Eye:" A Way of Seeing
January 19 - April 20, 2008
Wall texts for the exhibition
- 'The Photographer's Eye:' A Way of Seeing inaugurates the Museum of Photographic Arts' 25th Anniversary
year by celebrating the museum's permanent collection, and by paying homage
to one of photography's most important practitioners, John Szarkowski,
Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York
from 1962 to 1991, who died July 7, 2007. Through this exhibition, MoPA
renews its commitment to collecting by examining over 125 photographs within
its collection through the photographic thesis set out by Szarkowski in
his 1966 groundbreaking book, The Photographer's Eye.
- In 1966, the world of photography was far from what it
has become today with its dedicated museums, galleries, university programs,
and ascending market values. In the mid-1960s, Szarkowski wrote The
Photographer's Eye to educate the small but growing audience of photography
enthusiasts about what the camera did best and what it accomplished distinctly
from all other art forms. Being a photographer of some accomplishment himself
(illustrating his first book, The Idea of Louis Sullivan (1956),
with his own photographs), Szarkowski identifies, in The Photographer's
Eye, the core characteristics and problems intrinsic in the medium
so that "they may contribute to the formulation of a vocabulary and
a critical perspective more fully responsive to the unique phenomena of
photography." These core elements are The Thing Itself, The Detail,
The Frame, Time, and Vantage Point; they become the template for this exhibition.
Five of Szarkowski's own photographs -- until recently, the hidden half
of his lifetime of looking -- are inserted into his own thesis, announcing
each section and eloquently defining it.
- -- Carol McCusker
- Szarkowski retired in 1991, after organizing 160 exhibitions
and writing numerous books. He introduced to national and international
audiences the work of Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and William Eggleston,
secured the lasting reputations of Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and Andre
Kertesz, and rediscovered the forgotten French master Eugene Atget. He
created solo shows for Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson,
Elliott Erwitt, and August Sander. Each of these photographer's works appear
in this exhibition. In accessing MoPA's permanent collection on its 25th
Anniversary, it is clear that the collection reflects the medium's full
complexity not only from John Szarkowski's perspective, but also those
of the museum's directors and curators, and the generous patrons and artists
who helped them build it. As it enters the next 25 years, the growth and
refinement of MoPA's permanent collection will continue to be a resource
that complements the museum's educational commitment to San Diego and the
larger photography community.
- 'The Photographer's Eye:' A Way of Seeing is an homage to John Szarkowski's way of seeing. His own picture
making comes out of an American classical tradition inspired by Walker
Evans and Edward Weston ("Walker for the intelligence and Weston for
the pleasure," he said). Aware of how changes in technology affected
photography throughout its history, he remained unsympathetic towards computer
imagery and manipulation. Such images might be art, but for him they were
not photography. In The Photographer's Eye, he writes: "Our
faith in the truth of a photograph rests on our belief that the lens is
impartial, and will draw the subject as it is.... This faith may be naive
and illusory . . . but it persists. The photographer's vision convinces
us to the degree that the photographer hides his hand."
- Known as a formalist, Szarkowski was drawn to how a photograph
was built, the relationship between elements within its frame, the shape
of shadows, the lines of planes, and its varying tonalities -- not unusual
for someone whose first love was architecture, and who then married an
- Each Section - (excerpts from The Photographer's
- The Thing Itself
- "More convincingly than any other kind of picture,
a photograph evokes the tangible presence of reality. Its most fundamental
use and its broadest acceptance has been as a substitute for the subject
itself -- a simpler, more permanent, more clearly visible version of the
- The first thing that a photographer learned was that
photography dealt with the actual world.... He also learned that the factuality
of his picture, no matter how convincing, was a different thing than the
reality itself. Much of the reality was filtered out in the static little
black and white image, and some of it was exhibited with an unnatural clarity,
an exaggerated importance. The subject and the picture were not the same
thing, although they would afterwards seem so. It was the photographer's
problem to see not simply the reality before him but the still invisible
picture, and to make his choices in terms of the latter."
- The Detail
- "Once he left the studio, it was impossible for
the photographer to copy the painters' schemata.... The photographer was
tied to the facts of things. He could not, outside the studio, pose the
truth; he could only record it as he found it, and it was found in the
nature of fragmented and unexplained form -- not as a story, but as scattered
and suggestive clues. The photographer could not assemble these clues into
a coherent narrative, he could only isolate the fragment, document it,
and by doing so claim for it some special significance, a meaning which
went beyond simple description. The compelling clarity with which a photograph
recorded the trivial suggested that the subject had never before been properly
seen, that it was in fact perhaps not trivial, but filled with undiscovered
meaning. If photographs could not be read as stories, they could be read
- The Frame
- "The central act of photography, the act of choosing
and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge -- the line
that separates in from out -- and on the shapes that are created by it.
- The photograph's edge defines content.
- It isolates unexpected juxtapositions. By surrounding
two facts, it creates a relationship.
- The edge of the photograph dissects familiar forms, and
shows their unfamiliar fragment.
- It creates the shapes that surround objects.
- The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the
world through an imaginary frame. This frame is the beginning of his picture's
geometry. It is to the photograph as the cushion is to the billiard table."
- "Photographs stand in special relation to time,
for they describe only the present.
- Exposures were long in early photography. If the subject
moved, its multiple image described also a space-time dimension. Perhaps
it was such accidents that suggested the photographic study of the process
of movement, and later, of the virtual forms produced by the continuity
of movement in time.
- Photographers found an inexhaustible subject in the isolation
of a single segment of time. They photographed the horse in midstride,
the flight of birds, the drape of a pedestrian's clothing, and the fugitive
expressions of the human face.... [The photographer] discovered that there
was a pleasure and a beauty in this fragmenting of time that had little
to do with what was happening. It had to do rather with seeing momentary
patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within
the flux of movement. Cartier-Bresson defined his commitment to this new
beauty with the phrase the decisive moment, but the phrase has been
misunderstood.... [It is] decisive not because of the exterior event but
because in that moment the flux of changing forms and patterns achieved
balance, clarity and order -- because the image became, for an instant,
- Vantage Point
- "If the photographer could not move his subject,
he could move his camera. To see the subject clearly -- often to see it
at all -- he had to abandon a normal vantage point, and shoot his picture
from above, or below, or from too close, or too far away, or from the back
side, inverting the order of things' importance, or with the nominal subject
of his picture half hidden.
- From his photographs, he learned that the appearance
of the world was richer and less simple than his mind would have guessed.
- He discovered that his pictures could reveal not only
the clarity but the obscurity of things, and that these mysterious and
evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful."
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:
and this book:
The Photographer's Eye, by
John Szarkowski. Published by Museum of Modern Art, 155 pages, ISBN 087070527X.
The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski is a twentieth-century
classic--an indispensable introduction to the visual language of photography.
Based on a landmark exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in 1964, and
originally published in 1966, the book has long been out of print. It is
now available again to a new generation of photographers and lovers of photography
in this duotone printing that closely follows the original. Szarkowski's
compact text eloquently complements skillfully selected and sequenced groupings
of 172 photographs drawn from the entire history and range of the medium.
Celebrated works by such masters as Cartier-Bresson, Evans, Steichen, Strand,
and Weston are juxtaposed with vernacular documents and even amateur snapshots
to analyze the fundamental challenges and opportunities that all photographers
have faced. Szarkowski, the legendary curator who worked at the Museum from
1962 to 1991, has published many influential books. But none more radically
and succinctly demonstrates why--as U.S. News & World Report put it
in 1990--"whether Americans know it or not," his thinking about
photography "has become our thinking about photography." -- from
TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:
John Szarkowski: A Life in Photography is a 47-minute video produced by Richard B. Woodward. Checkerboard
Foundation, 1998. For nearly 30 years, from 1962-1991, John Szarkowski served
as the Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York. This film examines his double life as curator and photographer.
Szarkowski, author of the classic "Looking at Photographs," has
taught generations how to think about and look at images. (video description
courtesy of International Center of Photography)
John Szarkowski on the Photography of Ansel Adams is a 47-minute DVD. During his nearly three-decade tenure as Director
of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art, Szarkowski
recast the world's thinking about the art of photography. His radically
new conception of the medium's possibilities - and its limitations - has
influenced critics, historians, theorists, and photographers ever since.
In this lecture on Ansel Adams, Szarkowski tackles the deeper significance
of Adams' work beyond his enduring popularity as an environmental pioneer
and rhapsodist of the American West. (video description courtesy of Iternational
Center of Photography)
TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell
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