Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Core Curriculum, Writings on Photography" by Tod Papageorge

It is humbling to be reviewing the book of such a brilliant writer on photography as Tod Papageorge. Well known as a photographer and teacher of photography (he has held the Walker Evans chair at Yale since 1979), Core Curriculum, Writings on Photography(Aperture, 2011) presents Papageorge's collected essays from the last 35 years in one volume. As Papageorge himself declared at a recent reading and book signing, he does not consider himself primarily to be a writer, and the relatively small output offered here would seem to bear this out. However, what is perhaps a low quantity of words for the time span represented is nonetheless dense in quality. Papageorge is an immensely profound thinker on the subject of photography, and a keen and opinionated observer of the photography scene, perhaps second only to the late John Szarkowski of the Museum of Modern Art in his insight and originality. It is not only his wisdom which keeps us engaged in the text, but his well crafted language is also a pleasure to read (this makes sense: Papageorge began his academic career as an English literature major before becoming enthralled with photography). Many of the writings will be familiar: (his essay for The Snapshot (Aperture #19:1), the introduction to Garry Winogrand's Public Relations and his treatise for Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence, for example); they are all welcomed re-reading in this new context. There are also many newly published entries, including impassioned tributes to the photographers Atget, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand and Koudelka (with many plates of the referenced pictures), several sharp interviews with Papageorge himself, and my personal favorite, "An Unfinished Poem in Response to Susan Sontag's On Photography". Unlike writers such as Sontag, who seem to have contempt for the medium, Papageorge postulates in one interview that the best writing about photography has been penned by those involved in its actual practice, giving Szarkowski and Robert Adams as illustrations. With his deep understanding and love for photography, I would add Tod Papageorge to that pantheon.

Man and Eye Chart, Central Park, New York, 1989
© Tod Papageorge
Tod Papageorge Book Signing,
Aperture Gallery, NYC, 6/29/2011
© Robert Forlini