Alec Soth's Archived Blog

July 9, 2007


Filed under: Papageorge — alecsothblog @ 2:43 pm

Central Park, 1978 by Tod Papageorge

Central Park, 1981 by Tod Papageorge

Central Park, 1978 by Tod Papageorge

Central Park, 1981 by Tod Papageorge

Central Park, 1982 by Tod Papageorge


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.


Filed under: Papageorge — alecsothblog @ 6:52 am

In a recent post I noted that most of my photographic education has come from American publications. As a consequence, I’m neck deep in the Walker Evans tradition. Sometimes this is frustrating. I get tired of the whole Yale-MoMa mind meld. Of course Eggleston didn’t invent color photography (see the recent Colour Before Color show). And if I hear one more student talking about their Yale application I’m going to puke.

For years I’ve been bewildered by one of the deacons of this church: Tod Papageorge. As often as I’ve heard his name bandied about, until recently I’d seen very few of his pictures. The only work I remember was from the book American Images: New Work by Twenty Contemporary Photographers. Judging from the handful of pictures in the book, it looked like Papageorge was just doing a medium format take on Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful. Same boobs, higher resolution.

I once mentioned that every photographer is at the mercy of “the sentence” – the shorthand blurb that everyone uses to sum up an artist. Nowadays the sentence to describe Papageorge is “He’s the guy that runs the Yale photography program.” But I think it used to be: “He’s the guy who hung around Winogrand.”

I don’t want to like Tod Papageorge. I don’t care that he runs Yale or that he was drinking buddies with Szarkowski. And from some of the things you read, he doesn’t sound like such a great guy. “He was a bastard, and he did not like my work in any way,” said Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

When I heard Papageorge was publishing his first book, I started sharpening my daggers. So it is with great frustration that I’m admitting I have a new sentence for Papageorge: “He’s the guy who published his first book, a classic called Passing Through Eden, when he was 67.”

Passing Through Eden erased all of my preconceptions. While there is no denying that this book evokes the usual suspects (Winogrand, Szarkowski, Friedlander) it overcomes all with its sure brilliance. Perfect pictures, perfect sequencing and fine printing to boot – Passing through Eden is, regrettably, a masterpiece.

To come to terms with all of this, I’m declaring this ‘Tod Papageorge Week’ on this blog.

  • previous posts on Papageorge here and here

November 2, 2006

Papageorge quote

Filed under: aesthetics,Papageorge,quotes — alecsothblog @ 2:16 pm
Whether or not Tod Papageorge is an underrated photographer, there is no doubting that he is an articulate one. This quote from the Bomb interview seems relevant to the discussion that has emerged from the After Arbus article:

I think now that, in general—and this includes a lot of what I see in Chelsea even more than what I see from students at Yale—there’s a failure to understand how much richer in surprise and creative possibility the world is for photographers in comparison to their imagination. This is an understanding that an earlier generation of students, and photographers, accepted as a first principle. Now ideas are paramount, and the computer and Photoshop are seen as the engines to stage and digitally coax those ideas into a physical form—typically a very large form. This process is synthetic, and the results, for me, are often emotionally synthetic too. Sure, things have to change, but photography-as-illustration, even sublime illustration, seems to me an uninteresting direction for the medium to be tracking now, particularly at such a difficult time in the general American culture.

Tod Papageorge

Filed under: artists,Papageorge — alecsothblog @ 1:53 pm

Is Tod Papageorge an underrated photographer? It is hard for me to say. I’ve only seen a handful of his pictures. He’s never produced a book and hasn’t had a New York gallery show in twenty years. But he certainly has a reputation. Papageorge is one of the lynchpins of Yale/MOMA matrix. His name is all over the history books of photography. But where are the pictures? In the current issue of Bomb, Richard Woodward begins an interview with Papageorge by asking what took so long to publish a book.

The easy answer is that nobody asked me. In the past, people have suggested monographs, but I was never interested. Several years ago, though, I put together a book of photographs that I’d made in Paris. And I tried different publishers, all unsuccessfully. Obviously, persistence—or the lack of it—in the face of rejection becomes at some point a question of psychology. And since it’s my psychology in question here, I reserve the right not to study it too deeply.

Later in the interview, Papageorge discusses his absence from the gallery scene by again referring to psychology. Part of this psychology seems to include a near fixation on the opinion of John Szarkowski:

Woodard: You mention, semi-hyperbolically, that unless John Szarkowski approved of a picture it went back into storage. Did his opinion count not only above everyone else’s but excluding anyone else’s?

Papageorge: The real point is that there was no place else, that’s all.

Woodard: You mean there weren’t places that counted, in your opinion. There were certainly galleries that showed photography.

Papageorge: And, certainly, Szarkowski’s understanding was more important to me than that of anybody in a gallery. But, to get back to your first question, what happened to my career was that Daniel Wolf closed [where Papageorge had shows in 1981 and 1985] and nobody called. And I wasn’t going to go around and ask people to show my work. That’s where the psychology figures in. My reputation was always that of an arrogant son-of-a-bitch, so I imagine that a not-so-disinterested observer might assume that that was part of my problem. I don’t really believe that, especially the characterization. But I was teaching at Yale by then, so it’s not as if I was desperate for money; it’s not that I was rich, but I was able to survive and continue to work.

Whatever the reason, Papageorge’s absenteeism is a shame. Here in the hinterlands of Minnesota (Szarkowski left a long time ago) Papageorge is a name without a face. The good news is that this is all about to change. Next year Papageorge will be publishing two books and exhibiting at Pace/McGill. Is Papageorge underrated? We’ll soon find out.

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