The Shadow List: #10 and #9
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