Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs
Edited and introduced by Sophie Howarth

Can you talk about a photograph for an hour? Is there enough there to see, to analyze? We have heavily image saturated eyes these days. There are images everywhere, newspapers, magazines, the web, television and movies. Another thing weighing against the single image is the increasing attention to the seriality of photography; that is, how easy it is to make a series of photographs at the expense of the single image.

Given this inundation, is it possible to look at a single photograph the way a skilled critic might analyze a painting, a piece of music, or work of literature?

Singular Images does just that, in eleven essays that span 170 years of photography. With the older photographs, the essayists can examine the historicity of the object: what gives it its provenance, how it has been recognized, forgotten, and recognized again, how the print itself has changed over the years. For the three 19th century photographs, I thought the essayists' opinions were balanced by the recorded history of the image. That history gave me more leeway to accept the opinions of the essayist. 

The early 20th century images have slightly less of the weight of history, and therefore I felt a little more comfortable questioning the assertions of the writers. I didn't quite understand Dust Breeding (Man Ray), or A Snicket, Halifax (Bill Brandt). But even these essays added to the photograph for me, opened them a little even if I'm underwhelmed by them.

The essay on Jubilee Street Party, Elland, Yorkshire (Martin Parr) added quite a bit to the individual photograph, and I think opened Parr's photography for me in general. I also thought the essay on The Hug (Nan Goldin) added quite a bit to my understanding of a photographer whose work I do like.
Tags: photobook reviews, photography criticism

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