I’ve been reading Will Gompertz What Are You Looking At? The surprising, shocking, and sometimes strange story of 150 years of modern art, and this morning woke from a dream in which I was conducting a seminar in looking at photographs, and presenting an exercise for the participants. I showed them three photographs and asked that they write a response to the question “What are you looking at?” for the three. The idea was that some would know the photographs and/or their makers already, and might write on the place of each in the photographer’s oeuvre; some would be seeing the images for the first time, and might respond more subjectively; some might respond from a technical perspective, discussing how the images were captured and processed; and some might come up with other entirely novel responses to the three pictures. These were the three that came clearly to mind in the dream:
In case they’re not familiar to you, the first is Edward Steichen’s 1903 portrait of financier J.P. Morgan (see discussion), the second is by the 18-year old Jacques-Henri Lartigue in 1912 (see discussion), and the third is from August Sander’s People of the 20th Century, taken in 1914 (see discussion).
I was just imaging the discussion that would result from everyone’s reading of each other’s responses when I woke up. What surprises me is how clear the whole thing was, the images and the process and some of the outcome.
What I love about Gompertz’ title is the various emphases one might give: WHAT are you looking at? What are you looking at? What are you LOOKING at? What are you looking at? All deliciously valid questions, of course, and applicable to any appreciation of visual material (which is just Gompertz’ point, natch). And pursuing this set of questions seems a worthwhile objective for the New Year.