Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Photographs Not Taken: A Collection of Photographers' Essays"

"Recently, on finishing an interview with a writer, I was asked if she could see my darkroom. 'Of course," I said, 'but wouldn't you rather see my books? They might tell you more about me.'"     - Emmet Gowin

I finally finished reading one book and it's a month into summer! The diversity of photographers asked to participate in Photographs Not Taken is a highlight. They range from photojournalists to fine art photographers to filmmakers to conceptual artists. Often after reading a passage, I felt compelled to look up their work (Laura McPhee for one). I was most drawn to Alec Soth's and Amy Stein's essays as their lack of photographing his daughter and her husband respectively felt like the most "lost" moments of all the ones included.

One downfall is that some of the photographers tried too hard (not all visual artists are writers) - inserting metaphor after metaphor, attempting symbolism for something that is monumental in their eyes but superfluous to the viewer. For instance, the first sentence of Laurel Nakadate's essay: "There was a day that the Southern California sunshine felt like suffocating lava and was replaced by a rainy night with a laughing and bruised mirage called the moon." It was the moment after reading that sentence that I, too, wanted to suffocate.

This book made me consider the images that I wish were visually represented. Two circumstances that spring to mind are:

I wish I had been a prodigy like Jacques-Henri Lartigue growing up and had a better camera to photograph my grandmother before she died perhaps in the style of Jessie Tarbox Beals. Incidentally, Beals did photograph my grandmother as a teenager.

"Russell Russell who was he? Died from serving University." was a University of Iowa professor's obituary in the Daily Iowan that my father saved from the mid 1960s. It had yellowed with age but was still tacked to his office wall in the 1990s. I either wish I had it or a photograph depicting that article today.

There are no big stories associated with these instances. I don't believe a photograph needs to exist to depict everything we experience.  I honestly like having the fluctuating image in my mind to capture many of the circumstances where photographs could have been but ultimately are not.

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