13 thoughts on “What the Photo Doesn’t Show

  1. Lee Rust

    Every picture tells a story. Sometimes they are true, and eventually most are forgotten.

    Photographs were relatively rare and special when this one was made and it fortunately got stuck in the fabric of history to the extent that a team of people went to a lot of trouble to dig up the facts and the names more than one hundred years later.

    How many of our daily billions of digital images will survive the next century… much less the next week?

  2. gavin lowe

    August Sander’s marvellous photos were what prompted me to take up large format: they are not possible with a Leica. Having tried view camera portraiture I am left in awe at the skill of its practitioners.

    1. Rob Campbell

      Thank goodness it wasn’t Karsh, of Ottawa. That would simply have perpetuated the search for stilted lighting concepts. Or of direct action against cigars, doing so much to destroy the remnants of the Cuban economy. (I can never forgive him for his Brigitte Bardot death by a thousand pictorial cuts exercise; his dealings with our British PM sitter were but incidental.)

      Personally, of course, I am against smoking, wishing I had seen sense before hitting the ripe old age of thirty. Funny how snobbery manifests itself: I always tried to find US ciggies, usually because of the interesting smell of the smoke, which was so much better planned to addiction than the rather harsh offerings found in the British Empire. Finding such deadly treasures was obviously a mark of incentive and skill.

      During the period when I was a Brit export to India, some fellow boarding school friends (if such schools produce friends or simply breed alliances in defence against other groups) and I would roam the streets, quietly picking up stubs which we would later roll in cigarette papers and thus make our own smokes. Two ironies: we were presumably spawned off some rich elite yet reduced to picking up trash; to the best of my knowledge, none of us developed any terminal diseases which would see the end of so many other, less idiotic people.

      Perhaps there really is something that protects the stupid against themselves. That something sure let me survive becoming a photographer.


  3. Rob Campbell

    Incidentally, Gavin, I”m not so sure that I’d buy into the theory that portraiture and Leica do not set.

    Before I became a pro I went to see a leading Scottish photographer called Stephens Orr. He had some truly amazing Leica portraits on his wall, one of which I think I remember as being of Churchill, shot with a Leica and a 125mm Hektor. I was offered a job but couldn’t take it because military conscription had not yet ended.

    Such is destiny. I sometimes wonder how different – or otherwise – my career might have been if I’d been able to start in his studio rather than in the industrial one I was eventually able to join. I had a very extensive training in printing in the latter, which certainly did me no harm throughout my career. On the other hand, who knows if exposure within a celebrity portraiture ethos might have led to better things?

  4. Gavin Lowe

    Oh, I didn’t mean that one can’t use Leicas for portraiture (of course one can!) but rather that there is something about large format prints that sets them apart from any small format. I suppose the closest in look is that from a noctilux. The tones in black and white, the subtlety and the sharpness in the image plane contrasted against the background are unmatched in large format and get better in 8×10 than even 4×5. I love my Leicas (and what one can do with 35mm) and I keep coming back to them, but I have a have an unfulfilled quest to make even a half decent large contact print.

  5. David Comdico

    Arbus’ “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know” is a better summary of this essential aspect of photography. Sander’s photos are filled with characters who had interesting stories and untimely deaths. His story too also follows a tragic trajectory.

    I always felt that Berger, who I admire, totally misunderstood this picture in his criticism. He believed that the young men (I wouldn’t call them boys) didn’t know how to wear such clothes and that this inadvertently ended in a travesty of manners. Berger was almost embarrassed for them. But it’s better and more apt to read their jaunty carefree attitude as a sign of how most people would treat wearing such clothes – and the combination of flair and middle finger would become a staple of classic Hollywood leading men like Bogart and continues to today in Hip Hop culture. The wearing of such clothes was redefined – and Sanders eye caught that before it caught on.

    1. Rob Campbell

      Trouble though, with Arbus, is that she didn’t practise what she preached: there were no secrets, just wysiwyg. A manic depressive, then, with a photographic outlet.

      I believe that from the moment that the art institutions became interested in photography, the art/trade/profession/hobby/calling – call it what you will, has been plagued with a flood of ridiculous assumptions and pretensions with but one purpose: to promote the chosen ones and create collectors with deep wallets and the intention of making them the deeper via the sideline of collecting.

      A snap is but a snap, the better ones reflections of ability and current acceptances of what may or may not be quality work. The reading into photographs of layer upon layer of mystical thought is nonsense, though it has, without doubt, become of great promotional value. Were people to think all those deep thoughts at once, no photograph would have ever been made. Non-commissioned photography is just an enjoyment, the reactions of a good (or poor) eye to whatever stimulated it at the moment of pressing that shutter, Leica or otherwise.

      I really do get depressed when I look at photos by Arbus, Sherman, Goldin and even by more men in the “artistic world” and consider what’s actually there, on the page or the screen. None of the attached glory has the slightest to do with photographic ability or quality; to me, it has everything to do with the art world business models, the creation of value where none truly exists.

      I spend a helluva lot of time, during this pandemic especially, trawling the web and its photographic sites; I reallly had no idea that so much utter crap has legions of followers, camera manufacturers supporting it – though I do acknowledge their need to promote as they might – and the conclusion that I draw is that photography, unlike perhaps painting, depends so much on visual tricks, most of them nothing but the attaching of reputation upon simple devices such as high contrast, with or without added grain, or meaningless snaps of people on streets where meaning is supplied retrospectively. That’s not to condemn or prevent those who can actually capture images that communicate from doing what they do; this is a cry of despair at the tosh that passes, today, for much of what’s called good photography.

      Frankly, it’s what Trump might have called a shithole place to be. My reluctance to make snaps these days might not reallly have been caused by creative block, but by opened peepers. I went to sleep last night determined to get up early and go out with my camera and take that new 85mm for its second outing. In the event, I had breakfast and stayed at home. The cold light of day…

      I wonder if that unwelcome light shining onto one’s own soul is actually at the bottom of all creative blockages? Thinking more deeply about the phenomenon, how can it be that doing something one has done happily for years suddenly becomes a problem? Is it actually possible to suddenly forget what one had always previously known how to handle unless that is accompanied with new thoughts regarding its continued value?

    2. Andrew Molitor

      We tend to make meaning of photos, at least photos like this, by imagining a ground-truth for them. We “read” them by guessing at “what really happened” in some sense.

      This makes them, paradoxically, both more polysemic in reality and less polysemic in our imagination. Because we bring so much of ourself to the “reality” we’re seeing, a photo is at least as capable of multiple readings as a painting, and because we construct the meaning as a pseudo-reality, we are more committed to our reading of a photo than we are to an equivalent reading of a painting.

      Berger sees what he sees, and repeats it to us ground truth when, in fact, it differs from ground truth on virtually every point. Did he intend to suggest his reading was “truth” or just his personal reading? This is not clear at all to me. In the first place, we muddle these things up a lot, and in the second place Berger was used to looking at paintings where this isn’t even an issue.

  6. Stephen Hermann

    I love this story. I am reminded of photos I made in years past of young Vietnamese soldiers. Thank you.

  7. Rob Campbell

    I find this little video beautiful, even if, as so often happens with this duo, the videographer might be making better images than the star snapper, though I do rate Linbergh as one of the very best.

    (I would love to shed this mortal coil, when I eventually have to so do, whilst working on something similar. It also explains to me why I am so much more in love with black and white than with colour. There is so much naked soul in this stuff…to me, it’s worth all the colour pix ever made – it gets inside me, whereas I think I find colour (obviously including all of my own) as a bit superficial at best. Perhaps that partly explains why landscapes usually leave me somewhat indifferent; I have always felt them as settings for the human presence in some form.

    It’s a strange thing: colour was once thought of as strictly “commercial” and I disagreed strongly about that; as I age, I have gone backwards to accepting that concept… perhaps it’s simply because there’s no more commercial photography in my life and I’m indulging in a little retrospective rationalisation of my own.

    The colour work that has impressed me most is to be found in the Sarah Moon Pirelli calendar for ’72, I think it was; the one with the girls lounging about in that chateau as if waiting for clients to start arriving.)



    There exists, too, a Porsche shoot in what looks to me as possibly the same location, with the second car a model that I remember as being an electric version. Lindbergh at his wondrous peak, perhaps. Yes, of course there are models involved other than metal ones. 🙂

Comments are closed.