LIGHT READINGS: A Photography Critic's Writings 1968-1978 by A. D. Coleman
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LIGHT READINGS: A Photography Critic's Writings 1968-1978

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In the decade just past, photography shot from the periphery of the art world to center stage--and here, in revealing sequence, are the comments of the one critic continuously on watch. Coleman began in 1968 as a young non-practitioner bent on giving photography ""the serious critical attention it merits."" Thereafter, in the Village Voice and the New York Times (mainly), he reported on shows and books, assessed personalities, pinpointed and argued the issues--gradually widening his focus to take in the whole ""photographic community"" and its interrelated concerns. Photography, in Coleman's large view, is not confined to the original print (or ""collectible"") on the one hand, and photo-journalism on the other; neither does a single approach exhaust any given subject (""there's more to say about peppers than Weston could say""). He responds to Duane Michals' cryptic Sequences (1970) and other works by sequential photographers, other photo-fictions; to the manipulated prints of Jerry Uelsmann (""post-visualization' vs. the Weston-Adams credo of ""pre-visualization') and subsequent dark-room departures by Lucas Samaras and Les Krims. And, in a major essay, he establishes a lineage for all such ""directorial photography"" from the long-discredited 19th-century ""scenes"" (religious or domestic) of Rejlander and Robinson to the Southern Gothic set-pieces of Clarence John Laughlin. For while Coleman is sedulously fair to Paul Strand (""What right--if any--do we have to ask an artist to 'grow'?""), not altogether unappreciative of Ansel Adams' ""one-track perfectionism,"" and very much attuned to the classic Mexican icons of Manuel Alvarez Bravo (descended from Strand and Weston), his primary interest is not in the well-composed, carefully lit mainstream photograph. He cares about Roy DeCarava's work because DeCarava is black, relatively unexhibited and untouted, and because Iris pictures are subjective; he sees ""through black eyes"" and his example has been vital to other black photographers--whose work also claims Coleman's attention. Correspondingly, he is increasingly uncomfortable with Bruce Davidson's white fix on black East 100th Street (1970) and with all photodocumentation that submerges indignation in ""a subconscious recognition that the suffering it records makes good grist for the mills of Art."" Politics, ethics, overt and inherent feminism (Abigail Heyman vs. Imogen Cunningham); the snapshot aesthetic, the visual caper (Ed Ruscha's small albums), the unimportance of Life: Coleman, expanding the photographic community to include every one of us, would make ""the interpretation of photographic imagery"" a basic study, along with the written word. By no means unassailable but always plain-spoken and pointed, these 80-odd pieces convey what the excitement's been all about.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press