Book Review: Adams, Ghirri, Szarkowski

  By John Veldhoen

I took a week off, intending to do some summer reading, but instead I ran a bunch, played some basketball, and otherwise got out in the sun, and was way more active than I guess presupposed by some colleagues who rightly judge from my inerratic, middle-aged frame that I would otherwise sit around during my time off, eating… So the fixit is to get at it, and you know, make an effort… I expected to go on Instagram and make a project, doing Polaroids for the month of August, captioned with bits from William Faulkner’s “Light In August”. After a few days, I called it quits. I am too obsessive for a permanent engagement with the Internet. Writing here is enough. I like how our store is like an old-fashioned guildhall, I can chat with people about cameras and books, work things out slowly, and read in my spare time.

I watched a video during my vacation, about NY painters… What else? Oh, I fanned out hard on Vince Staples, and I read the first half of Robert Adams “Beauty in Photography”. I wanted to read Luiggi Ghirri’sThe Complete Essays”, but got so busy… Although I did read Teju Cole’s review in the New York Times Magazine of the same, (as an aside, if you aren’t reading Cole, and claim an interest in photography, you are missing out.) I did look through a Canadian Architectural Archives publication of photos by Ghirri in collaboration with the architect Aldo Rossi, and then went through an older Aperture monograph called “It is Beautiful Here, Isn’t It…” That book is maybe like the work that I think Adams had in mind in “Beauty in Photography” when he compared the difficulties of making colour photographs to the difficulties a poet experiences writing good free verse. Ghirri took William Eggleston as his paragon, and I think it is interesting how they compare stylistically. If Adams is right, the reason why photography had more to say at the end of the twentieth century, up till now, is because we were/are fed up with words, or because literary possibility eroded because people grew tired of story, or worse (and this is my preachiness, not Adams’), they became inattentive to History. I feel like Eggelston is like Faulkner… Gothic, humanistic, noumenal, while looking at Ghirri’s photographs is similar to the experience of reading Italo Calvino, or Jorges Luis Borges, which is to say, oneiric and phenomenal. Problem is, I haven’t read Ghirri’s book yet! I just looked at a lot of his pictures, sometimes for a long time, trying to unravel them, absorbed in their sublimity.

What I like about Adams’ writing is that he sees the synthesis of both urges in photography as falling under the category (I would say the Idea) of beauty. If you’ve ever read the forward to John Szarkowski’sThe Photographer’s Eye”, Adams’ thesis is like reading a response to Szarkowski’s section on “the thing itself”, without recourse to literalism: there is a sequence in “The Photographer’s Eye”, beginning with Maxine Du Camp’s image of the Temple of Kardassy in Nubia, and ending with Richard Avedon’s portrait of Ezra Pound with his eyes closed, that encompasses the whole perceptual swing of human time beyond words.

John Veldhoen

John Veldhoen

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.