The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski

The Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996

I found this a fascinating book that investigates what photographs look like and why they look that way. It discusses five issues related to the history of photography and how photographers became progressively aware of the characteristics and problems inherent in the medium. A detailed commentary on the book can be found on this blog.

These are the main learning points I took from the book.

1 The Thing Itself

The subject and the picture were not the same thing, although they would afterwards seem so. It was the phoyographer’s problem to see not simply the reality before him but the still invisible picture and to make his choices in the terms of the latter.

2 The Detail

The compelling clarity with which a photograph recorded the trivial suggested that the subject had never before been properly seen, that it was in fact perhaps not trivial, but filled with undiscovered meaning. If photographs could not be read as stories, they could be read as symbols.

“… photography has never been successful at narrative”

“…documentation of the American Civil War … and the Second World War have this in common … neither explained, without extensive captioning, what was happening. The function of these pictures was not to make the story clear, it was to make it REAL.”

Capa said “If your pictures aren’t good, you’re not close enough.”

3 The Frame

The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge – the line that separates in from out – and on the shapes created by it.

4 Time

“… pleasure and beauty in fragmenting of time that had little to do with what was happening. It had to do rather with seeing the momentary patterning of lines and shapes that had been previously concealed within the flux of movement.”

5 Vantage Point

“Much has been said about the clarity of photography but little has been said about its obscurity. And yet it is photography that has taught us to see from the unexpected vantage point and has shown us pictures that give the sense of the scene, while witholding its narrative meaning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.