My last writing for The Camera Store was a botched job. You see, despite my best intentions, I misevaluated an assessment, and in so doing gave myself a few weeks of crisis, or at least an opportunity to think things through a little more. I read Ben Maddow’s biography of Edward Weston, and Janet Malcolm’s essay on Weston from her book “Diana and Nikon”. I tried to use Weston’s pictures as an exemplar of objectivity, or at least his prints. As Malcolm writes, his nudes are “sexless and impersonal” bodies that are “transmuted into forms that follow no mere human (or sexual) function; desire-less, filled with a quality of “starfish-like” inantion”. I agree with Malcolm, but I think my review was more or less about a subject-object reversal, or an attempt to get things in the right order. But I missed the mark, and have been reading Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood”, as well as “Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before”. I am reading these books so I can get a better grip on writing about photographs, I suppose, but I don’t know how well it is going. A person can read aesthetic theory all the way back to Alexander Baumgarten and then realize, independently, words are never much help, and maybe get in the way of art.
Recently, The Camera Store acquired the book “L’eclairement” by Patrick Faigenbaum. I’m trying to translate the title to English; it would be “a flash of clarity”, maybe. Art-critic Jean Francois-Chevrier, writing an essay in this spell-binding book, draws parallels to the work of Franz Kafka, and Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, but what he gets very right is an analogy to the 19th Century novel. He imbricates Faigenbaum’s photography with a tendency to place subjects in time, a tactic used by the novelists, who attempted to seduce readers into something not unlike the suspended disbelief of cinema, which is not altogether different from the “effect of reality” that poets call ekphrasis. What is amazing though, in the context of photography, is that a photograph is supposedly “taken”, it is made from a world that is already “there”, a given-ness to the world that the camera should be able to render without interruption, and it gets bent inward, changed slightly, in Faigenbaum’s photographs, in sequence, like in a dream. The pictures become part of a narrative, a historical discourse. The pictures seem to relate, to each other, to the viewer, to something outside, and finally suggest the subject/object delineation may be nothing at all. Faigenbaum’s book becomes like a vision. I would cite it as an archetypal photobook. Faigenbaum has been representing reality for decades and “L’eclairement” is a masterwork, a realization of working as a photographer; each image adds to the next; they are dark, surreal, funereal, stately, and ancient.
In the same period of time, I bought “I Wanna Take Me a Picture”, by Wendy Ewald. This book is also available at The Camera Store. Ewald’s book tells how she worked teaching “children how to see”, and how to read and write, using photography. Her emphasis is on giving people the means to express emotion, to document the world, and express the interior by bringing it outside. Photography is a form requiring no talent, according to Ewald, it is a means of expression. While Faigenbaum’s refined work is model, my feeling is anyone who uses a camera will benefit from Ewald’s book. Only a small group of people will find anything in Faigenbaum’s, and what they find, they may already know.