Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Value of Random Photos vs. Those Carefully Composed

With the passing of summer, we are likely to fewer camera-toting tourists on our ferries. But the ubiquity of snaps and selfies – even among veteran ferry commuters – will not simply fade into the Bay’s mystic autumnal haze. We live in new age of captured images, and that means random results are everywhere.
Exploring this phenomenon is Robin Kelsey, author of Photography and the Art of Chance [Harvard University Press].
Kelsey notes that photography has a unique relationship to chance, observing that anyone who has wielded a camera has taken a picture ruined by an ill-timed blink or enhanced by an unexpected gesture or expression.
We found one chapter especially compelling – Stalking Chance and Making News – in which the author observes that Carl June had popularized the notion of synchronization. Here, ostensibly random events could momentarily reveal the profound embedding of the individual psyche in the world.
Although this proneness to chance may amuse the casual photographer, Kelsey points out that historically it has been a mixed blessing for those seeking to make photographic art. On the one hand, it has weakened the bond between maker and picture, calling into question what a photograph can be said to say.
On the other hand, it has given photography an extraordinary capacity to represent the unpredictable dynamism of modern life. By delving into these matters, Photography and the Art of Chance transforms our understanding of photography and the work of some of its most brilliant practitioners.
The effort to make photographic art has involved a call and response across generations. From the introduction of photography in 1839 to the end of the analog era, practitioners such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Frederick Sommer, and John Baldessari built upon and critiqued one another’s work in their struggle to reconcile aesthetic aspiration and mechanical process. The root problem was the technology’s indifference, its insistence on giving a bucket the same attention as a bishop and capturing whatever wandered before the lens.
Could such an automatic mechanism accommodate imagination? Could it make art? Photography and the Art of Chance reveals how daring innovators expanded the aesthetic limits of photography to create art for a modern world.

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Quite another take on photography is proved by Architects and Artists: The Work of Ernest and Esther Born
by Nicholas Olsberg, available now a the Book Club of California
At once a serious contribution to the literature on modern architecture and design and a rich and varied visual feast, this publication makes evident the legendary draftsmanship and graphic inventiveness of Ernest Born and rediscovers the brilliant photographic eye of Esther Born. Drawing from visual collections throughout North America and Europe, the publication is richly illustrated, including many full page reproductions of works from the Borns’ long and varied careers.
Architects and Artists: The Work of Ernest and Esther Born is printed in an edition of 300 numbered copies. Designed by Michi Toki of Toki Design, San Francisco, the book measures 12 x 9 inches and consists of 264 pages. The slipcase and book are bound in cloth over boards.
The price is $325 (plus applicable sales tax and shipping).
Publication date : October 15, 2015.

As noted in previous Bay Crossings columnsThe Book Club of California is a non-profit, membership-based organization founded in 1912. The Club supports book making, fine printing, design, typography, illustration, literature, and scholarship through a dynamic series of publications, public programs, and exhibitions related to the history and literature of California and the West.

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