Shore and the Webbs

  By John Veldhoen

“With these blog posts I write for the Camera Store, I feel like my own amanuensis, copying the texts of my own exploration of reality, but I know that one erstwhile reader feels that I should stick to a point (or perhaps wants to stake me with a pointy stick) for drifting around too much, but as I read and consider, I take it as natural to change my mind over some things. I have been reading a lot of the particle-physicist turned theologian John Polkinghorne lately, as he points out, quantum field theory eroded the previous way of thinking about reality, “under the nudge of nature – the impact of the sheer stubbornness of the way things are – a rational possibility had come to light that would have likely to have lain undisclosed to apriori thinking”.

Which is a truth that I think illuminates even paltry areas like aesthetics. A sociologist once saw photography as a “middle-brow art”, and in the domain of taking pictures there are all sorts of people who want to state an opinion. Following a text by Cynthia Ozick from the book “The Education of a Photographer”, I think it is best to take pictures with the finger on the button of one’s camera, to know what the photographer is all about, but that doesn’t mean a closed nature should follow, or an open one, either, for that matter… In my last writing, I ended with a sentence that was neither here nor there, it was downright sloppy and witless, that is the way I am sometimes! Consistency has much to do with so-called “bottom-up” thinking versus “top-down”, and I consider myself in the former camp… I think my comments on Barthes were off, and I think Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” is the most important thing to read in the continuum stemming from “Camera Obscura”, but I think it is all a process of development. The German language has a good word for it, the development, process, or formation of personal or cultural maturity called Bildung. I am in no position to judge, that isn’t what criticism is about, and that is what I am writing.

Lately, I read Stephen Shore’s “The Nature of Photographs” and I found it hypnotic. I think everyone interested in photography should read it. Shore is a master educator on the subject of photography, and his insights on focus and the frame have so much more to do with mindfulness, and the transmutation of consciousness. I shouldn’t say too much and blow the magic of it.

I also finished Rebecca Norris Webb and Alex Webb’s “On Street Photography and the Poetic Image” recently. I think of this book in counterpoint to Shore. If one focuses on what can be seen, then I think Shore’s book is good, and if one wanted to focus to infinity, metaphorically speaking, it comes in handy. The Webbs make metaphors in the form of photographs, but without as much structure as Shore, stripped down as they are, in the wake of loss and love. The Webb’s teaching is more experiential, less driven by systemic circularity. They advocate doing photography, and subscribe to failure, and chance, as methods that are a useful comparison to Shore’s constraints. They each give practical accounts, complimentarily, and teach so much about how to make pictures, based on their own experience with photography, and that is what is important. As well, both books contain wonderful pictures, including one in Shore’s, a personal favourite by Dieter Appelt, “The Mark on the Mirror Breathing Makes.”

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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.