This Week In Photography Books – Charles Harbutt

by Jonathan Blaustein

I got home rather late last night. The trip back from London took 22 hours, all told. I was lucky to avoid jet lag while in Europe, but at the moment it’s difficult to remember how to type. My brain is working slowly, like a magpie building a nest, one broken twig at a time.

So I hope you’ll forgive me if this column is on the short side today. Last week in Europe was brilliantly surreal, and I look forward to breaking it down in a series of articles examining the exhibitions and festivals I saw, and the many conversations in which I took part. Lots of coming and going: planes, trains, trams, buses, shuttles, subways, taxicabs, and rambles.

As photographers, we all love to travel. No news there. Visiting new places, with eyes keenly focused, is difficult to beat. Pay attention, and you really don’t know what comes next. For example, my travel mates yesterday included a Mexican vascular surgeon living in Germany, an English planetary scientist en route to a NASA conference in Houston, and a Cameroonian businessman seeking funding opportunities in Santa Fe.

But my travel tales are yet to come. Fortunately, escape, synchronicity, hope, and the joy of discovery are all themes depicted in “departures and arrivals,” a new book by Charles Harbutt, published by Damiani. If you’re desk-or-studio bound at the moment, this one ought to deliver a jolt of the travel buzz.

Mr. Harbutt is a fellow Jersey boy, and has spent much of his life traveling about. He was a journalist, and one time president of Magnum, so I’m guessing some of you might know the pictures. Black and white, and mostly grainy, they’re really excellent.

From the opening highway double-spread driving through New Mexico, a route I cruised just twelve hours ago, through Europe, Mexico, and beyond, the vibe is positive, and the compositions excellent. I was particularly impressed by his use of scale, as he’s always finding ways to frame small and large together to enhance the sense of mystery.

I could go into greater detail, but this a book of photographs that speak for themselves. I will now allow them to do just that. Enjoy.

Bottom Line: Excellent B&W photos from a life of exploration

To Purchase “departures and arrivals” Visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 8 Comments On This Article.

  1. I know Charles from my days at Parsons. He has taught photography there for a long time.
    Charles is a great man, and a great photographer. So glad you mentioned this book.

  2. Picture #10 is of a boy born completely blind, experiencing light as a narrow area where the wall and his hand are strangely warmer. I saw it as a kid in a library book and couldn’t stop looking at it. I was incredibly moved, overwhelmed. It’s one of a handful of images that made me think there was nothing better in the world than to be a photographer.

  3. Good one Jonathan. I think these are the kinds of pictures that made many of us want to be photographers in the first place. Nice to be reminded once in a while.

  4. Back in the late 90s, when I was a photojournalism student at Marquette University (his alma mater), I stumbled onto a box of photos by Mr. Harbutt while looking for darkroom chemicals. It felt like fate. Our department was so tiny, and I felt a breath of confidence when I realized a former president of Magnum actually went to our school.

    I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Mister Harbutt all these years, as he was a true motivator and inspiration when I was just a kid. I’m so glad to see his incredible photographs published once again.

    Sidebar: That same year I actually looked up Mary Ellen Mark’s studio number in the yellow pages hoping to interview her. She answered the phone and graciously answered my questions. Pre-internet craziness.