From The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI, 2003, “Catany in the Heart of His Preferences” by Pierre Borhan

July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

“All portraiture poses a recurring question: who is portrayed, the photographer or the model? The accomplices of Catany, whether their faces are stately, thoroughbred, poverty-stricken, worn by suffering, or spared the trials of life, have origins socially close to his own, but Catany does not strive to make portraits reducible to self-portraits. He searches more, among other things, for difference rather than similarity. Richard Avedon said that his portraits are ‘more a definition of myself than of someone else—a portrait of what I know, what I feel, what I am afraid of.’ The only face that obsesses Avedon is the face of death. Bill Brandt calls attention to his portraits by the dramatic intensity that he confers upon them, characteristic of his somber vision and of his taking hold of models that do not know how to resist him. In Catany, the seizure is less pressing and the affirmation of oneself less condensed, more radiant. What makes each of his models, often anonymous, become a subject of photography is due to at the same time the model (his beauty, his happiness, his ability to seduce and to move…) and to the photographer, to his power to guess, to imagine, to transform the lead into silver or gold. Changó, Kumasi, and Alexis would be without a doubt surprised to see their image, once the transfiguration is completed, rooted out as if by magic from ordinary life, and celebrated.”

Toni Catany

From The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI, 2003: “The Distillation of Lavender” by Ann Beattie

May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

“On February 3, 1847, there appeared in the Sandwich Island News observations about a suddenly hugely fascinating new process that allowed one to have his or her image made, inexpensively and quickly, to be kept or shared: it was like having your own playing card—the ace, of course—and the only question was how you’d play it. The daguerreotype: give it to a loved one? Keep it hidden next to your own heart? Use it as a painting reference? The publication noted: “the Daguerreotype mania is at present the most prevalent among us. Instead of the ordinary greetings of the day, people inquire whether you have ‘been taken yet?’—questions which, in the uninitiated have a somewhat ominous sound.

Today, a question about whether you had ‘been taken’ would probably have to do with buying the wrong car, or waiting for the triumphant finale of a David Mamet play. I’m only being lightly facetious; of course we are on guard, more than a century later. And we have progressed (if it’s a progression) from finding meaning in formal portraits to trusting less formal revelations of character (or, more accurately, we appreciate the illusion that that’s what we’re looking at). We’re also more audacious, and find it necessary to zoom in on details, to purposefully distort in processing (to say nothing of the manipulation that can be done with the computer). The political statement is all-important. But then, how can you lose, when the new twist on narcissism is that the personal has ostensibly become political?”

Jayne Hinds Bidaut

Jayne Hinds Bidaut


From The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI, 2003, “Philip Trager’s Dancers” by John Stauffer

March 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

“You might think of dance and photography as the arts of metamorphosis. They begin with a piece of life—the human body, a moment in time—and transform physical reality into enchantment. The mundane becomes mysterious, monotony appears magnificent, and the world seems filled with wonder. But in the process of transforming a piece of the world, neither dance nor photography abandon or wholly transcend the world; they never lose touch with their raw materials, and continually refer back to the life from which they originated. Although dance sets a human body in motion, and photography freezes a subject in time, they retain the body and preserve the moment, and thus redirect the viewers’ attention back to the world.”

Philip Trager

From The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI, 2003 “Flor Garduño’s Worlds of Wonder,” by John Wood

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Flor Garduño is most well-known for her intense, deeply moving images from Latin America and her elegant but erotic nudes. The most distinctive quality of her work is its genuine freshness. It is the mark of a great artist to be able to look at what we all know and have seen yet give us something new, something we have never seen before. To be able to do it with the nude and with native peoples, two of the most overworked and, therefore, most difficult subjects in photography, demonstrates not only genius but an inventiveness seldom encountered. Most photographers do not see through their own eyes but create work that looks like the work of other photographers. They may possess considerable technique and craft, but what is missing is a distinct style, a singular voice, an original vision. Seeing with one’s own eyes is one of the most difficult tasks for any artist but especially the photographic artist because every photographer’s head is filled with tens of thousands of photographs she or he has seen. The question is how one can see afresh in the midst of so much visual clutter—wonderful clutter, of course—Le Gray, Le Secq, Watkins, O’Sullivan, Coburn, Kühn, Weston, Sudek, Hosoe, Witkin, and on and on—but clutter none-the-less. There is, of course, no easy way to discover or shape an original Vision. That is the gift no teacher can give.”

Flor Garduno

From Prism Series Book #3 Jack Spencer, 2011, by Steven Brown

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

“When we look at photographs which privilege documentation over imagination, we are seeing seeing. Little room is left us, the viewers, for insight or interpretation. What we’re shown is what we cannot help noticing if our eyes are open. Anyone, for example, can understand a picture of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The problem with this kind of seeing is that what we observe may have nothing to do with the truth of the matter represented. That’s not to say it has nothing to do with fact. But fact, as we know, is more often the sales pitch of the powerful than a hallmark of the universal. In Spencer’s work, however, truth manifests itself by negation of fact. We see what history can never regain, what the news can never define, what advertisements can never sell.

Seeing, for instance, has very little to do with what we experience in a photograph like Cloud/Tree, where air, water, and land invade the horizon so entirely that one can hardly think of any other word for it than sublime—that sense of the monstrous in the elemental, in the presence of which all human intent withers into triviality. ”

Jack Spencer

Another excerpt from Prism Book #2 Mitch Dobrowner, 2011 by Dafydd Wood

February 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

“Dobrowner’s Trees-Clouds gives an excellent summative vision of his photography, even though it possesses none of his beautiful geological formations. We find the extreme ratios—the horizon line is squeezed against the bottom of the photograph dwarfing the land beneath a vast expanse of sky and cloud. A series of telephone poles almost unnoticeably inch across the land. However the beauty of all of this is nothing without the two minute trees in the left-hand corner. These trees are the making of the entire photograph, providing some golden ratio, some graspable even personable concreteness, however insignificant the trees may be, dwarfed by the immensity of sky, the unending sliver of land that stretches everywhere beneath inhospitable storms.”

Mitch Dobrowner_Trees-Clouds

From Prism Book #2 Mitch Dobrowner, 2011, by Dafydd Wood

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

“The fictive vision behind these sublime landscapes pivots around two seemingly contradictory artistic impulses: the classical and the modernist, particularly the technique of defamiliarization. While both of these styles seem mutually exclusive, there has been in fact a great deal of 20th century classicizing art. Though it often only united a Modernist style with a Classical subject, it was the most dominant style of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Furthermore, it might seem odd to label photographs of plateaus, storms, or mountain ranges “classical” or “modern,” but Dobrowner’s work quite clearly shrugs off the Romanticism of most landscape or nature artists and hones a neoclassical formalism that in turn transforms his subjects into something alien.”

Refuting History: An Interview with John Wood by Daniel Westover

January 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

The following interview was conducted by email in late January and early February, 2011 and was published by The Asheville Poetry Review (

DW: In literary circles, you are best known as a Southern poet, an Arkansas native who founded the first M.F.A. program in Louisiana. The Southern Review called you “The most engaging and lucid of the postmodern southern poets,” and when you were profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lawrence Biemiller wrote that you were “as well rooted [in Lake Charles, Louisiana] as one of the city’s live oaks.” And yet, in 2007 you left Louisiana and the South altogether, retiring to Saxton’s River, Vermont. I am wondering, first, if you still (or ever did) consider yourself to be a “Southern” poet and, second, how your move to New England has affected you as an artist. I am struck, for example, by how deeply some of the poems in your new book, The Fictions of History, engage with Puritan figures like Cotton Mather and Edward Taylor.

JW: No, I never thought of myself as a “Southern” poet, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell The Southern Review I didn’t appreciate the nice compliment. I appreciated it very much. I don’t think of myself as “postmodern” either, but again who could complain in the same sentence with “most engaging and lucid”? Of course, there are some Southern characters in my work because I lived in the midst of them—nutty, dancing preachers and hysterical women and so forth. There was a church on the end of the block I grew up on. They got very loud there. We lived at the other end of the block but on Sundays and Prayer Meeting nights you could hear them clearly, and I would sometimes go peek in one of the windows and watch the show. My mother was friends with Pastor Jimmy and Frank, the man who lived with him, a fact my mother found wonderfully amusing. She would take them extra tomatoes, okra, and so forth from the garden, as she did other neighbors. I would go with her sometimes, and though I didn’t know the word at the time, their house was a masterpiece of “camp.” Pierre and Gilles would love to have photographed it. « Read the rest of this entry »

John Wood on the Virus of Pomposity

April 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

From Steven Albahari, Publisher, 21st Editions:

21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography served a purpose far greater than most realized. Unfortunately, no one seems to have taken the baton and run with it. The state of photographic criticism today is a sad thing. 21ST Editions editor, John Wood, sent me the following essay. Some will agree with it and it will piss some people off. Read and decide what side of that aisle you are on. We’d love to hear back from you!

The Virus of Pomposity:
Why So Much Contemporary Photographic Criticism is Pretentious, Pompous, Boring, and Unreadable

In a forthcoming interview with me in The Asheville Poetry Review the distinguished poet, literary critic, and scholar Daniel Westover asked me about my work as a photographic critic.  “You treat photographs as works of art—works that, like all art forms, require emotional engagement in order to be understood. . . . Can you say a little about your rather atypical approach to photography criticism? Does your work as a poet and literary scholar lead you to approach the discipline in this unique way?”  This is part of what I said in response: « Read the rest of this entry »

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