John Szarkowski Photographs

This is the man who taught us how to look at photographs. Szarkowski held the position of director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 1962 to 1991, succeeding Edward Steichen in that role. MOMA produced 160 exhibitions of photography under his leadership. He championed the careers of many visionary photographers, including Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. He also authored a number of books, including the classic work Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, published in 1973. 

Now, after 29 years of being critic, educator, curator and arbiter — and a lifetime of making photographs — we get to look at his own photographs, those taken 60 years ago, and those from recent years. These are included in a new book, John Szarkowski: Photographs, and in an exhibit currently at the SFMOMA. 

It is intriguing to evaluate and appreciate for ourselves (never too far from the Szarkowski lens) what he has seen as worthy to photograph and share with us. Some is head-scratching sentimentalism, some dead-on perfect in a frame.

How much has Friedlander and Arbus influenced him (or he, them?). After looking at Evans in the very best light over time, how has his work influenced Szarkowski's own photographic sight?

Looking at these photos, one seems more predisposed at first to search for reference, connection, and to fix it somehow in the flow of the history of photography. But finally it is rewarding to appreciate them as truly good photographs.

— Jim Casper