod, on finally getting the work into print. The attention is well-deserved, and long-awaited. Sorry I couldn’t help it emerge earlier.

    Comment by Gilbert Subrosa — July 9, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  3. I was visiting Yale several years ago as a hopeful MFA candidate (No I didn’t get in & I didn’t deserve to) & while in the elevator with my tourguide I turned to the other passenger & said “Are you Richard Benson?” The man replied with a terse, “No” & exited as the door opened on his floor. It was Tod Papageorge.

    Comment by Rob Lomblad — July 10, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  4. I, too was happy to see Tod’s work again after all these years. Good, solid 70’s humanism with a wicked, witty eye and a generous heart. It reflects my generation’s set of values derived from Frank and HCB, blended with Evans. Warm hearted, cool eyed, passionate yet striving for the uninflected voice; these were unmanipulated, direct observations made in a thousandth of a second. We were tuned up like fine instruments (or wished to be) that could respond within the immediacy of the moment and recognize in it a glimpse of our selves, our native, intuitive understanding of what it was possible to see, and what might be important in our time. We were servants of the medium, well at least I can say for myself that I thought that way and still do, though I believe we all surrendered to that view; that by simply serving photography we might learn more about the mysterious way it works.

    So to see Tod’s eloquent observations in print was to put so much of today’s efforts, burdened as they are with Photoshop additions and market driven ideas, and fake ‘reality’, into a perspective that shows their flimsy, empty, trendy attempts for what they are. Maybe it’s John Szarkowski’s death that is making me reflect on the state of things recently. It is a huge loss to Photography. His generosity was what brought photography into the larger argument about where it fits into “art”, and why it’s as strong a presence as it is today.

    Comment by Joel Meyerowitz — July 15, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

  5. I went to Graduate School in San Francisco at SFSU in the late 70’s. Having grown up in Montclair, NJ in the 50’s my early influences were the usual suspects we are talking about here. I brought a visual sense supported by the work of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Freidlander, Garry Winogrand, Tod Papageorge etc from college at Oberlin in Ohio to the West coast, Berkeley CA in the 60’s.

    While in grad school, I remember clearly sitting in the stacks of the library pouring over and over and over again at the pages of Public Relations. At that time I had almost memorized Tod Papageorge’s essay.

    I remember sadly how the library copy of Woman Are Beautiful was crudly defaced by college wise guys who saw the woman in the book as strange pinups for them to mark up.

    Generally speaking, the photography people in the Fine Arts program at SFSU were sour on John Szarkowski, Garry Winogrand etc. Walker Evans influence was belittled in favor of the line created by Edward Weston. The argument insued. NYC photographers were not making ART. Oh well. The painters and the film people related to what I was doing, so I was ok with that. And besides, I could see no other way to describe the world.

    Jack Welpott and I remain good friends. He is 85, a dear man of great generousity and humor. And we still argue good naturedly about those days in NYC and Garry Winogrand and all the guys. They all remain in my heart.

    Bill M.

    Comment by Bill Mattick — July 15, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  6. […] The other day, Alec linked to a comment that photographer Joel Meyerowitz made about Tod Papageorge’s work, Szarkowski’s death and, ultimately, the state of photography today (three things that have been discussed on this blog in the last week or so): […]

    Pingback by SHANE LAVALETTE / JOURNAL » Blog Archive » Straight/Synthetic, Thirty Years From Now — July 17, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

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