Blind Spot and Western Landscapes

  By John Veldhoen

Siri Hustvedt is an American novelist, but along with her work as a fiction writer, she has written essays on diverse subjects, like neuropsychoanalysis, and painting. The latter investigations presuppose a connection between selfhood, and perception. She is the author of the introduction to Teju Cole’s new book of photographs, “Blind Spot”. Cole is a photographer, but is also a writer, and contributes a regular column to the New York Times “Lens” section entitled “On Photography” which I have mentioned on this blog before, in connection to essays written by Luigi Ghirri. In “Blind Spot”, Hustvedt writes about how Teju suffered from papillophlebitis, which is sometimes called “blind spot syndrome”, and also draws a comparison to veiling in Christian theology in a way that I found underdeveloped, as it neglected precise exegesis, and left out the obvious Christian insight that temporal vision is but through a glass darkly. Nevertheless, I found it an intriguing essay, even if it is out of its theological depth. The photographs are occasionally similar to Ghirri’s, but I think distinct, and when Cole concentrates on compositional rigour, and painterly affect, his best pictures can be reminiscent of William Eggleston’s “Paris” (see “Ubud”, or “Seminyak”).

In writing about the introduction to Cole’s book, I wanted to concentrate this review on the writing in monographs, by contrasting Hustvedt’s writing with the afterward to the newly published, monumental “Western Landscapes” by Lee Friedlander, recently brought from Yale. I don’t have much to say about Friedlander, he is without equal. I love his busiest most abstract frames; the more he goes full Jackson Pollock with scrub brush and maniac jumble to me, the better.

Richard Benson who wrote the seminal “Printed Picture” catalogue for the MoMA exhibition of the same name is the author of the essay to this book as an afterword. Benson passed recently; he was a great photographic printer, Friedlander’s printer, and his friend. In this essay, he touches on Friedlander’s love for Microdol X developer, and the transition from long to wide lenses, and the effect that had on vision in photography (a move somewhat like Hustvedt’s recognition of Cole’s optical suffering). Benson also lovingly rants about how to make pictures with less pretext, and quell the stream of words about pictures, and about how making practice into matter legitimates art as such (although Benson makes allowances for the wordiness of his other friend, John Szarkowski). The physical affection Benson shares about his friends, his love of the medium, and the practitioner, his own transition from the darkroom, to giclée, speak of mastery of craft that can lead to the sacred. He believed in the stability of making, and the made thing, which runs along with the constancy of change. Like the reality of making friendships, having made a friendship, and the poignancy that sometimes accompanies loss.

There is greater psychological realism in this collaboration than the interpretive theories of the novelist can sustain, or the photographer, whose captions to his own photographs, with no matter how impressive psychoanalytic descriptions, of self, and other, can allow.

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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.