In no other visual medium are the connotations of content so immediate and powerful as in photography. One sees a photograph in a flash, as one imagines the photographer saw his subject. This instantaneous transmission of somebody else's experience into one's own, however modified, creates an illusion of reality so convincing that one responds as if it were reality, accepting or rejecting the image with the unconscious force of one's instincts and preconceptions.
In 1962 a group of twenty-eight photographic educators met in Rochester, New York, to study the problems facing the newly evolved relationship between photography and academia. It was the beginning of an era wherein education, along with weapons and drugs, would soar as the nation's major growth industries.
The seventeenth-century traders went there for pepper, because the passion for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of love....the bizarre obstinacy of that desire made them defy death in a thousand shapes; the unknown seas, the loathsome and strange diseases; wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence, and despair.
"Death Valley to Phoenix to Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo... Hope You Like It"
A dozen years ago I began getting postcards from Bill Dane, an artist friend I knew as a painter but not as a photographer. The cards were gratuitous, something extra to deal with, so at first a little annoying. You can't defend yourself against the mail, and I didn't really think to ask why one series of cityscapes would be composed obliquely in random, glancing views that stressed the arbitrary and contingent in our seeing, while another series would be pointedly framed to emphasize an unsparing axial symmetry.
The wagon trails stopped here, ditched at the desert's edge. Fish left this ocean long ago to sand. Here only the wind speaks Spanish, and, at the edge of town, the ghosts of conquistadors blow, light as tumbleweed across dry ground. The green here is sad, it lives on artificial rain, sprinklers and long vinyl snakes, the hoses of the human host— fence-builder, who answers the tangle of dry vine, the palm's shaggy explosion of fronds, the riot of the nerves, the intricate curves of the wild—with the plumb line, right angles, the cube of cement, the grid of the mind.
When Henry Hamilton Bennett published his 1883 catalogue Wanderings Among the Wonders and Beauties of Western Scenery, he included a scurrilous comment about himself that played on the image of the western artist as outlaw: ...Bennett came out of the war... he waded through the wonderful gulches with an artists eye and an artists (sic) feelings, but without the cunning hand of the artist...Bennett obtained a photographic lens in some mysterious way—there were hints of a murdered traveling photographer, but nothing was certain except that Bennett was bound to have pictures of the Dells at any cost.
More pleasure and fantasy. More money, more ways of getting hold of it. I was tired of enjoying myself, and yet I was not satisfied. Fatin walked toward me, white as snow in the bloodred light of the bar. She took one of my notebooks, looked at it, and grinned.
The Norte, the north-wind, was blowing last night, rattling the worm-chewed window-frames. 'Rosalino, I am afraid you will be cold in the night.' 'Come no, Señor?' 'Would you like a blanket?' 'Come no, Señor?’ 'With this you will be warm?’ 'Come no, Señor?’
Some of Philadelphia's brightest young photographers were there, rubbing shoulders with Ray Metzker and Burk Uzzle. So were Mrs. Milton Avery, Mrs. Jacques Lipchitz, and Mrs. Barnett Newman. Judith Rothschild made the trip, along with curators from other art institutions and packs of graduate students in photography.
Paul Bowles An expatriate American writer living in Tangier, Bowles has written numerous novels, collections of travel writings, and translations. His Points in Time will appear in the spring from Ecco Press.