This book is overflowing with ideas and thought-provoking conversations about photography. Campany is a great scholar and writer, and he engages in an upbeat, casual-but-smart manner with a wide range of photographers and artists in this volume—including Broomberg & Chanarin, Daniel Blaufuks, Robert Cumming, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lewis Baltz, John Stezaker, Paul Graham, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Jeff Wall, Lucas Blalock, Susan Meiselas, Victor Burgin, William Klein and Stephen Shore.

So, by nature of this range of artists and thinkers, the conversations cover a lot of topics, and they twist and turn and veer in interesting ways. In his short introduction to this volume, Campany writes:

“Whether long or short, nearly all these conversations were open-ended. Neither party knew where we might go or where things would end up. For me, that is always the real value of a conversation, as opposed to an interview (or worse, a questionnaire). There is risk and excitement, a sense of mutual exploration and speculation.”

New Orleans (Woman Eating), 2004, from a Shimmer of Possibility (2007) © Paul Graham

I was thrilled to discover pearls of wisdom, so condensed and direct and generous, like this observation by Paul Graham about working with series of photos that were all made around the same subject at the same time:

“It’s trying to simulate the experience of looking and noticing and time passing. That’s a lot to do with what photography is about, trying to simulate the experience of noticing, that breaking moment of awareness.

If you go back before photography to representational painting and the Dutch Old Masters, their paintings were like ‘Behold: Look at this person in front of you.’

Photography has picked up that mantle and is running with it now. It’s the same artistic idiom – ‘Look at the wonder of this person, this object, this landscape’. It’s about the beautiful irreducible fact of the thing right there.

With Shimmer, it’s trying to tap into that and appreciate the way that life moves around you and past you, and how moments of awareness drift in and out. Your consciousness drifts from one to the other. So, you’re right, it’s very much about trying to represent this flowing element of life, but then hoping people will take that out of the gallery, and walk out onto the street and see something similar.”

New Orleans Woman Eating, 2004 from a Shimmer of Possibility (2007) © Paul Graham

Each conversation is illustrated by some remarkable photos. This is all really valuable for anyone who wants to dig in and understand how photography can be so powerful, effective and memorable on a number of levels. And some of the talks feel “essential”. For example, the conversation with Stephen Shore alone is an excellent reason to own and read (and re-read) this book. Highly recommended!

— Jim Casper

Mimic, 1982. Transparency in lightbox, 198 x 228.6 cm © Jeff Wall
I-8, Yuma, Arizona, 23 September 1974. Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York. © Stephen Shore

Mom and Mr. Yerby’s Hands, 2005, (from the book The Notion of Family, Aperture, 2014) © LaToya Ruby Frazier

Maria, from the archive of Adela K, circa 1942 © Dora Fobert

Hairdressers’ School, Tokyo, 1961 © William Klein
So present, so invisible
by David Campany
Publisher: Contrasto
ISBN: 8869657418