Commitment – Reading Group Notes – 10.10.16

In the extract taken from ‘commitment’, John Szarkowski introduces the idea that “commitment is [not] an optional thing for the creative person”. He believes the “commitment implies content in the work that is produced”. This means that without being fully invested in a project, then the photographic work produced will be unsatisfactory and ultimately uninspiring. The viewer will not take time to invest themselves in work that lacks in depth research and a commitment to understanding the context in which the work sits. He then goes on to make a point about “non-content photographs”, which are essentially “pictures in which the objects represented are not important within themselves”. I think what he is trying to imply here is that if a photographer chooses to photograph the banality and mundanity of the everyday, then to what extent does the viewer have to invest themselves to receive something in return? and to what extent does the photographer hold the interest of an audience?

Therefore, one must explore further afield, rather than just their own artistic practice. A photographer must be concerned with the historical, political and social factors surrounding the choice of subject matter. This is to make sure that the work produced is coherent and well informed, and ultimately seeks to represent something about the subject. Szarkowski suggests that “nourishment, this new blood that allows any creative field to become something new and something richer, must com from outside of the medium.” Photographers must therefore seek to be informed by other practitioners throughout the mediums history, and must also concern themselves with may other wide ranging factors.


In Valentine, Stephen Frailey makes the observation that the “gradual education of the photographer is contrary to this accessibility [to photography]. To achieve a degree of significance and originality involved an unusual degree of commitment and rigour, and an embrace of this contradictory toggle between the vernacular of photography and its ambitions as an individual or cultural voice.” Clearly then, it is of high importance to understand that photography as a medium is notably the most accessible, and it is relatively simple to comprehend the basics of taking a photograph. However, what Frailey is saying is that for a photographers oeuvre to be critically regarded as worthwhile, then they must invest a lot of time and commitment into the process of understanding photographic discourse, as well as its potential to reveal information to the world. Therefore, the “best photographic education is as interested in the inquiry as in the resolution, and the medium [can be used] as a vehicle for the lifelong accumulation of information and knowledge.”


Geoff Dyer makes a comment about Walt Whitman’s poetry, and observes that within some of his writing, Whitman gives extraordinary descriptive accounts of scenes in a way that everything is “literally photographed. Nothing is poetised”. Walker Evans

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