André Kertész of Paris and New York

I volunteer for our Local Historical Society: The Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society (BMSHS). The Society is housed in the Eileen O’Connor Weber Historical Center, which is on the lower level of Briarcliff Manor Library building.

The other day I had a few minutes to spare, and I fancied a change of scene, so I went into the library and browsed around the shelves and came across this volume: André Kertész of Paris and New York. It was designed to accompany a 1985 exhibition of his work in The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. There’s a review of the book here. I started to read it and after a while I decided that I wanted to get a copy for myself. I managed to find a very good, and quite inexpensive copy on Ebay.

Many photobooks have lots of pictures, but only limited text. I guess the logic is that the pictures should be able to stand by themselves and shouldn’t need the text to explain them. I’m not convinced that this is necessarily true even for captions and/or descriptions of individual photographs. But what I like is what this book has: substantial essays on various topics, in this case: “André Kertész: The Years in Paris” by Sandra S. Phillips; “Kertész and his Contemporaries in in Germany and France” by David Travis; “André Kertész: The Making of an American Photographer” by Weston J. Naef. With the Foreword, Acknowledgements and Preface these take up 95 pages! They are followed by 131 pages of plates, sections of the exhibitions catalogue, a bibliography and index.

There’s a lot of good stuff here and so far, I’ve only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to read the rest.

Dream Street

I was browsing YouTube videos when I came across a piece on this book: Dream Street. W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project. It sounded interesting, and I didn’t have a book about Smith so I decided to get a copy.

The book sleeve describes it as follows:

In 1955, having just resigned from his high-profile but stormy career with Life Magazine, W. Eugene Smith was commissioned to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh and produce one hundred photographs for noted journalist and author Stefan Lorant’s book commemorating the city’s bicentennial. Smith ended up staying a year, compiling twenty thousand images for what would be the most ambitious photographic essay of his life. But only a fragment of this work was ever seen, despite Smith’s lifelong conviction that it was his greatest collection of photographs.

In 2001, Sam Stephenson published for the first time an assemblage of the core images from this project, selections that Smith asserted were the “synthesis of the whole,” presenting not only a portrayal of Pittsburgh but of postwar America. This new edition, updated with a foreword by the poet Ross Gay, offers a fresh vision of Smith’s masterpiece.

An Amazon editorial review describes the book as follows:

“[Dream Street] is Smith’s attempt to record the paradoxes of city life in America—the clutch of industry, the dogged persistence of both community and loneliness, the forces of love, hate, growth and decay. Not even the venerated master of photojournalists could quite pull this off, but Smith’s obsessiveness was harnessed to an enormous talent, and he wasn’t far from the mark when he wrote that [this work] would ‘create history.’” — Vicki Goldberg ― The New York Times, on the original edition

“Inspired by Joyce and Faulkner, Smith envisioned a symphonic, multilayered photo essay portraying the entire city; his failure to complete it haunted him for the rest of his life. Here are more than a hundred and fifty of his nourish and oddly poignant images: gleaming railyards at night; buildings wrapped in clouds of industrial smoke; the face of a steelworker, the Bessemer fires reflected in his safety goggles.” ― New Yorker, on the original edition

“These images are about the life that never gets into headlines. When a young teenage girl waits alone by a gleaming black car, she embodies innocence . . . and loss. When men of all ages from sixteen to sixty stand in silhouette along the lit-up counter of a takeout stand, you see a story of age, and ambition denied, a side of the 1950’s that rarely shows up on nostalgia channels. . . . Smith’s Pittsburgh photographs show how much we still resemble those citizens in the summer of 1955. And in his majestic inability to admit defeat we can see how dangerous that confidence could be to a man who saw its limits, and refused to give in.” — Mary Panzer ― Chicago Tribune, on the original edition

“Smith imagined a visual collage to rival Finnegan’s Wake in scope and intensity. His astonishing ambition was . . . his Faustian pact with the city . . . . There are no touching displays of picturesque individuality, just a city aesthetically dissected; an effort to ‘get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.’” ― TIME OUT London, on the original edition

“Smith’s presence haunts this book, even a quarter century after his death.” ― Washington City Paper, on the original edition

“Every picture tells a story—but put them all together and you might get Finnegans Wake. In the grand canyons of Pittsburgh, monolithic steel mills overshadow humble spires; hillsides scored with 500-step staircases plunge down to inky pitmouths. By day, the steelworkers hover like ghosts, silhouetted in the furnace flames. By night, the moon shines down Stygian rivers, as the shining railroad snakes away into blackest suburbs. More Dante than Joyce, this is a magnificent vision of light and dark.” ― Evening Standard, on the original edition

“Dream Street is a diffuse portrait of a community that still led the world in steel production while grappling with the challenge of making the air breathable. It’s also a time machine that takes those who weren’t alive or around during those years to the moment the soul of modern Pittsburgh was forged. Much like its creator, [Dream Street] is without sentiment. It is clear-eyed, despite the smoke of the coke works, and devoid of pretense. It is full of revelation and surprises. It inspires in a way that only great art—and great themes—are capable of inspiring.” ― Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the original edition

“These dark-toned photographs are dense with meaning. And in [Dream Street] they are given the space to do it. Smith’s best pictures are complete, complicated worlds. The bigness, in every sense, of Smith’s pictures was also the bigness of Pittsburgh.” — Sarah Boxer ― The New York Times, on the original edition

“The range of this project lies not only in its subjects and themes, but also its pictorial and compositional variety, and its strategies and ploys. In other words, Smith used every device and trick he knew, and he knew a lot. The Pittsburgh project found Smith at the height of his abilities, which he brought to bear with vast ambition. Aiming to capture such a cross-section of society, neighborhoods, cityscapes, moods, and feelings, it remains unrivaled in this breadth and depth of its scope. Fifty years later, it jumps out at us, and the nostalgia suffusing [the book] is not just for the past depicted and our assumptions about it . . . but also for a time when a photographer could be so engaged with the real world, and yet so introspective about Americanness, and so secure in the belief that images would elevate the viewer. What Smith accomplished here is shaped not only by his personal ambition, but also by photographers’ ambitions for photography, and Americans’ ambitions for America.” ― Photo Review, on the original edition

“This epic portrait of Pittsburgh has become legendary in the history of photography. . . . Viewed together in this compelling, commanding publication, Smith’s photographs present energetic images of hope and despair, rebuilding and decay, poverty and affluence, and solitude and togetherness. . . . These images of mid-century, post-war Pittsburgh powerfully resonate with America today.” ― B&W: Black & White Magazine for Collectors of Fine Photography, on the original edition

“Dream Street stands as a final reminder of the power of Smith’s poetic vision.” ― The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on the original edition

“The Pittsburgh photographs were Smith’s after-LIFE magnum opus, and with them he produced a darkly urban vision, less out of a magazine than out of film noir . . . the paradoxes of a city churning toward progress and leaving vast segments of its population in squalor [are] metaphors for Smith’s state of mind. . . . What Smith was after was not a series of punchy vignettes but a sprawling epic in the manner of his favorite music: Beethoven’s late string quartets and the rhapsodic improvisations of John Coltrane.” ― Los Angeles Times, on the original edition

“Dream Street allows us to assess Smith’s greatest achievement; an extensive, complex, and utterly engaging photo-essay, each element of which has genuine bite. From the skyline to the assembly line, steel workers to city council members, and men on the picket line to children at play, Smith captures the ambitions and inequities of an American city at mid-century with extraordinary deftness and wit.” — Vincent Aletti ― The Village Voice, on the original edition

“For Smith, Dream Street was an artistic obsession. For Stephenson it appears to have been a labor of love. Perhaps much the same thing. Every reader will have his or her own favorite images in Dream Street.” — Michael Patrick Pearson ― NYJB
About the Author

W. Eugene Smith (1918–78) was an American photographer who worked for Life from 1939 to 1954 and thereafter was affiliated with the Magnum photo agency. Several posthumous overviews of Smith’s work have been published, including The Big Book, a retrospective of his work as he designed it, and a biography, Let Truth Be the Prejudice: W. Eugene Smith, His Life and Photographs, by Ben Maddow.

Sam Stephenson is a writer from North Carolina now based in College Station, TX. He is the author of a biography of Smith, Gene Smith’s Sink, as well as Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project and The Jazz Loft Project: The Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue. He is also the ghost writer of Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, a memoir by Lucinda Williams. In 2019, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work in progress about the band Jane’s Addiction.

Alan Trachtenberg was professor of American studies and English at Yale University.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about W. Eugene Smith. I love many of his pictures (e.g. The Minamata pictures are superb, if harrowing), but some of his photo essays (e.g. “Country Doctor“, 1948) leave me cold.

In reading more about Smith I was surprised to discover that one of his most famous photographs: “The Walk to Paradise Garden” (see below) was taken at his house in Croton-on-Hudson, about five miles from where I live.

In addition to the wonderful photographs the book also contains a foreword by Ross Gay; and interesting introduction by the editor, Sam Stephenson; and an essay: “‘Man-Breaking City’: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh” by Alan Trachtenberg.

I acquired this second-hand in very good condition and it’s certainly worth what I paid for it.

My Photography in 2023

Before I start to write about my photography in 2023, I think it would be good for me to talk more broadly about my photographic journey.

My interest in photography started in 1974 when my wife bought me my first serious camera: a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII film camera, which I used extensively in the 1980s and 90s, along with a Canon AE-1, which I acquired several years later. At some point in the early-mid 2000s I switched to digital photograph, but somehow my interest in photography had waned. I didn’t feel like going out to take pictures and only took pictures of family vacations, family events etc.

Things changed in 2010. I had lost my primary digital camera. I later found it again but by that time I had purchased another one: A Panasonic Lumix LX-3. I loved this camera (still do). Somehow it reignited my love of photography, which was just as well because retirement was looming in 2012, and I needed to find something to do with myself.

After that I split my time between photography and doing things (plays, shows, meals out, travel etc.) with my wife. It was a good time.

This went on until late 2020 when my wife of 43 years unexpectedly passed away after a thankfully very brief illness (not COVID). This was a very tough time for me and I had to find something to keep me occupied, or I would have gone mad. Of course, that thing was photography and between late 2020 and late 2021 I was constantly out taking pictures.

Late in 2022 I volunteered to work for our local Historical Society. This was something I had been meaning to do for some time, but never gotten around to. Since then, I’ve been there virtually every workday from 9:00am-4:00pm. This doesn’t mean that I have given up photography. Far from it. I still take photographs, make photobooks and the occasional prints; collect old cameras and photobooks etc., just at a slightly diminished pace than before.

So photographically speaking this is what I’ve been doing during 2023.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Despite my commitments to the Historical Society, I’ve managed to get out on quite a few photowalks:

In addition to the above I walk a lot around the area where I live and take many pictures. All told I kept about 1,500 photographs in 2023. I took a lot more.

As in previous years I’ve created two year-end posts featuring my favorite photographs, one on favorite black and whites; and the other on favorite color photographs.

BLOG

I maintain and will continue to maintain this blog, which I started in 2012. In 2023 I made 366 Blog Posts. The total number of posts since I started the blog is 4,359.

WEB SITE

However, I have also become a little tired of the blog format. I will keep the blog as a kind of illustrated diary of what I’m up to, but in 2023 I created a more traditional website for myself. You can find it at hgdphotography.org.

NEW DIRECTIONS

In previous years I’ve tried some more experimental (for me) approaches e.g. Macro Photography, Street Photography etc. In 2023 I tried my hand at infrared photography. I enjoyed it and will probably do more. I also want to learn more about video. I have cameras that can shoot video, but I didn’t have software to edit the results. I’ve now acquired some. I haven’t done much with it in 2023 but anticipate doing more in 2024.

I like to see my photographs in print but have little wall space to display them. So instead, I’ve focused on creating photobooks (more precisely ‘Zines’) of my work. In 2023 I created (or substantially modified an earlier version of) the following:

  • Opus 40. A remarkable large environmental sculpture in Saugerties, New York,
  • Golden Anniversary. Documenting my friends Marc and Rozanne Prisaments’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.
  • >A Tree:(revised): Around the Neighborhood No. 1. A series of photographs taken at the same time of single nearby tree.
  • A Pond: Around the Neighborhood No. 2. A series of Photographs taken around a nearby pond, which was once the outdoor pool of a famous resort hotel now gone.
  • Infrared. My attempts at infrared photography.
  • Quinceañera (revised). Documenting a friend’s granddaughter’s celebration.
  • Rivertowns No. 1: Along Albany Post Road, Tarrytown (revised). Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.
  • Rivertowns No. 2: Dobbs Ferry. Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.

PHOTOBOOKS

In 2023 I continued to add to my collection of Photobooks by and about renowned photographers with the following:

  • Dream Street. W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project by Sam Stephenson.
  • Looking at Images. A deeper look at selected photographs by Brooks Jensen.
  • Dido Moriyama by Bruna Dantas Lobato.
  • The Americans by Robert Frank.
  • Infrared Photography: Digital Techniques for Brilliant Images by Laurie Clein et al.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.
  • Richard Misrach on Landscape and Meaning.
  • Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment.
  • Graciela Iturbide on Dreams, Symbols, and Imagination.
  • Peter Lindbergh on Fashion Photography.
  • Then: Photographs 1925-1995. By Alexander Liberman.
  • Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation.
  • Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors and the Nude.
  • Time in New England by Paul Strand.
  • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams.
  • The Portfolios of Ansel Adams. By Ansel Adams.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Duane Michals. The Photographic Illusion: Using the Mind’s Eye to Created Photos for Collectors and Clients.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Art Kane. The Persuasive Image: How a Portraitist and Storyteller Illuminates our Changing Culture.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Elliott Erwitt. The Private Experience: Personal Insights of a Professional Photographer.
  • Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans.
  • Eudora Welty. Photographs by Eudora Welty and Reynolds Price.
  • Josef Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Josef Koudelka.
  • Ansel Adams. An Autobiography. By Ansel Adams.
  • Atget. By John Szarkowski.
  • The Living Sea. By Hussain Aga Khan.

CAMERAS

I’ve added a few new (to me) cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras. My current focus is on medium format and older digital cameras:
Of late I’ve focused on medium format, and older digital cameras and added a few new cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras:

  • Canon PowerShot Pro 1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-R1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-F828
  • Pentax K10D
  • Yashica Mat-124G
  • Petri RF
  • Kodak Art Deco Six-20
  • That’s about it other than for me to with anyone reading this a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

    Looking at Images

    A fascinating book by Brooks Jensen, the Editor of Lenswork magazine.

    According to the Introduction:

    This book is about what we learn about and from photography and the creative process by looking at photographs with more than a glance. It is about the process of art making in photography. It is about the content of what we create, not the mechanisms of how we create. As such, this book has been written with photographers in mind – especially those who use their cameras as a means of personal expression. Making photographic art can be a mysterious path.

    The book contains 122 (101 black and white; 21 Color) two-page spreads. The left side of each spread shows a photograph, and the right page a commentary by the author.

    The introduction also states:

    In addition to my written comments that accompany each photograph, you will also find a QR on the page with the text and image. The QR code links to an audio recording on our website. The audio is not simply a recorded version of the written text, but rather an extension of the ideas that have arisen as I’ve reflected on each image.

    What a great idea!

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book an can heartily recommend it.

    Ansel Adams. Examples. The Making of 40 Photographs

    I bought this book a long time ago and loved it. Unfortunately, we had a seriously water leak in the house and this was one of the items that was destroyed during the flood. When this happened, I vowed to replace it quicky. And them promptly forgot.

    Recently, while looking for something else on eBay I came across a used copy of the book in very good condition and at a very reasonable price. It didn’t take me long to place the order.

    Amazon describes it as follows:

    A MASTER CLASS WITH AMERICA’S MOST CELEBRATED PHOTOGRAPHER

    “How did you make this photograph?”

    This is a question that Ansel Adams was asked repeatedly throughout his lifetime. In Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, Adams shares the circumstances surrounding the creation of many of his most celebrated images. Each classic photograph is superbly reproduced and accompanied by an entertaining and informative narrative that combines his own reminiscences of people and places with precise recall of technical details and aesthetic considerations.

    Readers will be fascinated by the personal side of the text, which includes a great deal of history and anecdote, including appearances by Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Weston, and other notable figures such as Edwin Land of Polaroid. Pondering these essays conjures the sense of standing by Adams’ side during some of the most pivotal and profound creative moments of his life in photography—a master class with the legendary artist.

    The specific technical information on camera and lens, filters, exposure times, developing, and printing provided in each example illustrates his approach and methods, and will help amateurs and professionals alike to advance their photography. Through this case study approach, Adams’ philosophy of craft and creativity unfolds; his credos of visualization, image management, and the Zone System are demonstrated; and the colorful story of a lifetime devoted to photography is revealed.

    I couldn’t agree more. At times, when it gets into technical commentary on the zone system I was a bit at a loss. But, it’s great to get some insight it what’s going on in the mind of a famous photographer when a great photograph is being taken.