PHO703: Adams and Curation

The photographer Robert Adams has some very good words about curation and editing. These are important, partly because I am coming up to submitting my portfolio of work for the module and partly because I am embarking on the preparation of a proper book dummy for my project which will require really careful curation.

First:

‘But you surely can unmake a body of good pictures with poor editing. Editing is every bit as hard as making photographs. No two pictures are qualitatively equal. Their proper ordering cannot be determined by rule.

‘And, there is often the difficulty of deciding whether a picture should be included at all. Is it faithful to the subject? Some of the problem is in freeing yourself from the memory of standing there when you took the photograph, amazed and hopeful and trying hard.

‘It’s the same struggle that Flannery O’Connor said a writer faces: “The writer has to judge himself with a stranger’s eye and a stranger’s scrutiny”’ (Wolf 2019).

And second:

‘I think photography is editing, start to finish, editing life, selecting part of it to stand for the whole. The process starts, obviously, with what you choose to include in the finder when you make the exposure. It continues as you study the contact sheets or thumbnails in order to decide which to enlarge. It goes on, sometimes for years, as you try to determine which enlargements are successful. Dorothea Lange, one of my heroes, used to ask herself, sotto voce, “Is it a picture? Is it a picture?” Most photographers are like that, confident one day and unsure the next. And then there is the long search for which pictures may strengthen each other, and in what relationships. That final step usually involves for us laying out all the conceivably appropriate pictures for a book in a line, in a roughly plausible sequence, after which we make a stack of the pictures in that order and go through it to see how they might work as singles or doubles on a spread. Those two steps are then repeated over and over again’ (Chang 2009).

I like the idea that good curation is ‘editing life’ and that the photographer (or artist) must stand back and judge their work ‘with a stranger’s eye and a stranger’s scrutiny’. These are important reminders.

References

ADAMS, Robert and Joshua CHUANG. 2009. ‘ROBERT ADAMS: Summer Nights, Walking INTERVIEW WITH JOSHUA CHUANG’. Aperture (197), 52–9.

WOLF, Sasha. 2019. ‘From Robert Adams to Rinko Kawauchi: How Photographers Work’. Financial Times, 04 Oct [online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/4f15e162-e4a5-11e9-9743-db5a370481bc [accessed 02 Aug 2020].