SNAPSHOT: Tod Papageorge

By Anna Carnick

Portrait of Tod Papageorge by Deborah Flomenhaft,courtesy of Tod Papageorge

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For this week’s SNAPSHOT, we spoke with respected photographer, teacher, and author Tod Papageorge. Papageorge’s much-anticipated new book, Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography—a series of essays, lectures, reviews, and interviews—offers critical insight into the role of artists like Atget, Brassaï, Robert Frank (with Walker Evans), Robert Adams, Josef Koudelka, and his close friend, Garry Winogrand. It also delves into photography’s relationship to poetry, and how the evolution of the medium’s early technologies led to the twentieth-century creation of the self-conscious photographer/artist. The book is available for pre-order now here.

One of the most influential voices in photography today, Papageorge has been the Walker Evans Professor of Photography at the Yale University School of Art since 1979.

He will be in conversation tomorrow with photographer John Pilson at the Aperture Gallery. More details here.

Papageorge took a few moments to speak with us on the eve of his book release.

 

AC: How do you describe your personality?
TP: Attic.

What is your definition of happiness?
Birdsong. Or Louis Armstrong’s fanfare and solo in “West End Blues.”

Name your greatest hero.
Mozart, for writing The Requiem, The Magic Flute, and his clarinet concerto in the last year of his short life.

Your greatest achievement as an artist so far?
To remain an artist so far.

The greatest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?
To call myself an artist (as I did in the previous response) and not a photographer.

Your greatest personal achievement?
Being Theo’s father.

The biggest life lesson you’ve learned so far?
That life is the thing in front of you, there, immensely larger than the lesson it might seem to promise but, in my experience, withholds.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
The timpanist for a small-city orchestra who, in his off-hours, writes poetry in strict rhyme.

Your favorite photograph?
Read Core Curriculum.

Your favorite new (or emerging) artist?
Roberto Bolaño. A Chilean writer, actually. And dead since 2003. But the most exciting artist I’ve encountered in the past five-ten years.

Your favorite photography exhibit of all time?
The one I most learned from was the 1968 Brassaï exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. I just “got” it, at a particularly crucial moment in my development as a photographer, although I couldn’t have said then what it was that I got. Equally remarkable to me, though, in this new century, were the ICP exhibitions of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Scrapbook” [Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Scrapbook: Photographs, 1932–1946] and Garry Winogrand’s “1964” [Winogrand 1964].

Your favorite photo book ever?
The Decisive Moment, which I initially saw in 1962, a few months after I began to photograph, and, on the heels of that, The Americans, which I discovered in San Francisco shortly before I heard Robert Frank give his first public lecture at the museum there.

Name a person—living or dead—you’d really like to meet.
Shakespeare, preferably after he’d given up writing for the stage. Among other things, I’d ask him why he stopped; how he filled his time and (great) mind; and who he’d name as a person—living or dead—he’d really like to meet.

Do you have a mentor?
Garry Winogrand was a mentor of mine, although what he taught me had as much to do with how to think and live (in the moment) as it did with making photographs.

The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?
Organization.

For what fault do you have the most tolerance?
Disorganization.

Your favorite quality in a man?
The willingness to acknowledge pain.

What qualities do you appreciate most in friends?
Humor and a ready hand when the waiter brings the bill.

Your favorite motto?
“The best way out is always through.” —Robert Frost