Books On My Desk: “On Photographs” (Not “On Photography”), A Japanese Halo, Landscapes Without Mountains

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Somehow, since my last post on my many unopened photography books, more have arrived. I posted about three hoping to shrink the stacks—seven new ones have appeared, add to the two piles upon my desk. I’m going in the wrong direction. Luckily my desk is more of a table so there is space, but just barely.

The newest arrival is On Photographs by David Campany. Campany is an intellectual in the style of Susan Sontag and credits her, perhaps in a backhand way, for spurring the writing of this book. Hers was On Photography, but contained none of it, his is On Photographs and contains many photographs, each with a corresponding essay.

The format reminds me of John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs or Maritime Album or even of John Updike’s series of Just Looking books (the third posthumous one I ordered when I googled to double-check the title, alas I can’t stop). The format is an image, then a short essay, sharing the author’s thoughts and reactions to that image.

It’s a good format.

Halo arrived last week, a thin but sturdy-feeling black book in a discreet slipcover. Rinko Kawauchi’s book came out three years ago and seems like something rare from a museum collection while the ink of On Photographs is probably still damp. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to find something fresh inside, something different when so much photography seems so much the same.

I’m stepping into Kawauchi’s work midstream—Halo is a follow-on to her earlier book—but sometimes it is rewarding to go backward.

Japanese photography has always been a thing, something discrete from photography in the United States or Europe. Japan has a robust photography culture that doesn’t seem to have any comparison. Even their used camera gear hints at a more intense world—it’s common to see Leicas, for example, with the most inconsequential blemish imaginable or even with an inauspicious serial number being sold for shipment to the United States, unmarketable within Japan.

We’ve been talking about Ansel Adams and landscape photography recently but what we don’ talk much about is landscape photography in the eastern United States. Was there such a thing? East of the Mississippi has the story–and the pictures.

The book itself—my copy is still shrink-wrapped—has a faded look to it, which I think is intentional, but it flexes. It’s a thick book and the board making up the covers doesn’t seem up to the task—by comparison, halo seems stiff and built for forever. It says it is published by the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press but there is no author or editor name on the front cover (“Wagoner”, I see now, is in small print at the top of the spine). There is a whiff of cost-cutting about it.

Should I be worried? Then again, I almost forgot to put my own name on my own book.

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