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John Szarkowski

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Original author: 
Liz Ronk

Elaine Mayes might well be the most accomplished photographer and photography educator that many passionate photography aficionados have never heard of. As one of the very first women teachers of photography who learned her craft primarily in art school, Mayes has influenced generations of photographers while quietly, steadily and tenaciously pursuing her own vision as a creative artist. This summer, Mayes’ work from her seminal Autolandscapes series will go on display through January 2014 at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, alongside work by Steve Fitch and Robbert Flick.

Mayes, who defines her aesthetic, in part, as a “Walt Whitman approach” to photography — i.e., embracing influences found in “everything and in nothing” — has taught both photography and film at the University of Minnesota, Hampshire College (where she was a founding member of the faculty), Pratt, Bard and several other schools. (She’s currently Professor Emerita in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.)  She studied with Minor White; was friendly with the likes of Bruce Davidson, John Szarkowski and Diane Arbus in the 1960s and beyond; has shown her work at MoMA New York, MoMa San Francisco, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere; and cites fellow artists like Paul Caponigro and Wynn Bullock as major influences on her photography.

Her work belongs to no “school.” Instead, across six decades, Mayes has employed a deeply individualistic sensibility — nowhere more evident than in the Autolandscapes (1971). She had just gotten a job teaching at Hampshire when, after requesting an NEA grant for $3,000, she won a grant for a mere third of that. Undeterred, she drove across country with her husband and four cats, chronicling the landscape — other automobiles, gas stations, homes, factories, road signs, cows, empty tarmac. The result is a marvelous, unadorned, understated and perfectly “of its time” document of early Seventies Americana. Focusing on the horizontal plane witnessed outside of her moving car, the photos formalize the idea of capturing movement in a way that also seems to slow, and even stop, time.

The work seen in this gallery, meanwhile, is primarily comprised of photos that are part of an ongoing series Mayes began when she moved to Minnesota to teach in the 1960s, and has continued to work on through today. With her keen interest in photos that have a mysterious quality, and images where the scene is big, but the tiniest details are still cleanly visible, Mayes characterizes her own goal as an effort to make photographs by “responding [to her environment], but not knowing why.”

This body of work will be on view as part of a group exhibition, Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick and Elaine Mayes, at the American Art Museum in Washington D.C.

Liz Ronk is the photo editor of LIFE.com.

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Original author: 
David Brittain

Photographic technology was born in Europe, but the art of photography as we know it, was invented in the USA during the 1950s and 60s, sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. John Szarkowski, MoMA’s powerful Director of Photography, declared that great British photographers belonged to a “documentary tradition” that included Bill Brandt (whose press pictures of Britain in the 1930s were exhibited at MoMA in 1969). David Moore’s work from 1987-88, which was first published in Creative Camera in 1988, and now published as a book, Pictures from the Real World, conforms to the expectation that British photographers should, like Brandt, be primarily social observers.

The notion of a “documentary tradition” does not stand up to scrutiny, however, because of the many disparities between Brandt’s generation and Moore’s. Unlike his forebears, Moore benefited from a cultural climate that recognized and rewarded his artistry (the state-funded Arts Council supported dedicated galleries and magazines). This made it possible for him to cultivate a personal style that did not yet conform to the demands of the mass media. Commentators of the 80s interpreted the rather shocking use of color photography, by Moore and others, as a rebellion against the old black-and-white school, but in fact color became simply an extension of a “documentary aesthetic” popularized by the American formalist, William Eggleston.

While Moore was at college (he studied with Martin Parr from 1985 to 1988 at the West Surrey College of Art) the first serious challenge arrived to those who championed documentary photography as both an art form and a tool for reform. In the US and Britain, the theories of French thinkers such as Roland Barthes, challenged claims that photographs were objects of artistic expression or transparent reproductions of “reality.” As these ideas took hold two things happened: the supposed truth of documentary photography became discredited, and it was “saved for art.”

There have been many claims for British documentary photography of the 1980s, including the claim that it was a social critique of the Thatcher years in Britain. This has yet to be demonstrated. Arguably, the most radical aspect of these pictures, is Moore’s refusal of the role of “neutral observer” — something he shares with others of his generation. To eyes accustomed to digitally enhanced photography, many of these pictures will seem familiar. This is because they were cleverly manipulated, both formally (using flash mixed with ambient light to invoke a heightened reality), and conceived, not as “records of life” but opinions. Did Moore just happen to pass by and “snap” the conjunction of the baby and the television image, or did he find the image on a video? Looking back, we can see that this “documentary-style” photography (a term coined by the great American photographer Walker Evans) marked an important stage in the unravelling of the sacred bond between photographer/witness and “reality” that forms the basis of the authority of photography in the press and in society. The relatively recent invention of Photoshop has taken the process much farther.

This is a welcome and important book that is part of a current reappraisal of the British photography of the 1970s and 80s.

Pictures From The Real World (2013) by David Moore is published by Here Press and Dewi Lewis Publishing.

David Moore is a London based photographer who has exhibited and published internationally. He has been working as a photographer and educator since graduating from West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, in 1988.

David Brittain is a curator, critic, documentary maker, lecturer and was editor of the respected international magazine, Creative Camera, (1991-2001). In 2000, his anthology of writings, Creative Camera: Thirty Years of Writing, was published by Manchester University Press.

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“Eugène Atget: ‘Documents pour artistes,’” an exhibition of photographs by Atget that opened this week at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, takes its name from the sign outside Atget’s studio door. The sign underscored his humble intention to make “documents” that could be fodder for the creative output of other artists. Atget’s work to document the old Paris that was disappearing as it yielded to modernization began in the late 1880s and continued into the 1920s. Far from being a mere record-maker, Atget is remembered as a forerunner of modern art and photography, and was particularly admired by the surrealists. Man Ray lived down the street from Atget, but it was Bernice Abbott, an American photographer, who bought the contents of his studio when he died and brought the contents to MoMA. The current exhibition is the first extensive presentation of Atget’s oeuvre in 25 years and is accompanied by the rerelease of the book “Atget” by John Szarkowski. On view through April 9.


Marchand de paniers en fil de fer, 1899-1900. Albumen silver print. Eugène Atget, MoMA


Fête du Trône, 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA


Avenue des Gobelins, 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA


Parc de Sceaux, June 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA


Romanichels, groupe, 1912. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA


Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, June 1925. Gelatin silver printing-out-paper print. Eugène Atget, MoMA

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Zoniers, Porte de Choisy, 1913By Stephen Longmire, Afterimage, May 2001It has been 20 years, amazingly enough, since New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) launched its landmark cycle of exhibitions of the work of French photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927), who spent his last 30 years documenting the architectural record of Paris and its surroundings at the beginning of the last century.

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“ When you realize that you have been with these women and you have left them and broken their hearts — and look, let’s be real here. I don’t own an apartment. I don’t own a house. I don’t own a car. I don’t have any stocks and bonds. All I own are my cameras. That’s it. And some cowboy boots. If you want to be a success financially, please don’t follow this path. ” – Stanley Greene


©Camilo Delgado Castilla


©Lukasz Wierzbowski


©Kurt Manley


©Brad McMurray


©Simon Kossoff

“But a guy devoting his creative life to art photography? With no immediate recognition or reward? No one has the foggiest clue how to approach that. They know I carry a camera. On some level they know I’m involved in that life, consumed even. But my daily routine and activities are beyond comprehension, beyond curiosity even. I may as well be painting rocks in the driveway or tossing grass seed from an overpass. Just as productive. What’s there to talk about?” – Blake Andrews


©Stevie Dacanay


©Mark Alor Powell


©Luis Torres


©Paul Russell


©Pierre Wayser

“Photography, and our understanding of it, has spread from a centre; it has, by infusion, penetrated our consciousness. Like an organism, photography was born whole. It is in our progressive discovery of it that its history lies.” – John Szarkowski

Photographs on the Brain Issue #1 is available through MagCloud. You can follow the pool on Flickr.  For daily LPV aggregation, Tumblr is the place.

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