This Week in Photography: Towards a New History

 

Truly short post today.

(Like, for real.)

I’ve been writing some intricate columns lately, which have required me to spend a lot of time ingesting media in a toxic environment.

So I’m taking next week off, for my annual summer break, and will do my best to recharge the batteries so I can continue to put my finger on the cultural pulse for you.

I’ll have some more book reviews, travel articles from the winter, and then yesterday, I did online portfolio reviews with students at ICP in New York, and saw so much good photography and art that I’ll be writing a “The Best Work I Saw at…” post for you soon too.

As I’m isolated out here in my field, it was a blessing to have so many fun, cool conversations with a talented and diverse group of artists.

In eight reviews, I spoke with six women, and two men of color, so it felt like the most perfect experience for #2020.

The first artist showed me some incredible water color drawings/paintings, and we discussed the idea that it’s important to find the right medium to express our thoughts in the most appropriate way.

(Some ideas or emotions don’t need to be photographs.)

And just last week, I had another deep, intricate conversation with an African-American friend/colleague, in which we got into all the real issues, in a calm, positive way. (It may lead to an interview, so I’m keeping it cryptic for the moment.)

One thing he said, though, was so relevant, I want to share it here.

He suggested, bluntly, that if you asked 100 photographers to name their top 10 in the History of Photography, there was a strong chance almost no Black photographers would be chosen at all.

The established canon skews super-duper-heavily towards white people. (And men in general.)

It was hard to argue, as I began to think of my “favorite” names, and wasn’t sure I would pick a Black photographer, unless I were trying to front.

Which brings me to today’s book, “The History of Photography in Pen and Ink,” by Charles Woodard, published by A-Jump books in 2009. (Right in the eye tooth of the Great Recession, and given to me by someone who is no longer my friend, it’s been so long.)

I thought of this book, at first, because it is light and funny, and I knew I needed to keep it short today. (I rediscovered the book while searching my shelves a couple of months ago.)

Plus, after the NYT did that deep dive into Robert Frank’s famous image from “The Americans,” I figured you’d all like to see one of his other classics rendered as a simplistic drawing.

But these days, even reaching for a cute-little-production led to deeper thoughts, as I turned the pages, and counted how few women were included.

As I neared the end, my friend’s words echoed in my mind, as I recalled one Japanese photographer within, but no other obvious artists of color.

In #2020, if Charles Woodard decided to do this project from scratch, I expect we’d see the inclusion of some Latin American photographers, like Manuel Alvarez Bravo or Graciela Iturbide.

Maybe Gordon Parks would be in there, or Carrie Mae Weems?

I’d like to think so.

But the book, cute as it is, is evidence that our shared history, the History of Photography, (as it’s traditionally been taught,) does not include enough diversity.

Surely this will change, now, and hopefully it won’t mean the exclusion of some of the great Jewish-American photographers, or all those amazing Germans and French artists.

Maybe, just maybe, we can write bigger books, that include all the great photographic artists in history, from across the world, and show respect for what he, she or they had to say?

Just a thought.

See you in two weeks.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 1 Comment On This Article.

  1. Well, three contemporary African American photographers making exemplary photography come immediately to mind: Fazal Sheikh, Dawoud Bey and Wayne Lawrence. Each excels in portraiture and documentary image making.

    As for Latin-X photographers, there’s: Peruvian Martin Chambi from back in the day, world renowned Brazilian activist, Sebastiao Salgado and this Puerto Rican cat called Banos…