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Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Shadow List: #10 and #9

Paul Caponigro, Apple, New York City, 1964

As regular readers of this blog know, I've begun a countdown of "the ten greatest photographs ever made" (only as proposed by me, of course), starting at #10 and and #9 and ending at #1, introduced one per week on Tuesday mornings.

But I don't think a single one of those photographs will be among my personal favorites. So I thought perhaps, just as sort of shadow of the "real" list, I'd also start a favorites list.

The picture representing "The Equivalent" (#10 on the big list) that is most important to me personally is probably Paul Caponigro's "Apple, New York City, 1964," in which a close-up of an apple evokes the night sky or the depths of space (it's sometimes called "The Galaxy Apple"). Caponigro's Apple led me to the rest of his work, and his book The Wise Silence has personally been my own most profound experience with pictures that evoke the spiritual, or that mean something more than just what they are of. Important as Weston is to the world, the work of Paul Caponigro (father, by the way, of digital imager John Paul Caponigro) is more important to me.

Good luck finding The Wise Silence, though. You almost can't buy it for any price.

As for "The Image of Woman," (#9 on the big list), my favorites are two extended portraits of photographers' wives: Harry Callahan's of his wife Eleanor, as seen in his little book Eleanor (same deal, hard to find) and elsewhere (I'd even include under the heading the famous picture "Weed Against Sky, Detroit, 1948," of a dried plant as...well, you know), and Emmet Gowin's of his wife Edith, principally in the little 1976 Alfred A. Knopf book Emmet Gowin: Photographs (again, don't ask, you can't buy it), one of photography's truly perfect masterpieces. As an aside, I have to say that in many years of dealing with hobbyist photographers, I never fail to be amused by "the wife look," that look of patient but uninterested tolerance (with just a pinch of exasperation) that wives and girlfriends give their camera-wielding loves, and it just amazes me that the amateur snappers so often seem not to see it. In any event, I have to say that I think of Eleanor Callahan and Edith Gowin as artistic collaborators of their respective husbands—not just models, certainly much more than mere subjects.

As far as photographs of women are concerned, I also confess to a liking for soft porn, and to a long-term love-hate affair with Julia Margaret Cameron, who continues to fascinate me despite my better intentions. If forced to choose just one single image out of Callahan's and Gowin's work, it wouldn't be of one of their wives at all. It would be Emmet Gowin's luminous, exquisite "Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1969" (below), as wonderful a photograph as has ever been made by anybody. Photographer Sally Mann, who named her son Emmet after Gowin, has this picture hanging in her kitchen/greenhouse/aviary.


The big list will be back on Tuesday.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

9 Comments:

Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

So now we get to see two lists? The real one (over the weekend) and the list of pictures that have affected Others (every Tuesday)? That's cool.

I was going to stick in a comment, to the effect that Caponigro's apple and his even more wonderful flowing herd of white deer picture have appeared in several books, originally in Aperture (are back issues still sold?) and more recently in his 40 year retrospective. But I checked first. Amazon has only two copies left of the retrospective, and wants $150 for each. It says "more coming soon -- hah!

scott

1:38 AM  
Blogger eolake said...

I like the apple better than any of the pictures on the "real" list.

2:27 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

Funny, the boy picture really reminded me of Sally Mann's work. I am a huge fan of her.

Talking about wives, I read about a married couple who are both enthusiastic art photographers. I'd like that.

2:39 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

[As you see, I was fearing you wouldn't get enough comments on this one.]

Funny: I just felt like looking at photos, and I pulled out a book amongst those I had not looked at yet, and lo: in it was that picture by Harry Callahan that you show here!
Man, Callahan rocks.
"You've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?"
Sorry, wrong Harry Callahan.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I hate to be a told-you-so librarian (okay, okay, sometimes I don't hate it (g)), but both Caponigro's wise silence and Emmet Gowin's Photographs are in the public library here in my medium-ish city (Vancouver, if you must know). I just put a hold on Photographs but have to go down there and look at Wise Silence in person. Oh well, I might find something else I like while I'm there. Most of my early photographic education was earned sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the Fine Arts Div. stacks looking at one photo book after another.

I think your lists (both the "big" one and this one) are brilliant and if you can't buy the books then see if they're in your library. It's worth it to see the photos, IMHO!

10:22 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Thanks Phil. Some of MY early photographic educations was spent reading books at the Book Annex in Georgetown, standing at the top of the stairs where the photography section was. The clerks let me alone because they knew I couldn't afford the books. I read the entire text of A.D. Coleman's "Light Readings" standing up! (Also learned how to treat photo books very carefully.)

--Mike

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely idea, and what rich choices. Marginalia always seems to contain deeper veins of narrative wealth.

I must say, though, that I never expected to encounter the words “soft porn” and “Julia Margaret Cameron” in the same sentence online. Not outside of a Calvinist woodshed blog or an academic thesis anyway. Huzzah to you for starin' down the torch-wieldin' Philistine set.

My copy of The Wise Silence sits alongside Steichen's The Family of Man and Masao Yamamoto's A Box of Ku, all well worn and invaluably juxtaposed.

Blair

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to attach these tidbits from
Julia Margaret Cameron's archive.

Cameron’s Technique

The Collodion Process
"The habit of running into the dining room with my wet pictures has stained such an immense quantity of table linen with nitrate of silver, indelible stains, that I should have been banished from any less indulgent household."
J. M. Cameron
"Annal of My Glass House," 1874

"My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real and Ideal and sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and beauty."


Blair

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Just a quick followup: Picked up Emmet Gowin's Photographs after it was sent to my local branch lib. Some marvelous photos in there. What's more, I realize now that I've seen at least a couple of the photos of Edith. I don't know where, exactly. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen this book before.

The trouble with having stared at an awful lot of photos in the past 30 years is that, although I've got a pretty good memory for the pictures themselves, I can't remember the names or where I've seen them.

12:33 AM  

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