Using John Szarkowski Photographers Eye Theory

I recently read John Szarokowski’s 1964 book The Photographers Eye. This was produced to cover M.O.M.A first critically acclaimed photography exhibition, in the book he cover the topics which he sees are the 5 basic principles of a photograph. They are


This is my Cat Millie she runs the house. The look on her face makes me think of Robert De Niro In Taxi Driver


As you can see from the information the image gives you . She is a cute cat with fine gray fur and eyes that could melt ice burghs. She is always alert never switching off. She can be very placid when she can be bothered with human interaction. The closeness of the image gives the scale human qualities as often used by the likes of William Eggleston


The framing of the image shows that she is in a house lording it up on a chair. The slightly off centre subject in the image gives you a feel of warmth and content maybe sat in front room


I had to be quick and get the cat looking straight into the lens of the camera, had she have been looking away it would have lost some power and honesty it was taken at 1/8 f8 iso 100 flash +2 zoom 50mm


The subject is the key to the image . We are not interested in anything else the image has to offer other than maybe its indoors. Taken from higher vantage point i.e standing; the cat would have looked different. A shot from the side would be distracted by a clock case or the T.v. So on my knees close in at the cats view of things makes us engage with the subject.

These are simple thing you can do every time you take a photo. a simple image can when broken down tell so much. What do you think?


Your Last Breath #5

Alone, you call. ANYONE!!!

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Where is Hereford, got to see John Bulmer…

On Wednesday I go via my favorite form of public Transport (the Train) to Hereford. Now other than cows and a late goal by Ronnie Radford in the 1972 FA Cup at Home to Newcastle. I know little of the place. I have missed The Hereford Photographic exhibition over the past few years as I have been at Paris Photo. On seeing that John Bulmer was one of the attractions this year I decided to drag my grumpy soul to see his work in the flesh. I have looked at his body of work in Manchester.

Robert Adams writes in Why people Photograph ” At our best and most Fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the Camera, to honor what is more greater or interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly though in return we are given something perfect- a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us and is part of the biography by which we want to be known”.

John Bulmer he was around the same time as Don McCullin. He was famed for his colour slide work a pioneer of that time for using the medium of colour. If the newspapers need something document they would either get Bulmer or McCullin. John Bulmer really catches the change in Brittain with many areas still pulling them self from the legacy of the second world war.

Despite the bleakness of this image I still feel it has a positive direction to it. The man in the image we do not where he is going or has been. The mist that shrouds the image. The large empty space the gentleman walks through could be the same route he has taken to a family’s house or work for years. Refusing to use the modern modes of transport. However it touches on a post apocalyptic feel

Changing the image to black and white alters the feel and the impact the photo posses. It seem to flatten the picture with less impact

This maybe the other direction on the same street as the previous image. We feel the pub is the only business that can survive in the area. the Broadway sign on the pub makes draws on the importance of the name of the theatre area in New York. This the Northern Broadway where the pub is the pivot point of society. The Cobbled streets show use detail of the age of the area and a possible clue as to why the homes have been removed due to the old age. The street with the two young boys in leads you in to the mist and the unknown of the what lies ahead. With prospects not being clear for the future of the area.

So much information in this picture. I see it first as being a metaphor of empty space. The old man is detached from the area he is on he is no longer connected to any of the signs in the image. At one time he may have been a jeweller. The number makes you think of age and at 21 the old man may have been involved with sport. The way his foot is raised it make me think that he could have been a footballer. Maybe the football image comes from the fact we only its location on hand as Manchester to deal with.  The way the foot point at the entrance makes you intrigued at to what is going on outside of the composition on the image. the old man being dressed in gray sat on the bin is a negative slant of the image. Although the sign age dated with modern-day standards this was probably a well to do area. although we do depict it as being on the edge of city industrial area.

This image again I see as depicting an empty space that all the young people have to live off and express themselves with in the area is given before us in the image. The blue and white image makes you think you are in area close to the Manchester city ground. The images take on the modern feel of lowery’s work

The similarities of the picture are uncanny.  The people have almost the same stance

John Bulmer use of space to capture economic isolation in his series of images in Manchester is a powerful Body of work. I have found them really empowering to look. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is right. As I commented his use of colour slide film adds a real grit to the work. Almost like these are the real colours off life and it was that grim. Excellent document of a forgotten less complicated period in time.

The Robert Adams quote shows that Bulmer without displaying his local Knowledge has a connection to the area. Maybe as a child the matched identical street where faceless to him. Now he sees it being of interest to the masses

I look forward to seeing his work

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The first step to making a picture that last’s forever on 11/11/11

Many questions are asked in the search for why we photograph, Steven Shore ,Robert Adams, Diane Arbus to name a few. I want to look at Roland Barthes thought process in Camera Lucida “A specific Photograph, in effect, is never distinguished from its referent (from what it represents)”  The use of the prop (the clock) changes the  feel of the image and how we engage it. Barthes also talks about it being a mathematical impossibility to recreate an image twice.

Following on from yesterdays comments about the truth in an image. I was asked to photograph myself at the 11.11.11@11:11:11 as part of a project. In this image my clock is the cattle skull (please see This images gives us many answers to the why. All be it not the best image taken we see it was taken for the Binary date. So bar name (me) and location (Mochdre) we has a lot a justification for the capture of this image: date, time, moon cycle & weather A time capsule for that second never to be captured again


The right in capture! Believing is seeing: What lies behind some iconic photos?

BBC News – Believing is seeing: What lies behind some iconic photos?.

Please watch the above

If, when, where, what…

All the many things we ask about an image. Is Photographer drive for social or economic change, a moment of chance, to show an experience.

I don’t disagree in the essence of the skull been moved as it was at the time trying to get a point across of the level of a national issue. However the Iwa Jima image is the other end of the scale. it was something that was spontaneous and missed. Then recreated in an act of power led by Generals. I think this is covered very well in the Clint Eastwood film Letters from Iwa Jima.

My work in the ‘Your last breath” captures a fictional moment to me the photographer but a recurring theme of streets of Britain with the ultimate price for acts of misadventure or Your last Breath…

William Eggleston Article

A good article on what i would probably say is one of my favorite photographers. The article discus how america has changed in the 50 years of his work. I think the thing with america im fast learning is the british see it as san francisco new york the white house and the Jay Leno show. we forget about all the bits in the middle. it’s not all lip gloss and long legs. The deprivation in areas is well hidden many area showing little of evolving to the modern set. Eggleston ability to capture the mundane to most document a time dna to almost conjured set of his location. His work will forever turn a head as it looks so fresh with it sparking colours.


How i fell for Andre Kertesz, while leaving a Paris Behind…

Striking while the irons hot is not always great in the long run. Did paris Fail or did i Fail Paris?

Judge for yourself!

Paris Photo 2010 at this moment in time feels like The Clash Signing to Capitol Records. Did they or did they not sell out. Am i more wiser to the whole corporate side of the photo extraordinary. Thing at the back of my mind was Brighton Biennial was better. I noticed a few things the main one being the amount of adverts in the book you get on the door. I just seemed to be embracing the dollar rather than the dergenotype.

The first thing to catch my eye was the work of Mitch Epstien the image taken from his American Power series. The image was a large aluminium A-0 print. It showed some kind of NYPD look out/guard. Who’s blue uniform stuck you first in the images darkness. He was looking out through his binoculars this creates the first sense of unease in the image. Your eyes then pull to the large sweeping stairs behind the officer. Giving you a sense of scale of what the man is in power of. Last of all you are pulled to the pump-action shot-gun on the table. This the smallest item in the image is the shock factor. Showing how Epstien try’s to document the people in the land of the free who hold the power. I Found a wonderful set of images by Eve Susman.

She had taken the standard from the car window shoot that has been familiar over the years. I thought Sussmen had just taken advantage of the the tinted windows in the car until we seen one of the image was polarized at the top with the over exposed at the bottom. A good solid set of images pushing a standard topic of shooting through a window.

Luis Strettners work in New York just had something differnt to the work you see of Bruce Davidson Mary Ellen Mark etc…

I guess when the above image was taken it may not have had the social impact that we Know associate with the World Trade Centre so i guess i can only talk about how i viewed the image. I just found the bird linking the two buildings so powerful.The thought of flight taken the the total juxtaposition we visualize today. Th gray of the images add to the distant memories people see unfold. Raymond Depardon work of almost isolation of houses in amongst a clutter of streets pulling through the individuality and craftsmanship of french architecture. I think Depardon for me a massive type of the hat of what im trying to achieve with my Maps: empty Spaces project

jessica backhaus beautiful im age of a wet empty tennis court

is simplistic and beautiful in many ways. the images although taken on wet miserable day still has a relaxing reflective feel to it. The clever use of the green enhances the lack of foliage on the tree. This possibly reduces some of the negativity the image may have is it was showing the sky in it as well.

Tom Hunter‘s work he is structured around the classical paintings of the past. He works his own modern-day interpretation by recreating the painting in a modern ay setting. I’m not sure where i stand with this process but if nothing else its clever and his use of retitling his image defiantly ads and give it credibility.

It was really nice to see Richard Billinghams image of himself, young child and  father. Who was documented in the book rays laugh where billingham documents the troubles yet strong love of his father and mother in the difficult life conditions of their Birmingham tower block accommodation.

For me this image brings closure of what happened after the book(as shown Above). The book almost leaves you with a lump in your throat at the deprivation. Some again may see this as exploitation, taken advantage of a inn cohesive alcoholic. When putting the images into context I guess people find this as way to coupe with how they have been brought up in the world.

Mike brodies work of cross processed images was a full set of images showing a group of punks in America. Just so powerful in an undesirable state of anarchism. The Nihilismtic feel that goes with the full body of work transcribes itself to almost a feel of the Mad Max films.

I was disappointed with my under par performance or maybe I’m just getting more refined in my old age.  I would say my favorite body of work was exquisite was the exhibition of Andre Kertesz life works

I always try to push and push to find everything out there but i would say most photographers have very little expression on how a capture scene subject or situation. I think from my collection of images below Kertesz has successfully infiltrated the mass random canvas of my mind…

Kurtesz was quoted as saying

“Everything is a subject. Every subject has a rhythm. To feel it is the raison d’être. The photograph is a fixed moment of such a raison d’être, which lives on in itself.

raison d’être meaning reason for existence was written in the exhibition. I think this is a very powerful statement i find it hard to break it down but to me it just makes sense in the way that i capture things. I don’t know why I do it I just do. Hopefully that doesn’t sound like a cop-out from breaking it down. Kertsez work seem like image of fine art they are so tight in there composition.

So im yet to decide if Paris 2010 will stand as an iconic moment in photographic journey. I was really disapointed to miss out on the Gaza W

Exhibition thats was in the french museum of modern art. I feel this would have given the trip a nice full stop in my mind. Every i have gone in the past ive ended on a peach of an exhibition the first year it was Lee Miller then Last year it was Robert Frank Diane Arbus and Henri Carier Bresson. I just didn’t feel any excitement which gallery’s often create for me.

Anyway im off to an evening with Excellent British Landscape Photographer John Davis in Liverpool @ the open Eye Gallery


William Eggleston: The wonder of hue

A good article on what i would probably say is one of my favorite photographers. The article discus how america has changed in the 50 years of his work. I think the thing with america im fast learning is the british see it as san francisco new york the white house and the Jay Leno show. we forget about all the bits in the middle. it’s not all lip gloss and long legs. The deprivation in areas is well hidden many area showing little of evolving to the modern set. Eggleston ability to capture the mundane to most document a time dna to almost conjured set of his location. His work will forever turn a head as it looks so fresh with it sparking colours.


All Saints Upton Primary School Book

I have been approached by the head of All Saints Upton Primary School in Widnes Cheshire Janette Forest to compile a book of the school before it closes and the children move to a new school. To coincide with this there will also be an open night for past teachers and pupils. I helped construct a invite for to the specification of Janette. I found this a little restrictive because i had no creative control of the invite

Ive got a few ideas for the book but im really going to work on the fly with it and see what happens

The idea with the book was to get into the school and capture a day. Showing the pupils in classrooms and capturing anything of relevance to my own eye from my time there. The photographs would culminate with me taking pictures in the open night, well that was the plan?  I thought it would be important to give the book relevance in the same way Robert Frank did with the Americans. He had his foreword written by Jack Kerouac. so I got a foreword from Janette Forest the head teacher:

When I heard that Halton’s Primary Capital Project bid had been accepted and we were to have a brand new building, I was delighted. Since Upton County Infant School and All Saints Junior Schools had amalgamated in 1997, we had operated in two buildings, both in need of modernization and failing to meet the demands of education in the 21st Century.

Children, staff, governors and partner agencies worked with the architects to design our new school and we we’re all excited when the building works began in January. At the time it seemed that completion was a long way ahead, but here we are with only a few weeks left in our “old” school.

It was lovely to see so many of our ex staff, friends and pupils, many of whom I hadn’t met before, at our “last look round”; and it was interesting hearing all their stories.

I expect I shall shed a tear when the doors close on our old buildings for the last time, as I too have many happy memories, but I look forward  with enthusiasm  and feel privileged to share in the next chapter in the life of All Saints Upton.

Not be out done i wrote a poem to my time in the school and the fact in perfect juxtaposition i was coming back to photograph inside the last days of the school:

October 1987,

A storm rolls in,

To the still fresh-faced bricks and mortar.

Twisted and confused,

Spat out from an enforced lack of interest,

Apparent stability and the warm current cools the wind.

The kind you would see,

Gently blow tumbleweed along a dusty road,

The occasional bump of turbulence influencing it’s direction.

Many years on,

The wind has now dropped,

And returns like an Indian Summer,

Yet the winding road draws to a close,

Soon to be gone like some of it’s characters,

Who in the prevailing breeze of change won’t be forgotten?

Alan Whitfield

I never went to the infant school so I did not plan in capturing i’m ages in there. I just wanted to concentrate on the idea of the juniors full and empty and as stated above. I was told I had to do in the infants, as due to school politics it would have started world war three had I left them out. I captured the young people at assembly in both school and got the all to stand up. I was given the greatest introduction maybe ever delivered in that hall. My old teacher told this to the children. She explained that when I was in the school I wasn’t the best behaved but I never gave up and know I’m in university. I was thinking to myself  “you best stop I’ve got to speak in a minute”.  I took two pictures in each one of the children waving and one of them hands at their side and the same with the infants.

So there we where the evening upon us! My crowning moment…

Crash it shattered it was going to be in both schools how was I going to get my group shot. I really was torn that my plans where falling before me. To add to this there was lot of under 18 ex pupils at the night. That yes you guest it I didn’t have consent forms for. I just had to bite the built and work for each shot rather than just going round capturing the event.

On entering what was the infant building there was tables out with photos on creating somewhat of a honey trap for people. As the night progressed this is where everyone gathered. So after capturing people looking through the old photos reminiscing. I got the group shot of all the old teachers and dinner ladies. The only down side of the image was the bag in the bottom left corner that had to be removed.

Having captured all the space full I knew I would need to return to the class rooms to fulfill my brief and empty spaces. Showing places where humans had been. I got some really interesting shoots of the empty chairs in class rooms this could be used in my exhibition. The light in the hall was also perfect for the sad feel I wanted people to envisage while viewing. However you will have to buy the book to see them.Heres a selection of the other images.

I wanted to try out blurb for my book as I had heard good reports on the products. There website was really easy use and not complicated. The only problem I had to cut 90 images down to fit into 35 pages. i wanted all the image to be  7×5 on the crop so they would be uniformed in presentation. Also there are a few images i shot in portrait which wasn’t in keeping. Thats why the picture of the tree is on the outside on the dust cover. I got all of the images printed then laid them out and whittled them down that way. I find you get a better flow of what i was trying to create.

The first book i looked at was Robert Frank The Americans. Possibly the most famous photography book in the world. So good ideas for layout. the fact that after the first few pages there is no text was something i wanted in my book let the pictures doe the talking. Other than the change of events from the open night

The Keith Arnet book was a big influence on the way i want my front cover to look. on thing i have learnt is im not a graphic designer so don’t try to be one. I put all my thought into getting my typography right

The layout of the Peter Ludlow book. The last Day of concord was a better way for me to get in the only portrait picture of a tree that i had. Also i could put the comments from the former pupil next to it. As originally planned I didn’t want them in my book.

The simple idea of just putting a name on the book was influenced by my favorite photographer Paul Graham. so hopefully my book will have a bit of everything in.

I have approached the Widnes weekly News to run a article on my work to try and sell some copies of my book. The story will feature a basic break down of what the book is about


Was John Szarkowski the most influential person in 20th-century photography?

Was John Szarkowski the most influential person in 20th-century photography?

I found this article on the guardian website by Sean o’ Hagen. The comments where very interesting about pre John Szarkowski there was no photography in new york. For me i see it as a personal mecca for imaging. to think that he found the next generation of masters Diane Arbus, William Egglestone, Lee Freelander and Garry Winogrand. These people almost entering the genre of street photography. To think that the museum of Modern art is possibly the pinnacle of getting your work into. I will read the prologues to the books mentioned which i own


An insightful critic as well as a visionary curator, Szarkowski filled New York’s Museum of Modern Art with the colour photography of William Eggleston, and championed the transgressive work of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. Everyone who cares about photography is in his debt

Gary Winogrand photo

Szarkowski championed photographers like Garry Winogrand, whose New York (1969) is currently on show at Tate Modern’s Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

It’s three years to the month since John Szarkowski died: a good time to reappraise his role as a defining figure in photography, both in establishing it as an art form and in influencing the public’s perception. Szarkowski was a good photographer, a great critic and an extraordinary curator. One could argue that he was the single most important force in American post-war photography.

Like all good critics and curators, Szarkowski was both visionary and catalyst. When he succeeded the esteemed photographer Edward Steichen as director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1962, he was just 36, and must have been acutely aware of the long shadow cast by his predecessor. Steichen had curated the monumental group exhibition, The Family of Man, at Moma in 1955, which he described as ‘the culmination of his career”. Featuring 503 images by 273 photographers, famous and unknown, it had aimed to show the universality of human experience: death, love, childhood. The show had drawn huge crowds to the gallery and then toured the world, attracting an estimated 9 million viewers.

It was, as Steichen had no doubt intended, a hard act to follow. “We were different people”, Szarkowski later said, “with different talents, characters, limitations, histories, problems and axes to grind. We held the same job at very different times, which means that it was not really the same job.”

More revealing, Szarkowski also said that Steichen and his predecessor, Beaumont Newhall, “consciously or otherwise, felt more compelled than I to be advocates for photography, whereas I – largely because of their work – could assume a more analytic, less apostolic attitude.” That difference in approach would prove to be a crucial one, and it underpinned a new photographic aesthetic that continues to shape our view of the world to this day.

When Szarkowski took over at museum of modern art, new york there was not a single commercial gallery exhibiting photography in New York and, despite Steichen and Newhall’s pioneering work, the form had still not been accepted by most curators or critics. Szarkowski changed all that. He was the right person in the right place at the right time: a forward thinker who was given control of a major art institution at a moment when his democratic vision chimed with the rapidly changing cultural tastes of the time.

John SzarkowskiJohn Szarkowski, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe

Szarkowski insisted on the democracy of the image, whether it be a formally composed Ansel Adams landscape, a snatched shot that caught the frenetic cut-and-thrust of a modern city or a vernacular subject like a road sign or a parking lot. “A skillful photographer can photograph anything well,” he once insisted.

In his still-challenging book, The Photographer’s Eye (1964), Szarkowski included snapshots alongside images by great photographers, and argued – brilliantly – that photography differed from any other art form because its history had been “less a journey than a growth”. “Its movement has not been linear and consecutive but centrifugal,” he suggested. “Photography, and our understanding of it, has spread from a centre; it has, by infusion, penetrated our consciousness. Like an organism, photography was born whole. It is in our progressive discovery of it that its history lies.”

As a writer, Szarkowski was innovative; as a curator, he was revolutionary. In 1967, during the so-called Summer of Love, he curated a show called New Documents at Moma. It featured the work of three relatively unknown photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, and was, in its visceral way, as out of step with the times as the urban, edgy, atonal music of the Velvet Underground. It caused a stir. Arbus’s images were transgressive in both their form and content: harsh black and white shots of so-called freaks, outsiders and misfits. Friedlander and Winogrand, in their different ways, shot on the streets of New York, producing snatched images of the city’s everyday momentum that often appeared to be casual, even random – documentary photography, but not as it was then known or understood.

In his introduction to New Documents, Szarkowski deftly defined the shift in emphasis that the work represented and the attitude that unified the three photographers. “In the past decade,” he wrote, “a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it.”

At Moma, Szarkowski also hosted challenging shows by pioneering European photographers like Lartigue, Brassai and Cartier-Bresson, and, in 1969, purchased most of Eugene Atget’s archive for the museum. The Lartigue show, which consisted of photographs he had taken as a child, was controversial and critically lambasted. The controversy was low-key, though, compared to the tidal wave of outrage that greeted Szarkowski’s showing of the work of a then-unknown photographer from Tennessee called William Eggelston, in 1976.

Entitled William Eggleston‘s Guide, it was the first show of colour photography at Moma, a decision that incensed the critics almost as much as the supposedly banal and vulgar subject matter. When I once asked Eggleston about the reaction to the show, he said, It didn’t surprise or offend me. Didn’t impinge on me at all”. The loudest critical voice belonged to Hilton Kramer of the New York Times, who famously wrote: “Mr. Szarkowski throws all caution to the winds and speaks of Mr. Eggleston’s pictures as ‘perfect’. Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly.”

As time has shown, Kramer was wrong and Szarkowski – not for the first time – was right. His introduction to the book of the exhibition remains one of the great pieces of writing on modern photography. In retrospect, though, Szarkowski’s greatest gift was not his brilliant critical mind, nor his ability to help define what is now accepted as a canon of great photography, but his willingness to take risks with his own reputation. By the time he died, on 7 July 2007, aged 81, Szarkowski had returned to his first love, the taking of photographs. He was described by an obituary writer as “the man who taught America how to look at photographs.” It still does not seem too extravagant a claim.


Great Article by Sean O,hagen Writing and photography – is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Here is an article by Sean o’ hagen of the guardian. He sights the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggleston, Steven Shore and Robert adams. I found the article to be very reforming of how i work. I find it very difficult to explain what i like in my photographs and how i take them. I almost feel that i run on auto pilot when im inspired by something. I think you can tell when im not as it looks forced and rushed. I like the question that shore asks in his book  “When I have been asked to teach photography”, he muses in Why People Photograph, “I have found myself puzzling over three questions: ‘Can photography be taught? Ought it to be taught? If so, am I the one to teach it?'”. I could never explain what and how i see. This is proven with my inability to accept credit for my work. which may just be an insight into the way my temperament is constructed and works.


Writing and photography – is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Photographers such as Robert Adams and Stephen Shore aren’t just fine photographers – they’re insightful critics. But is it possible to write words that keep out of the way of the pictures?

Robert Adams photos documenting civil rights movement‘We make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honour what is greater and more interesting than we are’ … Robert Adams captures students protesting the enrollment of black pupils at West End High School in Birmingham, Alabama 1963. Photograph: Robert Adams/Polaris/Eyevine“For photographers, the ideal book of photographs would contain just pictures – no text at all”photographer Robert Adams once wrote. He went on to admit that he “once worked through more than a hundred drafts of a four-paragraph statement for a catalogue, all to find something that would just keep out of the way of the pictures”.Finding words that keep out of the way of the pictures and yet shed light on the nature of photography is nonetheless something that Adams has excelled at, in two books of essays: Why People Photograph (from where that quotation is taken) and Beauty in Photography. Like Stephen Shore, he is a brilliant photographer who also happens to be a gifted and incisive writer. Adams’s main subject is the American West, the encroachment of the man-made on the natural. In his writing, he champions clear and concise language, whether visual or in the written word. Often, he writes against the prevailing academic and curatorial thrust towards theoretically-driven conceptual photography, the kind of photography, indeed, that relies most heavily on words, whether to explain or obfuscate its meaning.”At our best and most fortunate,” he writes in Why People Photograph, “we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honour what is greater and more interesting than we are.” I would also recommend Adams’ book, Along Some Rivers, Conversations and Photographs, in which he almost convinced me thatDorothea Lange was a better photographer than Walker Evans. Almost.

If Adams seems unconcerned with appearing old-fashioned, Stephen Shore is, for want of a better word, a modernist. His groundbreaking colour photographs from the early 70s showed us a vernacular America that was so everyday as to be almost invisible, an almost banal place of brightly lit diners and dowdy motel rooms. Shore photographed armchairs, faded lampshades, bedspreads, curtains, even the food he ate every day. The photographs in Uncommon Places and American Surfaces evoked a sad, ever-spreading hinterland that novelist Raymond Carver also mapped out in his minimalist prose.

Shore also shared with Carver a passion for fly-fishing and, in his short “artist statement” for his first book, Uncommon Places, originally published in 1982, he compared the rituals of his favourite pastime to the demands of his vocation. It remains an illuminating piece of writing:

“As I wade a stream, I think wordlessly of where to cast the fly. Sometimes a difference of inches is the difference between catching a fish and not. When the fly I’ve cast is on the water, my attention is riveted to it. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes, I strike. Then, the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.”

Shore is also a successful teacher of photography at Bard College in upstate New York – a secondary career of which, one senses, Adams would not approve. “When I have been asked to teach photography”, he muses in Why People Photograph, “I have found myself puzzling over three questions: ‘Can photography be taught? Ought it to be taught? If so, am I the one to teach it?'” He concludes that the doing and the teaching are not totally exclusive, but that “there are not many people in whom the enthusiasms are balanced”. Stephen Shore, though, would seem to be such a one. His text book, The Nature of Photographs: A Primer, is a kind of ideas manual for aspiring photographers. It is a somewhat (wilfully?) dry book, but it does go off into some interesting places that you won’t find in many photography primers – particularly in the third section, The Mental Level, which is a kind of Zen-like meditation on awareness and perception in photography.

For years, though, my favourite piece of writing about photography was William Eggleston‘s brief but intriguing afterword to The Democratic Forest (1989). It begins with a description of what, for Eggleston, was a photographic epiphany. When out taking photographs around Oxford, Mississippi, he realised “it was one of those occasions when there was no picture there. It seemed like nothing, but of course there was something for someone out there.” So Eggleston simply pointed his camera at the earth and began “taking some pretty good pictures”. Later, over dinner, a friend asked him what he had been doing all day and he replied, “Well, I’ve been photographing democratically.”

Eggleston, as I have found out on more than one occasion, is a photographer who, in interviews, can often be inscrutable and/or resolutely unforthcoming about what he does, but here he gets as close as anyone to pinpointing his prevailing aesthetic. Later in the afterward, the tone of his voice changes as he talks scathingly about the “blindness” of those who use the word “snapshot” when referring to his work. “The word has never had any meaning,” he says, “I am at war with the obvious”. That final sentence has come to, if not define then at least hint at, the singular attitude that underlies his democratic way of seeing.

In the same piece of writing, Eggleston cites Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book, The Decisive Moment, as an influence. Cartier-Bresson’s 1952 essay remains one of the key pieces of postwar writing on photography. His sporadic essays and reflections are collected in the thin, but invaluable The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. “To photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality,” he wrote, neatly defining the moment of suspended reality that occurs when the shutter opens and closes in an instant. “It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

There are too many great photographers who also write well about photography to cite them all here, but I would like to mention William Gedney’s journals which now belong to Duke University library. This is a different sort of writing: a mixture of insight, gossip, theorising and reflection, the flavour of which can be tasted here. The description of a dinner in honour of Edward Steichen is priceless: “I do not relate to the affair of the people, dull speeches, pompous … the self-glorification is disgusting … The Times’ cameraman sat at my table … He is such an ass.” In the next entry, though, Gedney’s tone changes to pure wonder as he looks again at E.J. Bellocq’s book, Storyville Potraits.

“How beautifully lucid and strong the pictures are … I was struck now in looking at the book how in just 34 pictures, so complete a world is rendered, an all encompassing wholeness. Each one of his photographs seems to contain the germ [of] all his work. If only one of his pictures existed (all the rest had been destroyed) you would still sense he was a great photographer, at least I get that feeling. So consistent and concisely clear is his vision.”

That sense of wonder, expressed by one photographer for another, speaks volumes about how the work of great photographers impinges on the consciousness of those that follow them. I’ll give the last word to Robert Adams. “Your own photography is never enough,” he writes. “Every photographer who has lasted has depended on other people’s pictures too – photographs that may be public or private, serious or funny, but that carry with them a reminder of community.”

Now see this

Still City is a small group show that, according to Room Gallery’s blurb, is about the “under-represented aspects of cultural life in London”. Don’t let that put you off. Featuring work by Polly Braden, Ollie Harrop, Billy Macrea and Colin O’Brien, it takes a sideways glance at life in the capital, from stark portraits of travellers’ children to surreal inner-cityscapes. From 6 to 29 August, Thursday to Sunday, 12pm – 6pm, at Room, 31 Waterson St. E2 8HT