Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art
What cubism and Lewis Carroll have to do with the foundations of modern photojournalism.
By Maria Popova
There’s something about photography that makes its fundamental ethos spill over into a multitude of disciplines and resonate on a deep human level. In 1989, Brooks Johnson set out to unearth that x-factor by hunting down the writings of yesteryear’s greatest photographers and asking the era’s greatest living ones to reach within and extract the essence of their art. The result was Photography Speaks: 66 Photographers on Their Art, followed by Photography Speaks II: 76 Photographers on Their Art in 1995 and the 2004 crown jewel, Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art — a remarkable anthology of micro-essays by icons like Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Eadweard Muybridge, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and a wealth more. Each glorious double-page spread features one image from each photographer on the right-hand page, facing biographical background and a short, insightful personal reflection on the left.
Besides the rockstar photographers, the tome is also sprinkeld with cross-disciplinary surprises, creators like Lewis Carroll, René Magritte and David Hockney better-known for an art other than photography but whose photographic pursuits are nonetheless unmissable works of art.
Almost all cubist pictures are about things close to us. They don’t jump off the wall at you. You have to go to them, and look, and look. The camera does not bring anything close to you; it’s only more of the same void that we see. This is also true of television, and the movies. Between you and the screen there’s a window, you’re simply looking through a window. Cubism is a much more involved form of vision. It’s a better way of depicting reality, and I think it’s a truer way. It’s harder for us to see because it seems to contradict what we believe to be true. People complain that when they see a portrait of Picasso where, for instance, somebody has three eyes! It’s much simpler than that. It’s not that the person had three eyes, it’s that one of the eyes was seen twice. This reads the same way in my photographs. The fact that people can read photographs in this way made me think we’ve been deceived by the single photograph—by this image of one split second, in one fixed spot. I now see this fault in all photographs, and I can tell when drawings or paintings have been made from photographs. You can sense when the picture is not felt through space.” ~ David Hockney
From the practicalities of photography to the grandest theories of art, Photography Speaks is an extraordinary time-capsule for the cognition and emotion that fueled history’s most timeless and influential photographs, a rare backdoor into the minds of the creators who envisioned them and brought them to life.
Published August 8, 2011