Recently Read "The Ongoing Moment"
It's been quite the hectic few weeks here fotographie wester. Even though I'm on medical leave (long story, don't ask) the offspring have kept me jumping. I have been able to fit in some very good days of shooting and I'll be working through those and sharing the results and my thoughts soon.
I finished Geoff Dyers "The Ongoing Moment" a few weeks ago while waiting for my daughter to finish dance class. I've had this book in my hands several times over the last few years and every time I've put it back. I ended up buying the paperback version and wish I had bought the more sumptuously published hardback when it came out as the black and white reproductions in the text are barely newspaper quality.
It's a good read and really gets you thinking about the chain that binds all of us together from Fox-Talbot to Stieglitz to Strand to Keretz and so on. There where times that I threw the book down grumbling (quite loudly according to my kids and my dog): "Fercrissakes Geoff, sometimes a frikkin' cigar is just a frikkin cigar!". He can sometime read a lot more into a situation than is healthy and in that regard he reminds me of my 1st year English professor at UVic; she spent several lectures belabouring the symbolism of "crabs scuttling across the ocean floor" in some poem or other (I think it had Prufrock in the title).
But then, after he gets the seemingly obligatory sophomoric tittering about Stieglitz and Strand and OKeefe and Strand's wife Rebecca's tangled relationships out of the way, he hits his stride (the cigars make
occasional cameos). I found I would read 10 pages and sit and think about what I had read (either that or I have late onset ADD). I'd get frustrated, annoyed and then pissed off. Other times it'd be "Yeah, that's it: Brilliant!".
It's a book that has to be read from start to finish, in sequence. It's a lot like Walker Evans book "The Americans" where Evans says "these photos are to be viewed in order". You can skip around, but each of Dyer's riffs builds on the previous riff and like a complex fugue it builds and builds and builds and then stops.
The bibliography is worth the price of admission and I do hope that I can find some of those books he refers to still in print.
What did I learn? I learnt that I'm part of a long history. Everybody takes a picture of a bench, a fence, a barbershop, a man in a black overcoat. It's not cliched because we all have emotional baggage that informs the bench, fence, or whatever we take a picture of. It's only when we want to photograph a fence like Strand did or a the loneliness of a the man in the black overcoat like Kertez that we fail. That bench is my bench and it is up to me and only me to put my feelings into the image of that bench, not what I think someone else things an image of a bench should feel like.
Dyer was sitting on my shoulder quite a bit when I was at the Leica Akademie class on Street Photography. I kept telling him to go away and let Quinton Gordon speak so I could take what both of them were saying. Dyer, of course, did no such thing; my output from the workshop was a fairly bizarre hybrid of what Quinton was trying to teach and Dyer's musings. I'll talk about that workshop later.
It's a book anybody interested in photography should read. It forces you to challenge what and how you think about photography and when you come out the other side you'll find yourself returning back to listen to one riff or another or start riffing on your own as you walk around town seeing things through your viewfinder.