Banking on Images and Conversations

  By John Veldhoen

Look, I am not saying that there is too much interferential linking in writing about photography, but the main problem I had with Estelle Blaschke’s book “Banking on Images” does relate to how layered concepts and an overly developed critical-curatorial grammar can interfere with the proper address of what would be an otherwise interesting subject. On page two of the introduction, she makes a reference to Charles Baudelaire, for instance, and I had to wonder if that wasn’t to make certain only that she did, as a way to be comprehensive in displaying all the tools in the toolbox. It gets so complex that the book has an erratum to correct pages of notation that are out-of-order. An editorial oversight, and it isn’t that big of a deal, but my point is that a more journalistic approach to many excessively analytical books would lead to lay audiences reading more about subjects that are of significance to our culture. Otto Bettmann is said to have invented the image recourse business, and as far as business and industrial history goes, the creation of Bettmann Archive and Corbis has had an effect on the way pictures are imagined. Not to mention, a reference in this book to Paul Otlet does correlate how press images and fine-art archives have had similar problems of management. Information science has something to do with the image business in Germany, not to mention the whole of contemporary culture, and probably how the way our collective future will pattern out; it is unfortunate that this book was written in a language of University discourse not relatable to a broader conversation.

I’ve been thinking lately that the discursive images used in architectural mock-ups have something to do with what all photographs are, as writing with light, photographs now seem to me as glancing pieces of an incalculable design. But I am giving away the farm here, this has to do with my own nightly reading, but it is what is on my mind. There is an argument in cognitive science and philosophy about whether mental images are in fact real, and as I am writing this I have just finished speaking with an installation artist whose knack for pre-visualization and building models of her mental background is her work. These concepts are tantalizingly at the core of “Banking on Images”, but in the end what I wanted was less epistemological excursus, but maybe a gripping story of industrial intrigue.

Another book that I bought that came in recently is Aperture Foundation’s “Conversations”, a reprint of interviews with photographers in Aperture magazine. What is great about Aperture interviews is the insight they give to the working practices of photography. And I think that reading practitioner accounts is a good way to learn what is an especially practical medium. I have always loved Aperture, but lately, probably as a result of working daily at The Camera Store, I have come to wonder about the interviews inasmuch as they usually have less to do with craft than ideation. I get it, there is so much industry noise about how this or that widget will change the life of someone making pictures, but I learned long ago from my father that the most important questions to ask are why and how. Reading these interviews I wish more of them asked the craft questions of why certain photographers used processes or tools to make the pictures the way they did. I like to hear about why a certain lens, or camera, or film, or developer, or software, or light, affects the effect that a photographer has in mind. I always guessed that Aperture made an editorial decision to focus on the ideas in photographic work, but sometimes I think this is an overreaction at the expense of the ideas that are carried as a part of the medium itself. I have seen over the years that why and how interact with each other, and I see every day how passionate and careful artists choose the directions they take, not just in terms of assigning concepts, or working out ideas theoretically, but also in using the apparatus of the camera and lens to achieve those ends.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.