Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Book of Shadows - as book and on exhibit

I would never have thought to write about The Book Of Shadows, however yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art, 92 prints from the book were on display in the Steichen photography galleries, & the differences between the book & the museum presentation seemed curious enough to write about.

In my sense of covetousness and dime-store connoisseurship, I would assume the actual prints, small & unique, would be the ultimate experience. However, I found the prints, hung salon-style on the wall, as a totality, took something away - the sum did not equal the parts. The images, all which include the shadow of the photographer, somewhere in the frame (usually front & center, or slightly to the side of the center), seem a bit artificial together.

The book, with its velour cover, mimicking an album of some sort, isolates each image page by page, which is akin to simply thumbing through a stack of photos. The idea is whole - each image w/ its shadow - however the physical experience of the images is not so weighted as a totality. curious.

The oddity of collecting vernacular photos is that the collector creates the meaning & gives the context - it is structured around whatever interests or tastes dictate the amassing of whatever. It is a kind of interior state built from that which is anonymous & from elsewhere. The qualities, if one wants to discuss them in such a way, are all over the place - from the cheaply sentimental to the highly arcane.

I had never thought to discuss The Book of Shadows as I enjoy it very much as a book & as a book it is marvelous, the collection I find witty & I don't know if I have anything more to say. How inert the images seemed, by contrast, on a museum wall. But perhaps this is more about the institutionalization of such random scraps - it is not the images or the collection which inherently make it as such.

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