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Limpid Clearness and Consummate Perspicacity

November 6, 2009

Daniel GordonLimpid Clearness

I saw two articles on-line this morning that stimulated my thinking about contemporary photography. First, my artist/writer friend Chuck Stern sent me this review from the NYT about three exhibits featuring contemporary photography currently in New York City. I had been following the New Photography 2009 show that recently opened at the MoMA, but had not been impressed by the pictures as presented on-line. OK, I know I should drag myself down to the City to actually look at art in person. I’ll refrain from talking about the art and simply say that the reviewer, Karen Rosenberg, writes about abstraction being a major trend in contemporary photography.

I remembered an article that John Sevigny wrote several months ago which argued for the abstract in photography. “Photography Must Die” is an intriguing manifesto from a straight, primarily documentary, photographer. He scolds us all for our lack of awareness of art history and absence of clarity about our own vision.

Consummate Perspicacity

Today, Photolucida announced its 50 finalists for this year’s book publishing award. 593 entrants put up a couple of hundred dollars each to roll the dice with over 200 reviewers to determine if their work will make the cut. First, 175 entrants made it through a pre-screening committee composed of over a dozen photographers and photo professionals. The chosen ones were then sliced down to the finalists who are asked to jump through a few more hoops before the 2 winners of the publishing award will be announced. In the past, I’ve been critical of the whole Photolucida concept. Why not simply send your portfolio to publishers to get rejected at no charge? I now see 2 reasons. This year Photolucida is presenting their schtick with such good humor and grace that I guess it may be worth the cash. And, most importantly, the track record of their books has been amazing. Their publications make waves in the photo world. “Waves” is a pun based on the surfer portraits that Joni Sternbach published as a winner a couple of years ago. Her photos are wonderful in person (yes, I actually went to Brooklyn to see them). I don’t know if the alternative processed pictures impressed in book form.


Alejandro Cartagena

I was surprised at how many of the 50 finalists I was familiar with. For instance, I previously posted work by Alejandro Cartagena, and Birthe Piontek created one of my favorite contemporary photographs:


Birthe Piontek

I request all my students, and those who want to be inspired by the everyday wonderfulness of life observed through a camera, to check out Birthe Piontek’s site.

For those of you who are flummoxed by my playful vocabulary choices, “limpid clearness and consummate perspicacity” is a quote from Herbert Guenther’s Kindly Bent to Ease Us. The words are a translation of the Tibetan term for the enlightenment experience. It is described in this link as “a radiant and ecstatic ‘openness’ devoid of subject and object or center and periphery.”

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