J. Hoberman: Trick or Truth?

Is photography a way of documenting the world that has an inherent “truth-claim” on the real? Or is it, as Edward Steichen suggested, essentially graphic, a technique for creating a certain kind of image? “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” an exhibition now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (later traveling to the National Gallery and Houston’s Museum of Fine Art), makes a vigorous case for understanding the medium as Steichen did.

Photo: Grete Stern: Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, 1949 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

J. Hoberman: Trick or Truth?

Is photography a way of documenting the world that has an inherent “truth-claim” on the real? Or is it, as Edward Steichen suggested, essentially graphic, a technique for creating a certain kind of image? “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” an exhibition now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (later traveling to the National Gallery and Houston’s Museum of Fine Art), makes a vigorous case for understanding the medium as Steichen did.

Photo: Grete Stern: Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, 1949 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Roberto Bolaño, Scholars of Sodom

It’s 1972 and I can see V.S. Naipaul strolling through the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, sometimes he’s strolling, but sometimes, when he’s on his way to meetings or keeping appointments, his gait is quick and his eyes take in only what he needs to see in order to reach his destination with a minimum of bother, whether it’s a private dwelling or, more often, a restaurant or a café, since many of those who’ve agreed to meet him have chosen a public place, as if they were intimidated by this peculiar Englishman, or as if they’d been disconcerted by the author of Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas when they met him in the flesh and had thought: Well, I didn’t think it would be like this, or: This isn’t the man I’d imagined, or: Nobody told me.

Photo: Buenos Aires, 1972 (Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos)

Roberto Bolaño, Scholars of Sodom

It’s 1972 and I can see V.S. Naipaul strolling through the streets of Buenos Aires. Well, sometimes he’s strolling, but sometimes, when he’s on his way to meetings or keeping appointments, his gait is quick and his eyes take in only what he needs to see in order to reach his destination with a minimum of bother, whether it’s a private dwelling or, more often, a restaurant or a café, since many of those who’ve agreed to meet him have chosen a public place, as if they were intimidated by this peculiar Englishman, or as if they’d been disconcerted by the author of Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas when they met him in the flesh and had thought: Well, I didn’t think it would be like this, or: This isn’t the man I’d imagined, or: Nobody told me.

Photo: Buenos Aires, 1972 (Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos)

Martin Filler, Good Soldier Michals

Like many another GI in occupied Europe, but with infinitely more talent, Duane Michals documented his Army experience through pictures taken with a nifty German-made camera. The results as reproduced in his new book show his expertise and essential style to be firmly in place a full decade before his first gallery show in New York in 1963. Announcing several of his major themes is Michals’s diagonally composed photo of a row of birchwood crosses topped with Wehrmacht helmets, under which he writes, “When soldier sons die, mothers lie in graves of grief.”

Photo: Duane Michals/Antinous Press

Martin Filler, Good Soldier Michals

Like many another GI in occupied Europe, but with infinitely more talent, Duane Michals documented his Army experience through pictures taken with a nifty German-made camera. The results as reproduced in his new book show his expertise and essential style to be firmly in place a full decade before his first gallery show in New York in 1963. Announcing several of his major themes is Michals’s diagonally composed photo of a row of birchwood crosses topped with Wehrmacht helmets, under which he writes, “When soldier sons die, mothers lie in graves of grief.”

Photo: Duane Michals/Antinous Press

Bruce Davidson, Train of Thought: On the ‘Subway’ Photographs

At first I photographed in black and white. After a while, however, I began to see a dimension of meaning that demanded a color consciousness. Color photography was not new for me—most of my commissioned work and all of my films have been done in color. But color in the subway was different. I found that the strobe light reflecting off the steel surfaces of the defaced subway cars created a new understanding of color. I had seen photographs of deep-sea fish thousands of fathoms below the ocean surface, glowing in total darkness once light had been applied. People in the subway, their flesh juxtaposed against the graffiti, the penetrating effect of the strobe light itself, and even the hollow darkness of the tunnels, inspired an aesthetic that goes unnoticed by passengers who are trapped underground, hiding behind masks, and closed off from each other.

I began to explore the different subway lines, taking them to the end, then back again. Most of the time I didn’t set a destination, but chose to be carried wherever the subway would take me, occasionally referring to the map and making mental notes of places I wanted to return to…

Photo: Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Bruce Davidson, Train of Thought: On the ‘Subway’ Photographs

At first I photographed in black and white. After a while, however, I began to see a dimension of meaning that demanded a color consciousness. Color photography was not new for me—most of my commissioned work and all of my films have been done in color. But color in the subway was different. I found that the strobe light reflecting off the steel surfaces of the defaced subway cars created a new understanding of color. I had seen photographs of deep-sea fish thousands of fathoms below the ocean surface, glowing in total darkness once light had been applied. People in the subway, their flesh juxtaposed against the graffiti, the penetrating effect of the strobe light itself, and even the hollow darkness of the tunnels, inspired an aesthetic that goes unnoticed by passengers who are trapped underground, hiding behind masks, and closed off from each other.

I began to explore the different subway lines, taking them to the end, then back again. Most of the time I didn’t set a destination, but chose to be carried wherever the subway would take me, occasionally referring to the map and making mental notes of places I wanted to return to…

Photo: Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Ed Kashi: Eye Contact

These images represent moments I’ve always rejected during my editing work because someone was looking into the camera. I always refer to it as eye contact. I strive to disappear and find candid moments as a photojournalist. I want the line between documenter and documented to disappear. These are the overlooked images where I have become present in the picture.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 2006: Residents of Aker Camp pick through the remains of their lives one week after their neighborhood was attacked and burned down by the Nigerian military (Ed Kashi/VII)

Ed Kashi: Eye Contact

These images represent moments I’ve always rejected during my editing work because someone was looking into the camera. I always refer to it as eye contact. I strive to disappear and find candid moments as a photojournalist. I want the line between documenter and documented to disappear. These are the overlooked images where I have become present in the picture.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 2006: Residents of Aker Camp pick through the remains of their lives one week after their neighborhood was attacked and burned down by the Nigerian military (Ed Kashi/VII)