About the Contributors #3

July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Highlights from Volumes 5 and 6 of The Journal of Contemporary Photography. Volumes 1, 2, 5, and 6 represent the complete anthology set which is available online here.


Macku circles himself
explodes his own head
blowing himself into
a dozen supplications

Macku grapples with Macku
tears his own face away
hurling himself against
his cornered shadow
medieval and naked
bounding for the Lord


Michal Macku from Volume 5

Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer

The vanguard of photography is sometimes rooted in the past. A growing number of contemporary photographers have turned to early processes in recent years: calotype, tintype, cyanotype, daguerreotype. What these “types” represent, besides formal challenge and an opportunity to extend one’s technical mastery, is essentially a lure of experimentation within tradition, as well as a sense of homage and respect for the artform. And one suspects even more than the technical is at play: perhaps a longing for antiquated forms that exist outside the digital domain, and for a spirit of individualism – perhaps even a kind of sentimentalism, a nostalgic yearning for a simplicity of approach harmonized with a simplicity of form: the exquisite floral study, the painterly still life, the academic nude. For some the results are wan and predictable, too mimetic and derivative, not elevating the possibilities of the form; they succeed only as authentic flatteries, flirtations with the archaic. Those who overcome imitation seem to follow Rimbaud’s edict that “one must be absolutely modern,” by working within the form as well as with it, returning not only to recreate but to re-embark. Within that group we find the distinctive work of Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer…

Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer from Volume 5

Stephen Berkman and John Metoyer from Volume 5

Carol Munder’s Voiceless Tales

“I look for the figure,” Carol Munder says.
“I look for images to represent mankind.”

Here they most existentially are: two assemblages of small Etruscan bronzes, one other not Etruscan, and two big, damaged male and female Greeks.

The feet of Dionysos have come a long way. They are paralyzed nubs of the human journey. What a pity the journey counts so much more than the humans. The photograph is a tour de force of middle tones.

The bashed woman whose fingers curve is what you might call a knockout, with or without her story. The life-sized hollow bronze sculpture depicts Julia Manaeo, an upper-class woman of Alexandria. The sculptor is unknown. After Julia Manaeo died, a ruler, for reasons now lost, declared her “damned in death.” Someone obligingly smashed the sculpture’s face. Those elegant fingers could not fend off the blow. The sculpture’s beauty remains, and perhaps deepens, alongside her disfigurement. Neither rage nor damnation disrupts her calm.

Carol Munder_Portrait of Manaeo

Carol Munder from Volume 6

The Art of Don Hong-Oai

Connoisseurship in Chinese art is as complex a subject as the understanding of Chinese art in and of itself, the most complex of all, in my estimation, being that of Chinese painting. To the Westerner much of Chinese art is defined by the limiting but unsubstantiated words… beautiful, watercolor, repetitious, old master, Ming, Song, etc. Not to fault the use of such terms and certainly not to fault the lack of understanding of Chinese art by Westerners, it is only within the past half century that Chinese art has been truly studied with attempts at understanding its meaning, style and, yes, its connoisseurship. There are those who would argue that this is not true and that Chinese art was collected and appreciated in the West since the eighteenth Century; however, one need only look at the appreciation of Chinese paintings during the past fifty years by the major museums to see the change in its appreciation, both monetarily and substantive quality not to mention the highly influential auction market. But even today, a master painting by a Western artist of, for example, the sixteenth Century would command a much higher value than a master Ming artist of the same period. There are those who would counter that Chinese paintings are unappreciated in the West because of “forgeries,” copies and the fact that the now famous deceased artist Zhang Daqian deliberately reproduced paintings signing the signatures of the old masters only to foist them upon Western museums and collectors thereby, in part, destroying the market for such works in the West. While there is some truth to all these statements, an underlying truth also is present in the fact that Chinese paintings remain misunderstood by many in the West. The similarities between Western and Eastern art have roots which are distinctly different. These are but a few . . .

Don-Hong-Oai from Volume 6

Don-Hong-Oai from Volume 6

Contributors in Volume 5:
Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Neil Connelly, Morri Creech, Paul Larosa, Susan Ludvigson, Gerard Melanga, Raul Peschiera, Lance Speer, John Wood, and Paul Zimmer.

Contributors in Volume 6:
Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Pierre Borhan, Robert Olen Butler, Morri Creech, Annie Dillard, Fang Jing Pei, Lee Fontanella, Brad Goins, Paul Larosa, Susan Ludvigson, John Metoyer, Ann Patchett, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, Daniel Westover, Edmund White, Dafydd Wood,  and John Wood.

Volumes 5 and 6 Trade Editions

Volumes 5 and 6 Trade Editions

About the Contributors #1

June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

A Series of Highlights from the Contributors of 21st Editions

Highlights from the first two volumes of The Journal of Contemporary Photography.


They are one answer to the human need
For a second life, and they exist for us
In the secular heaven of photography,
Safe in emulsion’s cloud

Through which we glimpse them, knowing them as we know
The angels, by report and parched surmise.
Like Milton’s seraphim who veil their gaze
Against the beams of God,

Often we see them handsomely asquint
When captured by a bursting photoflash,
Or dazzling and bedazzled on that beach
Where currently they sun;

And yet perhaps they seem most brilliant when,
Putting away all glamor, they appear
In their old clothes at home, with dog and child,
Projecting toward the lens

From a couch not unlike our own, a smile
Sublimely confident of mattering.
They smile, too, when we spot their avatars
Upon the actual street,

Sharing with u s the little joke that we
Have known them in a different dimension;
But since they strike u s then as subtly changed-
Pale, short, a trifle older-

It is not hard to yield them back to dream,
From which their images immutably
Bestow a flourish on our muted lives,
Even though death betray them.

Still, there are fewer sightings year by year
Of the trenchcoat carried niftily over the shoulder,
The innocent sultry look, the heaved guitar,
The charming pillbox hat,

And fewer of their dreamers left to grieve
As all those glossy selves, transcendent still,
Slip unaccountably into the morgues
And archives of this world.


A Note on the Earliest Photographs

To what unknown penetrable depths do the earliest photographs probe? The driving intensity of their actuality, the brooding textures of their scrutinizing black & whiteness, the near-hallucinatory super-reality of their stillness; one is overcome by their revelatory honesty, the stark rigidity of the sitters pushed into monumentality by the long exposures. The light seems strained, an all-revealing, irrelevancy-draining, pervading luminosity that clothes the photographed figures in an aura of obsidian-like solidity. And from their submersion in immobile daylight, the portrayed are depicted in a variety of puissant attitudes. The truculent stare of Nadar’s bewigged George Sand or the passionately self-embracing Eugene Delacroix, the stony lyricism of David Octavius Hill. The unassailability of Biow’s Alexander von Humboldt, Cameron’s remote & astral Herschel & Southworth & Hawes’ truculent Lemuel Shaw, [Melville’s father-in-law.] The near-endless gallery is wondrous, directing our eyes along the camera lens ‘s path into the hidden modalities of the time, exposing the obscured personalities & drawing the veil of nineteenth century prudery & formality.

I Awaken from the Lillies

And when did I decide to enter it,
the lily that is my name?

When I first learned it, as a child:
(Susan-Heb. a lily)
I knew only the kind that grows in water,
floats on the surface white
as a gown.

Each year in my back yard they make
a fiery circle. They are like the ones
a girl wore in my dream,
her headdress of cannas enormous,
taller than she was. Eve in the garden,
the garden already polluted.

Nearly fifteen years since we lived
in the land where weeks ago
a physician’s fingers were sliced off,
then his hand, then his arm,
for treating the wrong clan.

We were innocent.
Love was innocent,
if love is ever innocent.

All night I lay
inside a fluted blossom,
lay in a silken bunting,
in a white cradle.
I napped there,
I swayed in the lightest wind.

Contributors in Volume 1:

Leonard Baskin, Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Robert Olen Butler, Denise Bethel, A.D. Coleman, Morri Creech, Dana Gioia, Amy Fleury, Daile Kaplan, Christopher Mahony, Kevin Meaux, Duane Michels, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Thomas Southall, Lance Speer,  John Stauffer, John Stevenson, John Stilgoe, R.S. Thomas, Anne Tucker, Frederick Turner, Richard Wilbur, John Wood, and Paul Zimmer.

Contributors in Volume 2:

Ann Beattie, John Bennette, Morri Creech, Rachel Morris, Elizabeth Dewberry, Lee Fontanella, Susan Ludvigson, Raul Peschiera, Rixon Reed, Josh Russell, Lance Speer, John Stauffer, John Stevenson, Michel Tournier, Frederick Turner, Scott Whiddon, and John Wood.

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

21st Editions is now celebrating sixteen years of The Art of the Book! In this series of sixteen posts we are sharing with you a chronology of highlights, events and stories from the beginning of our unique publishing endeavor up until now. We hope you enjoy it.

Our humble beginnings started in 1998 in my half garage (shown below), not enough room to put a car in, but enough room to start a press unique to the history of photography, that has since published 50 titles, including some 150 world-class contributors and artists. We didn’t have any capital, whatsoever, and many in the industry thought we wouldn’t last. I asked my wife Janet, and she said: “What have we got to loose?” So, we mortgaged the house. That was sixteen years ago.

The Garage, 1998

The Garage, 1998

It all got started in 1998 at a round-table at a Chelsea restaurant, just doors away from the Chelsea Hotel. Present were John Stevenson, John Wood, Denise Bethel, Duane Michals, Ernestine Ruben, A.D. Coleman, and I (Steven Albahari, Publisher). I made it clear that I wanted to pick up where Stieglitz left off, but go several steps further. We discussed names for the journal and the press. I think John Wood suggested 21st. John Stevenson hosted, Duane brought his trademark humor, John Wood was the exemplary Southern gentleman, Denise was delightful and smart, Ernestine charmed, and A.D. was like a proud father, since it was he who got me started in college giving me the job of bibliographer of his first ten years of photographic criticism.

And so began The Journal of Contemporary Photography.

Today and now, 2014

Today and now, 2014

In our next post: How we came to work with Joel-Peter Witkin, what transpired over the next decade, and the man behind the brilliance.


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 “Boy Reading, Inspired by a photograph by Julio Pimentel” by Ann Patchett

June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

“There are always too many books. I put them on the shelves alphabetically, their spines neatly aligned, but then more come, and I force someone new into the over-crowded neighborhood, books shoe-horned in so tightly I must remove half a shelf to pull one free. And when there is not enough room to squeeze in a single human hair, another book comes, the same first letter of the last name. This book must go in the exact spot as the last one and no amount of physical strength could make that possible. Regretfully, I lay the book on its side on top of the space where it belongs, a wait list for a place on the shelf. Maybe something will open up.”

From The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI, 2003, “What But Design of Darkness to Appall?” by Lee Fontanella

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

“…His ‘Guests’ series is a cast of characters who have appeared to him: in dreams, as integral aspects of the Self, as aspects that the Self might incorporate, or sometimes even as foes (“the brightest ones, burning with intense radiation,” Bucklow told me)…

Every photographic Guest—to distinguish them from those who might have appeared yet photographically unconcretized, in Bucklow’s imaginings—begins with a tracing onto foil of a Guest’s silhouette. (In this sense, I am tempted to think of them as incorporative of image-making that antedates photogenic drawing by another century.) Bucklow then laboriously, not randomly, makes thousands of pinpricks in the foil, through which light will eventually pass to a sensitized sheet. (All back-grounds apart from red or yellow are natural colors; red and yellow are produced by filters.) Colors can signify, but the amount of radiance achieved through pinpricking, including haloing, may signify as well. Bucklow varies the widths and frequency of the holes, depending upon the amount of light that a particular portion of the Guest should absorb in order to signal a certain quality or tone of the Guest, thus allowing the Guest to appear to emanate the light in return. It is in this illusion of consequent illumination on the part of the Guest, of this being a galaxy of suns, of the Guest’s re-diffusion of the light by which it was created, that I personally find the surpassing of the earliest photography, insofar as early photography was made to satisfy other ambitions.”

Christopher Bucklow

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: “Those Who Have Addressed Gods: Carol Munder’s Voiceless Tales” by Annie Dillard

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Only the beauty of the body remains of those who have addressed gods. Like all motionless things under the sky, they appear to wait out their days. Photography is intrinsically about time, as you cannot see the present on any print, but only some shred of the past. Photographing very old, physically unchanged votaries throws a curve—the silence of eternity—into the picture.

The chief thing we know: Munder prints awaken them and still them at a blow. They are exiles from lands and times that no one remembers. Their translucent edges are as crucial as their dark torsos. More layers wrap them than a mummy: their mixed metals, their makers’ hands, their peoples’ prayers and pots, their own long paralysis while time covered their world. Their as-it-were personal loss rendered the votaries inchoate and blind as well as triply mute. Their present museum cases and Munder’s plastic lenses add more layers, as do her genius, her art’s sophistication and heart’s warmth, and the film, chemicals, paper, frame’s glass, and now book, and now you.”

Carol Munder

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

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