alan little’s weblog


6th February 2006 permanent link

And then you go to the galleries and museums. You look at those fine books on photography and you see what the masters did long before you knew the difference between Tri-X and Ektachrome. Will you ever shoot a better picture than those Cartier-Bresson street scenes of the 1940s? Will you ever come near the intensity of a Gene Smith reportage? You discover that any imaginable situation has beeen photographed already - the moment of birth and the split second of death, desperation and joy, man on the moon and life in the womb.

Now they are working on computers that will store every photograph that exists in the world. You want a picture of spear-fishing in Surinam? Push the right buttons and you'll see it in milliseconds. The world on magnetic disks wll be right at our fingertips. Why bother to send a photographer all the way to South America? Why bother to go out into the heat and cold of the real world and take even more pictures, adding to the millions that exist already, stored away in the electronic maze? Will photography eventually make itself obsolete through overproduction?

… it takes a lot of courage (or arrogance) for any photographer to go out again and again taking even more pictures to add to the ever-growing abundance of photography

That prescient circa 1980 quote from Munich born, New York resident photojournalist Thomas Höpker has been at the top of my old writing-about-photography page for ages. But I wasn’t particularly familiar with Höpker’s work, so when I saw that the Munich City Museum is showing a fifty year retrospective I went to check it out.

Not the most amazing photo exhibition I’ve ever seen, but some pretty damn fine stuff. You can see a formal web portfolio of Höpker’s work at Magnum Photo, and an informal one at google image search.

One thing that strikes me about some of the older photos – blacks & white street photos of kids in Germany in the fifties and sixties – is “oh my god, that’s me”. My brother and sister and I were little kids on a cobbled street with terraced houses in the sixties – did we really look that old-fashioned? My home town hadn’t been heavily bombed in the war, unlike the ones photojournalists generally liked to take pictures of in those days; but my Dad remembered and could tell us exactly where each of the few bombs did fall (those having been the exciting bits of his childhood).

Once again I learn that there is a huge difference between seeing a real photographic print, big and properly lit, and seeing even a good reproduction in a book. The museum had the book of the show for sale, which even included some very impressive pictures that weren’t in the show, but the ones that were looked so flat and lifeless in a book compared to the “real thing” on the gallery wall that I didn’t bother. (As usual, there’s a good chance I probably will buy the book in a few months time when I see it somewhere remaindered, and my memories of what the “real thing” looked like have faded)

When you’re a parent of a small child you learn to be very assertive about needing and taking time for yourself. I was in town with my son, shopping for my wife’s birthday present, when I saw that this exhibition was on. Hmm. Good photo exhibition. I’m going. And although I would much prefer to go with my wife than alone, there’s no way I’m willing to try to look at something like that with a three year old in tow. My wife is away on business this week, so I decided I was entitled to a bit of preemptive battery charging before three days as a single dad and awarded myself Sunday morning off from husband-and-father duties.

Only a couple of hours though, so: into the museum. Straight to the photos, glancing neither to the left nor to the right at other exhibits. Look at photos. Museum coffee shop looks tempting afterwards, but if I do then I won’t have time for yoga practice before my friend’s birthday party in the afternoon. (Nearly all my [remaining] friends have small children too, so social events tend to start early) So no coffee: straight home, mat out, practice.

Arrived home to find the rest of my family limping around complaining about their bruised backs having had a huge sledge crash. Shit happens.

related entries: Photography

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