Random Sights and Diversions

Photography Media Reviews Commentary


Eliot Porter Birds at MOMA

Eliot Porter. Blue-throated Hummingbird, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona, May 1959 [Lampornis clemenciae]. 1959. Dye transfer print, 9 5/16 x 7 3/4″ (23.7 x 19.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of David H. McAlpin. © 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Eliot Porter, whose work consisted mainly of color photographs of nature, was one of the leading American photographers of the Twentieth Century. Anyone interested in nature photography who is not familiar with Eliot Porter should certainly make his acquaintance. There is a wonderful exhibit of Porter’s photographs of birds at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Curated by artist Trisha Donnelly, the exhibition is the latest in MOMA’s series of “Artists Choice” exhibits.

These are wonderful images. All of them were captured in the wild. Some of the images look more like fantastic paintings of birds in striking poses, but all are natural. Porter’s technique, shooting to Kodachrome with a large format view camera, is also remarkable, particularly capturing birds in flight in the days before fast digital photography. According to Donnelly, Porter “had to wait for hours for a bird to come to him. ‘He would stare at trees for an impossible amount of human time,’ says Donnelly … He was obsessed with the microscopic and the universal at once, ideas of chaos and infinity.”(*)

MOMA’s website on the Artist’s Choice series is here. A good review with an excellent selection of images was done by NPR and is here. More information on Eliot Porter here.

The exhibit continues to July 28, 2013.


Henry Moore with Bystander

Henry Moore with Bystander. Fuji X100. 23 mm. 1/1000 sec f/2 @ ISO 400. June 2013. Copyright 2013 Joanne Mason.

Henry Moore with Bystander. Fuji X100. 23 mm. 1/1000 sec f/2 @ ISO 400. June 2013. Copyright 2013 Joanne Mason.

This magnificent Henry Moore is at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in the sculpture garden. I suppose technically the “bystander” is a “sitter”. The juxtaposition of poses and scale, along with the empty chair, said something to me.  The sculpture is “Family Group” from 1948-1949. (More on Henry Moore at MOMA here. More on Henry Moore here.)



Stairs. Fuji X100. 23 mm. 1/125 sec f/2 @ ISO 500. June 2013. Copyright 2013 Joanne Mason.

Stairs. Fuji X100. 23 mm. 1/125 sec f/2 @ ISO 500. June 2013. Copyright 2013 Joanne Mason.

Shifting gears somewhat, beginning a new series of images… This was shot at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). We see the actions of others, going down and going up, only through a window at a distance. In a sense, the human forms are an integral and yet minor aspect of the image. I also like this as a pure composition, the interplay of light and shadow, vertical/horizontal and diagonal lines.


“What I’m Reading” … The Photographer’s Eye

[“What I’m Reading” is a post consisting of less than a full review of a book but rather a more concise mention about something I’m currently reading and finding interesting enough to write something about.]

The Photographer’s Eye (not to be confused with Michael Freeman’s really exceptional Photographer’s Eye that was reviewed a while back) is based on a classic 1964 photo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  The Photographer’s Eye was written and curated by John Szarkowski, MOMA’s curator of photographer for many years. Incorporating Szarkowski’s essay and commentaries and 172 images, The Photographer’s Eye has long been out of print, but it is now back in print in a very fine edition published by MOMA. I discovered my copy at Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica.

Szarkowski organizes the images in the collection according to – and discusses in his essay and commentaries – the categories “The Thing Itself,” “The Detail,” “The Frame,” “Time,” and “Vantgage Point.” These categories bring a distinctive perspective on thinking about photography.

But what I found most provocative and thoughtful was Szarkowski’s assertion in his essay that

[photography is unique in its] ability to challenge and reject our schematized notions of reality.

In photography, we see things we otherwise had not noticed; or we observe something in a new way. with new perspectives, or new relationships; or with new shapes, colors, forms. And instead of seeing the photograph as an innately distorting view of reality, we begin to see the photographic image as a new reality itself.

The Photographer’s Eye, by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 1964. Republished and copyright 2007.

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