John Szarkowsi's book, Looking at Photographs, is the earliest (1973, 1999 revision) of three fabulous studies, including Susan Sontag's scary-brilliant On Photography (1973-1977) and Geoff Dyer's The Ongoing Moment (2005).
Some random thoughts:
The early daguerreotypes were virtually 100% portraits as opposed to landscape. So there exists a large collection of anonymous people captured by this art form. The photos reveal an unworldliness when compared to modern images. Hill's photo of W.B. Johnstone, a Scottish cleric, is eerie at best as his facial features just look different.
Most people know Mathew Brady and his photos of the Civil War. Most of the photos were actually made by staffers. One who let was the Scottish-American Alexander Gardner, who protested he never received photo credit or profits. His work is in Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War.
Peter Emerson got caught up in the issue of artistic merit between photographers and painters. He insisted on the issue of artistic status for photographers, while his followers were deferential to painters. After 5 years, he recanted in a pamphlet stating that photography was only a very minor art. Ultimately, he became the Luther of the schism.
In 1872, the former governor of California, Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, hired Eadweard Muybridge for some photographic studies. He had taken a position on a popularly debated question of the day — whether all four feet of a horse were off the ground at the same time while trotting. In 1872, Muybridge began experimenting with an array of 12 cameras photographing a galloping horse in a sequence of shots. His initial efforts seemed to prove that Stanford was right, but he didn’t have the process perfected. The same question had arisen about the actions of horses during a gallop. The human eye could not break down the action at the quick gaits of the trot and gallop. Up until this time, most artists painted horses at a trot with one foot always on the ground; and at a full gallop with the front legs extended forward and the hind legs extended to the rear, and all feet off the ground. Stanford sided with the assertion of "unsupported transit" in the trot and gallop, and decided to have it proven scientifically. Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.
Stanford also wanted a study of the horse at a gallop. Muybridge planned to take a series of photographs on 15 June 1878, at Stanford's Palo Alto Stock Farm (now the campus of Stanford University). He placed numerous large glass-plate cameras in a line along the edge of the track; the shutter of each was triggered by a thread as the horse passed (in later studies he used a clockwork device to set off the shutters and capture the images). The path was lined with cloth sheets to reflect as much light as possible. He copied the images in the form of silhouettes onto a disc to be viewed in a machine he had invented, which he called a "zoopraxiscope". This device was later regarded as an early movie projector, and the process as an intermediate stage toward motion pictures or cinematography.
The study is called Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion; it shows images of the horse with all feet off the ground. This did not take place when the horse's legs were extended to the front and back, as imagined by contemporary illustrators, but when its legs were collected beneath its body as it switched from "pulling" with the front legs to "pushing" with the back legs.
Alvin Coburn was focused on photography as a creative art. Szarkowski opines the fundamental stumbling block seemed to be the medium's uncompromising specificity. The camera described not Man but men, not Nature but countless biological andgeological facts. The artistic spirit of the time preferred an idealistic view. Coburn's friend Ezra Pound, writing about Coburn's abstractions, invoked Walter Pater's dictum that "all arts approach the condition of music" (i.e. the arts seek to unify subject-matter and form, and music is the only art in which subject and form are seemingly one), which appeared in his 1873 book The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry.
E.J. Bellocq was a commercial photographer in New Orleans. After his death 100s of photos were found of prostitutes. His portraits are highly individualized and the women have realized themselves in pictures. Lee Friedlander bought them and printed the plates.
Aerial reconnaissance photographs are featured in the collection. Daumier said that photography depicted everything but explained nothing. Traditional painting explained everything but described nothing.
Brassaï (Gyula Halász) pronounces his name "bra sigh ee." Same as French spelling of Haiti: République d'Haïti; Haitian Creole: Repiblik Ayiti, He took his name from the town of his birth, Brasso, in Transylvania, then part of Hungary, later of Romania, and famous as the home of Count Dracula. Published his famous book Paris de Nuit in 1933. Brassaï gained notoriety as 'the photographer' in Tropic of Cancer (1934) by his friend Henry Miller.
Paul Caponigro is best known for his landscape works and for the mystical and spiritual qualities of his work. He is often regarded as one of America's foremost landscape photographers.
|Ardara Dolmen, County Donegal, Ireland, 1967|
Robert Doisneau, At the Cafe. Szarkowski reads so much into this photo. "The girl's secret opinion of the proceedings so far is hidden in her splendid self-containment; for the moment she enjoys the security of absolute power. One arm shields her body, her hand touches her glass as tentatively as if it were the first apple. The man for the moment is defenseless and vulnerable; impaled on the hook of his own desire, he has committed all his resources, and no satisfactory line of retreat remains...This pair, if less romantically conceived than the lovers on John Keats' urn, are equally safe, here in the picture, from the consequences of real life."