BA Phot

I wish I'd taken that photograph


This started life as an August 2019 blog entry.

While gently easing my way through several editions of Barrett's fascinating, heavy-going and theory-rich Criticising photographs, an introduction to understanding images, a simple, shortcut starting point occurred to me this morning. If any photograph prompts the response I wish I'd taken that, it is probably worth making the effort to analyse what is "good" about it (which may or may not be equivalent to "liking" it). That is when Barrett's techniques can be deployed to give some backbone (aka intellectual, academic and systematic rigour) to the process.

It is possible to argue that analysing photographs that one does not "like" may be equally revealing and/or important and/or worthwhile but I would suggest that is not the case. If one is in the process of developing (ho-ho) as a photographer, it is more helpful and potentially useful to examine routes that one is inclined to follow than routes that one is not.

Conclusion: don't be afraid of something as mundane as having a list of favourite photographs. Try to understand them. I'm glad you asked. My (at a guess) eight top thee snaps (not necessarily in order) are:

Bing Richard Avedon Arnett John Baldessari Brandt text Fonssagrives Godwin Murtha Steinert Steinert Capponi Basilico, Contact
© the artists or their estates

1. Ilse Bing, Self portrait with Leica, 1931
2. Richard Avedon, Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper, Davis, California, 1981
3. Keith Arnatt, from The Tears of Things (Objects from a Rubbish Tip), 1990-91 
4. John Baldessari, Throwing Three Balls In The Air To Get A Straight Line (Best Of Thirty-Six Attempts), 1973
5. Bill Brandt, [many things, including] Northumbrian coal miner eating his evening meal, 1937

[this is clearly going to be a struggle — I'm working my way through the Snappers pages (extended edition) and I'm only half way through the Bs, but already up to five entries. So it goes.]

6. Harry Callahan Eleanor, 1947, paired with Weed against sky, 1948
7. Robert Doisneau, Les Hélicoptères, 1972
8. Walker Evans, it's the whole body of work, rather than one particular image. That probably doesn't count for this exercise: I might be too influenced by Evans' place in Jerry Thompson's Why photography matters.
=8. Fernand Fonssagrives, Sand Fence, 1930s
9. Lee Friedlander, Chicago, 1966
10. Fay Godwin, Chatsworth Lion, 1988 
11. Tish Murtha, from Newport Pub, 1976/78 §
12. Casper Sejersen, The Golden Ratio (Ace of Hearts), 2019
13. Otto Steinert, Boulevard St Michel, Paris, 1952
14. Francesca Woodman, but again it is the body of work rather than one piece.
and Sam Taylor-Johnson's Self-portrait in Single-breasted Suit with Hare, 2001 very nearly made the cut.

But only if the title is part of the package.
I was rather underwhelmed by Frielander's oeuvre when I first encountered it but gained greater appreciation with the scale of his  In the picture pelf-portraits 1958-2001 (2011).
§ The reasons here are as much sentimental as subjectively aesthetic, as Murtha spent her student days photographing a down-and-outs' pub I (occasionally) visited in my home town, and at about the same time. Nevertheless, it should be included because, as I have insisted several times in my reactions to this course, sentimental and subjective and tangential reasons are a key and (thus far) unmentioned component in individuals' reactions to photographs.

This entry was prompted by the realisation that with Asg. 5, for the first time on the course, I had some work of real merit that, if seen in someone else's show, I would rate highly. Also The Times had a selection of remarkably pretty landscapes from the National Trust today.

The top two are Bing and Godwin, then either Steinert or Fonssagrives.

[20Aug] Two to add (images above)
=14. John Coplans, Back with Arms Above, 1984
15. Francesco Capponi, Self portrait, PoGo print.

Then, 28Aug,
16. Gabriele Basilico, Contact (1984)
and 14Oct19
17. Abelardo Morell Light Bulb, 1991
18. Erwin Blumenfeld Manina or L'Âme du torse, 1934
19. Elliott Erwitt, New York City, 1949

[3Dec20] Time for a new entry, 19. Elliot Erwitt's New York City, 1949.

Conclusion 2: 19 photographs; 16 in B&W (I interpret that to mean that I like historic photographers); 4 self portraits; 13 human subjects (if we include parts of Eleanor, a pedestrian's foot and the Erwitt); 6 inanimate subjects.

On the Terry Barret categories, I would say, at first glance:

… on second thoughts, I'll turn this into a separate web page before doing that … and here we are.

Barrett's Types of Photograph are described here.

Category Meaning Primary Secondary
Descriptive diagnostic, scientific -  
Explanatory as descriptive but with some artistic flair - Basilico
Interpretive dramatised, fictional Avedon  
Ethically evaluative making ethical judgments Brandt, Murtha  
Aesthetically evaluative beautiful things photographed artistically Arnatt, Coplans, Callahan, Doisneau, Erwitt, Fonssagrives, Godwin, Sejersen, Capponi, Blumenfeld  
Theoretical conceptual, deconstructive Bing, Baldessari, Friedlander, Steinert, Basilico, Morell  

Gabriele Basilico, Contact (1984)

[28Aug19] An addition, recalled from the Photo London 2019 show, Gabriele Basilico's Contact (1984) an example of the relentless determination of the photographer at the expense of his subject with a remarkable outcome.

Abelardo Morell Light Bulb, 1991

[14Oct19] Abelardo Morell's Light Bulb, 1991, theoretical, B&W, inanimate. I wrote up Morell on the Photographers pages before I started recording the dates for individual entries. It must have been no later than January 2019 as he appears in the original draft of Nichers. Light Bulb was taken in 1991 and his characteristic hotel room camera obscura images seem to have started in the 2000s so there is the intriguing possibility that Light Bulb sowed the seed that led to Morell's Big Idea.

Blumenfeld, Manina
Erwin Blumenfeld
Manina or L'Âme du torse, 1934

[14Dec19] Working my way through the Pompidou Centre's 100 Masterpieces of Photography, there is a wealth of strong candidates. The first to be chosen is Erwin Blumenfeld's Manina or L'Âme du torse, a splendid juxtaposition of flesh and stone.

Elliott Erwitt
Elliott Erwitt,
New York City, 1949
image from Anna Walker Skillman

[3Dec20] In an email from Anna Walker Skillman, Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, regarding a splendid exhibition of Elliott Erwitt’s work. There's more Erwitt here.

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