Camera Position 35 : Bookshelf #2

Another in an irregular series of suggestions for the photographic bookshelf. My selection this time is the Aperture monograph of the work of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, but you may substitute that one book that made you realize new and different things about your medium; that changed your ideas about what photography could be. I also briefly examine the work of my mentor Neil Rappaport and note a panel discussion by Neil’s former students (including me!) that is taking place this coming Saturday, October 21, in Bennington, VT.

Photograph by Ralph Eugene Meatyard Photograph by Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Above: Photographs by Ralph Eugene Meatyard – Click for a larger view

Photograph by Neil Rappaport

Above: Photograph by Neil Rappaport – Click for a larger view

Ralph Eugene Meatyard Links:

Bennington Museum Panel Discussion about Neil Rappaport:

Art Institute of Chicago “So The Story Goes” exhibition

4 thoughts on “Camera Position 35 : Bookshelf #2”

  1. Hi Jeff. As usual, this was very engaging and it touched on something that Camera Position and your History of Photography lectures have caused me to ponder before – can one identify national styles or at least themes in photography?

    On the one hand of course any broad generalisation can be dangerous, and national/cultural ones even more so. On the other hand in painting, music and literature it is not difficult to identify common techniques, styles and themes amongst those with similar cultural backgrounds – often because the artists influenced each other. Of course, I don’t mean this in a shallow (“The French photograph people drinking wine and eating cheese”) way but how photography as a medium is influenced by – and influences – different cultures.

    Personally, I find it difficult in photography and I wonder whether this is just my ignorance. One could say that there is a strong documentary tradition in American photo-making – telling a whole story in a series of photos (W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange) . A lot of French photography is centred on capturing a fleeting (ok, ok, decisive) moment that expresses an atmosphere or a single idea. I find a lot of German photography is very political (natural enough considering its history during the life of photography) and also very deliberate (eg August Sander). (Indeed, in German you “make” a photo, whereas in English you usually “take” a photo – although I’ve noticed that you speak of making photos).

    As I said, you’ve touched on these themes before but – here’s the kicker – it would be interesting to hear more about Italian photography. I agree with the author of this piece that Italian photography seems to be the “beautiful stepchild” of Italian art:

    Given your interest in Italy as a subject, it would be great to hear something about Italian photography and whether you think your background as an American (is Curto Italian or are you a latinised Jeff Curtis? 😉 ) makes your view of the Italian landscape, architecture and society different to the locals. I enjoyed your podcast about Caravaggio and would be interested in whether Italian photographers have also influenced your work as well.

    Thanks again very much for the podcasts.

  2. David;

    What a great article! Van Riper is right… the Italians don’t seem to have “promoted” photography as an art form in the same way that the French have. There are the great photo fests in France…
    Paris Photo:

    But nothing of the sort in Italy. I’ve seen some smaller fests in Italy, but nothing on the grand scale of the two above-mentioned events.

    Italy does have the Alinari archive… a huge compendium of historical images covering a wide variety of subjects.

    It’s from that site that I found a book called “Italy: 100 Years of Photography” with a nice essay by Susan Sontag (book published by Alinari) that offers a nice overview of the history and practice of the medium in the country.

    Thanks for making me aware of Van Riper’s article.

    Curto is an Italian name, though my heritage is largely English (Cornish) and only a small portion (1/4) Italian. I still feel a fairly strong bond with all things Italian, though.

  3. Jeff,

    That link pays back the VanRiper article tip many times over. A great resource. The best thing is that I’ll probably be in Florence in January next year and will be able to drop past their new museum. Will also have to track down the book.

    I’d still be interested to know if there are particular Italian photographers (photographs) that you’ve found influential.


  4. David;

    I think I’d have to put Mario Giacomelli top on my list of Italian photographers I’ve admired and enjoyed.

    It’s odd, looking at the work, because it looks nothing like what I do or even what I generally like looking at, so its appeal to me isn’t immediately obvious. I think what I like, though, is that difference… the way he takes this strongly graphical approach to the idea of capturing life and they way the world looks. It’s using the camera as something other than a recording device. In his hands, the camera becomes almost like a pen with black ink… the pictures are “hard” and often complex visually. They aren’t the normal way photography “works” and I like that he was brave enough to make them the way he wanted them to be.

    For me, Giacomelli’s work is a photographic version of Swiss-born sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s work:

    Like Giacometti’s scuptures, Giacomelli’s photographs are “reductivist”… they take an idea and distill it into something that is more of an “essence” of something than the “whole thing.”


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