For me, this is the pleasure of being in the presence of good writing about photography: You enjoy the text even when you find the photography in question most disagreeable.
A little while ago, I wrote a post entitled We Need Better Critical Writing about Photography, in which I voiced my frustration about… well, I suppose I don’t need to spell it out again. I stand by what I wrote. But I am also happy to report that there is hope, and quite a bit of it, in the form of Gerry Badger’s The Pleasures of Good Photographs, released just a little while ago by Aperture. (more)
The Pleasures of Good Photographs divides in three parts, with an interlude (“The Walk to Paradise Garden”) separating two bits of about equal size. The interlude shows photographs of paths or roadways, with a one-page meditation by Badger on each image. The other two parts contain essays, each around ten pages long, about selected topics, a grand total of 16 of them, plus a general introduction.
If you are familiar with Badger’s writing you know that you are in for a treat. The book not only (re-)introduces the reader with the pleasures to be had from looking at photographs, it also makes the case for good writing about photography. Badger’s style is elegant, eloquent, and engaging, even where the author is speaking about photography that the reader might not quite find as moving.
For me, this is the pleasure of being in the presence of good writing about photography: You enjoy the text even when you find the photography in question most disagreeable. Especially in the first essays, Badger talks about some subject matters that might not have need yet another iteration. Not that I find for example Atget’s images disagreeable, but I am not so sure I really needed yet another text about the artist and Szarkowski’s role. That said, I found myself enjoying it regardless.
Of course, reading an essay about photography I am not particularly fond of is an opportunity to learn something: How much easier is it to gloss over an article about one’s favourite photographers - and reconfirm one’s already established opinions yet again!
The punchiest stuff comes near the end, in Badger’s 1-2-3 combination “From Diane Arbus to Cindy Sherman: An Exhibition Proposal”, “Without Author or Art: The ‘Quiet’ Photograph”, and “Elliptical Narratives: Some Thoughts on Photobooks.” (boxing aficionados will hopefully forgive me for extended their expression beyond 1 and 2)
I hope that especially “From Diane Arbus to Cindy Sherman” will not only be read and discussed widely, but that it will also result in the exhibition (and re-evaluation!) of overlooked female photographers Badger proposes. It is overdue. Needless to say, as someone who has been spending a lot of time looking at and thinking about designs of photobooks “Elliptical Narratives” is another must-read for me.
Clearly, The Pleasures of Good Photographs is a must-have for anyone interested in photography.