Though photography is my art, I am a librarian by day. I am lucky to have found work that I love early in my life, and now as I inch closer to the end of my career than to the start of it, I still feel blessed every day to get to work in in a place filled with wonderful people, amazing books, thought-provoking ideas, and opportunities to learn something new every day.
I also get to order books for our collections, and be the first one to open their covers, feel their pages, and discover the wonders inside. I know my bookloving friends will understand this special thrill. And though I try not to order every book published on the art of photography, there are some that stand out as being essential for our collections and in demand by our library patrons.
There are three recent titles that have been sitting on my bedside table (and next to me at the breakfast table, and with me on the couch) for weeks now. I have had to renew them numerous times as I ponder the images and text. What makes each book so intriguing to me is the way they each address seeing and sight in a different way. It would seem simple enough to propose that the photographer’s art is his or her ability to see. But is it that simple? How much of photography is seeing, and how much something else — heart, intention, light, passion?
Sally Mann’s new book Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington, includes photographs of her friend Cy Twombly’s art studio and home in Lexington, Virginia, their shared hometown. Twombly’s studio was in an unprepossessing storefront downtown, and Mann took these images informally, whimsically, in a carefree way. “It was a completely casual thing … it was just sort of a caress, an acknowledgement of his being there, right down the street …” So in these gauzy, light-filled images, we not only see Twombly’s work and space, but Mann’s vision of those spaces and that work. But, Mann says, “you have to maintain the ambiguity; you don’t want to be too clear. You always want to leave a question behind.”
The Thrill of the Chase: the Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a compendium of photographs collected by Samuel Wagstaff, Jr. and described as one of the most important private collections of photographs in the world. The images in the collection range widely in time and subject and technique. Wagstaff once explained to a reporter that “photographs are only interesting if they do something to you. Some images hit you quickly and lose their power…other images allow you to linger, allow you to return again and again to a special mind-place that is sexy in the best sense of the word — emotional, intellectual, sensual.” To him, collecting photographs was “about, the pleasure of looking and the pleasure of seeing, like watching people dancing through an open window. They seem a little mad at first, until you realize they hear the song that you are watching.”
The Blind Photographer: 150 Extraordinary Photographs from Around the World is a collection of images by sight impaired and blind photographers, and the results are intriguing, thought provoking, and often beautiful. The blind Slovenian photographer wrote that “even a blind person has visual equipment, optical needs, as someone who is looking for light in a dark room. From this desire, I photograph.” And Stevie Wonder states that “visions are not seen purely by the eyes but through the spirit.”
I hope you’ll have the opportunity to sit down with these new books and soak in the amazing images. What are your favorite photography books? Share them with us in the comments.