Tag Archives: Tod Papageorge

Fall Issue Available Now!

Issue 204 features:

Photographer Tod Papageorge discusses photography, teaching, and his new collection of writings.

A selection from Cyprien Gaillard‘s Polaroid series Geographical Analogies.

Mary Panzer revisits the political and controversial group The Photo League.

Martin Parr presents Rimaldas Viksraitis‘s raw documentation of a rural Lithuanian village.

Lois Conner, featured on our cover, shares new color work from her residency at the Italian home of Sol and Carol LeWitt.

A group of writers and photographers examine the role of images, ten years after the 9/11 attacks.

 

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SNAPSHOT: Tod Papageorge

By Anna Carnick

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

Picture 1 of 6

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


But is it photography?

Thomas-Demand.jpg

By now you might have heard of Sean O’Hagan raising a ruckus about the Deutsche Börse Prize and the Photographers’ Gallery. Apparently, there has been some debate about the gallery, which I haven’t followed. If what I see is correct, it’s about whether or not the gallery’s curators are doing a good enough job picking photography. O’Hagan uses this as a backdrop to complain about the Deutsche Börse Prize: “I have already written on this subject with regards to the Photographers’ Gallery, and stand by my conclusion that it should rebrand the Deutsche Börse as a conceptual photography prize.” (more)

First of all, I always finding arguing about prizes a bit silly, because, let’s face it, a prize is a prize. There might be a lot of money attached to it, but we’re not really talking about the Nobel Prize here. And even the Nobel prizes have these kinds of debates every year. Just look at how people complain about how the “wrong” person won the Peace or Literature Prize.

That aside, here’s the Deutsche Börse shortlist from 2010: Anna Fox, Zoe Leonard, Sophie Ristelhueber (winner), Donovan Wylie. Here’s 2009: Paul Graham (winner), Emily Jacir, Tod Papageorge, Taryn Simon. Here’s 2008: John Davies, Jacob Holdt, Esko Männikkö (winner), Fazal Sheikh. And let’s do one more, 2007: Philippe Chancel, Anders Petersen, Fiona Tan, The Atlas Group (winner). We can probably all agree that that’s a pretty diverse group of photographers, isn’t it? Would it make sense to rebrand the Deutsche Börse Prize as a conceptual photography prize given the variety of photographers shortlisted over the past years? You decide.

But there’s more. In his article, O’Hagan then singles out Thomas Demand and discusses his work, writing “Demand is essentially an installation artist, who builds three-dimensional, life-size replicas of places he has come across in found photographs.” (That’s a Thomas Demand photo at the top of this post) As you can imagine this set-up inevitably leads to the question: “The question is, though, is he the most intriguing photographer? Is he a photographer at all?”

The first question is either yes or no, depending on whether you think Demand is the most intriguing photographer. I don’t think so, but I’m perfectly happy with other people disagreeing with me. I’m not the biggest fan of conceptual photography, because for me, it’s usually too obvious. But should Thomas Demand win the Prize (I have no idea), I’m perfectly happy with that. You can say whatever you want but Demand’s approach to investigating what images say and mean is pretty unique.

The second question really gets me, though. Is Thomas Demand a photographer at all? Well, let’s see. When I go to an art gallery to look at a Thomas Demand exhibition, what do I see? Photographs on the wall. You can’t miss them. They’re huge. So why is Demand not a photographer?

OK, I was a bit facetious there. But still… Of course, Demand photographs installations that he creates based on older photographs. The end product – that is photography. Demand is not showing the sets he builds. In a sense, the sets are irrelevant for what he is after. To focus on the sets is like focusing on the fruits and vegetables in a still life and to then argue that the photographer is in fact in the fruits and vegetable business.

Photography has come a long(ish) way (let’s try to remember photography’s real age compared with other arts forms). It now contains a plethora of different types and ideas, ranging from street photography to photography done by machines, with a ton of stuff in between. Each of those different types offers different things. The real promise of contemporary photography lies not in what one type has to offer, but in the combination of what all of them combined have to offer. For any one type we should not be asking “Is it photography?” We should be asking “What is this type of photography doing? What is it telling us?”

And we might not like one type (or more than one). But I think we should be careful not to exclude some types of photography simply because we don’t like them, or because they’re not “photographic” (or orthodox) enough. Photography is what it is, and over the next decades it will probably include even more types. That’s what makes contemporary photography so exciting.