On the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair is a typical bland celebrity photograph. The only interesting element in the picture is the reflection in the helmet:
I’m glad I didn’t have to take this picture. All of that equipment looks like a drag.
In the current issue of PDN, Joseph Kudelka talks about making pictures. “For me photography is playing,” he says, “I go out and I play and I try to discover.” Later in the interview he tells this story of showing pictures to John Szarkowski.
My sister lived in Canada. I was on my way to visit my sister because my mother had gotten permission to go there. I brought with me little prints that, when I traveled, I would show. I missed my plane and went over to Elliot Erwitt’s place. He said, “You are here, so why not show your pictures to this guy from the Museum of Modern Art who once published one of your photographs, John Szarkowski?” I went there and said I have some pictures that I was going to show my sister and mother so they could see the places I’ve been, and he looked through them and John said – this I’ll never forget – “I feel I’d like to go out and take pictures again. And I would like to make your show.”
In Szarkowski’s 1979 book/exhibition, Mirrors and Windows, he divides photographic practice into two categories. On the one hand there is romantic or self-expressionistic work (mirrors), on the other there is realist or more purely descriptive work (windows). As an example of romantic work Szarkowski cites Minor White and the early years of his publication Aperture. As an example of descriptive work he uses Robert Frank’s book The Americans.
Looking through Mirrors and Windows, I often find myself disagreeing with Szarkowski’s classifications. In fact, I’ve always believed that The Americans is as much an act of romantic self-expression as it is a commentary on America. The key is in the last picture of the book. Here Frank shows his own wife and child in an automobile. In giving us this moment of reflection, we see all of the preceding pictures a little differently:
Whether you are Minor White or Robert Frank, almost every photograph starts with an act of pure description – a window. But every now and then you catch a glimpse of the photographer’s reflection. The mirror is just another function of the window:
Along with the Koudelka interview, the current issue of PDN interviews Gregory Crewdson about his lighting technique. The article includes this diagram of his lighting setup:
As with the VF cover, this doesn’t make me want to run out and take pictures. But this isn’t always the case with Crewdson’s work. In 1996, after the collapse of his first marriage, Credson left New York and spent a summer in a log cabin photographing fireflies. The process looks like a lot of fun:
Photography is a frustrating medium. Fragmentary, frozen and mute – photographs can never match the immersive pleasures of film or music. So why bother with film sets and lighting crews? The simple process of making pictures is rich enough. “I always wanted to be a photographer,” said Lee Friedlander, “But I never dreamed I would be having this much fun. I imagined something much less elusive, much more mundane.”
- See more of Crewdson’s Fireflies here.