Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New York/John Szarkowski

Dean Street, Brooklyn

John Szarkowski, photographer and former photo curator of the Museum of Modern Art died a few days ago. Much has been written about his significance in bringing photography fully into its own as a medium deserving the same attention as painting and sculpture. He's the guy who moved the Modern from Family of Man sentimentality to the sharp-eyed ascerbity of Garry Winogrand and William Eggleston.
Here is the beautifully written obituary by Philip Gefter in the New York Times. I love his take down of Hilton Kramer, the art critic hack who used to write for the Times:

“Mr. Szarkowski throws all caution to the winds and speaks of Mr. Eggleston’s pictures as ‘perfect,’ ” Hilton Kramer wrote in The Times. “Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly.” Mr. Eggleston would come to be considered a pioneer of color photography.

Szarkowski was important to me in various ways, but perhaps most importantly for his championing of color photography. When I was a struggling art student down in Baltimore fending off retrograde professors, I began experimenting with shooting color slides. When I saw Eggleston's Guide, the book based on the exhibition at MoMA, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and confirmed the path I had started down. That was 1976. The next year I went to Cooper Union in New York, and began studying with Joel Meyerowitz, whose color street photography I found inspiring.

Once in New York I saw Szarkowski's fascinating–and controversial–show Mirrors and Windows. A few years later, after completing the first phase of my Iron Curtain project, Szarkowski bought several of my prints for the museum. I met him, briefly. Shook his hand. He said some nice things to me about my work. I never met him again, but have always felt honored to have had my work recognized by this great and influential man.

Garrick Theatre, 1954, John Szarkowski

He was a fine photographer as well.


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