Book Talk: “Why it does not have to be in focus”

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Warhol is on the cover, what could go wrong?

Nothing in this case. “Why It Does Not Have to Be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained” by Jackie Higgins is as interesting to read as it is to look at, and there is plenty of delights to view for any person’s cup of tea.

True to its title, the book is a focused look on why photography does not always have to be razor-sharp either technically or conceptually. As one would hope for a photography book, rather than just pontificate, Higgins serves up one critically acclaimed photo after another to back it all up. It’s a visual Socratic method and you’re left to examine further and think on your own.

Separated into different genres with each photo study being a concise yet impacting two pages, Higgins and the people at Prestel publishing manage to share, inform, and educate without being overbearing or overblown. It’s the sort of book I wish was available more often in photography. Not a coffee table hog but still professionally presented, it doesn’t require chronological reading and you can come back to it again and again.

As for the photography selected, each reader will react differently to the individual photos and photographers. Standouts to me are “Picture for Women” by Jeff Wall, “Strip” by Jemima Stehli, “99 Cent” by Andreas Gursky, “The Museum of Modern Art, New York (9.8.2001 – 7.6.2004)” by Michael Wesely, and “Galleria Dell’ Accademia #1, Venice” by Thomas Struth.

One apprehension going into reading this was the snobbery that often goes with fine art photography and the gallery scene, “photography with a P” as I like to call it. And while there is some of that here and there, there also isn’t. As expected with modern art, there are a lot of questions such as “what is art?”, “what is a real artist (or photographer)?”, and then some photographers who perhaps don’t care either way. In other words, it’s not too pretentious… but sometimes is… and that is what makes fine art so cute, and really worth being open to.

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