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"At the Edge of the Light" is a collection of seven essays on Brassaï, Kertész, metaphors about the parallels between photography and mathematics, the role of narratives in photography, Weston, Stieglitz, and Strand.
The first essay on Brassaï covers a long swath of his life, but the parts I found most interesting where those about his relationships with other artists in Paris during the late 1920's and 30's, particularly Henry Miller, and his intellectual influences, such as Goethe and Nietzsche. The best word I can find to describe the narrative and writing in this essay is "pleasant." I particularly enjoyed Travis' description of Brassaï's work as capturing "flow and duration", and contrasting it with Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment." I found this description of Brassaï's work to be among the best aspects of the book.
The second essay deals with Kertész. Although Travis discusses much of Kertész's work during the 1920's, he mainly focuses on the picture "Chez Mondrian," Kertész's relationship with Mondrian, and even much on Mondrian himself. While I did enjoy this essay, I didn't take as much away from it as the others.
The third essay was by far my favorite, not just because it is about the relationship between mathematics and photography and I am a mathematician, but because it is genuinely deep and novel. Travis discusses the creative process in photography through metaphors with mathematical reasoning and proof in the (relatively) accessible field of number theory, even going so far as to proclaim that "there is no difference in the way a creative idea comes to a mathematician and the way one comes to a photographer.Read more ›
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Whether it's a re-interpretation of Bresson's "decisive moment" or his feeling of strangeness that Kert?sz's Chez Mondrian remained unpublished and unknown for so long; David Travis' seven essays make for an excellent afternoon's read and offers insight into some of the subtle nuances that comprise the gamut of photographic genius. In fact, I found his essay on Kert?sz more interesting for what it said about Mondrian than about Kert?sz himself although it does provide context for his meticulous compositions Chez Mondrian and Mondrian's Pipe and that the Mondrian studio environment may have "helped to discipline [Kert?sz's] lyrical eye."
I'm afraid I was less than convinced with the curious relationship of number theory to photographic composition. Particularly the statement attributed to Cantor that "...these two sets form the same size of infinite set.." (an absurdity without dimension) and I switched-off from the details at that point. I did however, enjoy his conjecture regarding the role of the subconscious in both mathematical and artistic creativity and the acknowledgement that inspiration and perspective is often found far away from the perceived comfort of our own artistic discipline. For me this is where the book's title made every sense and on reflection served as it most important lesson.
Travis' final three essays offer plausible conjecture into the generational stages of Weston, Stieglitz and Strand not only with regards to the chronology of creative expression as identified by the Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu but also because there is much within the Rikyu aesthetic that speaks to their latter work. Well recommended!!
The book consists of seven essays, most of them based on 1991-2001 lectures. The first two deal with Brassaï and Kertész, who were active in the early part of the twentieth century. The next two concern the parallel between creativity in mathematics and in photography, and the importance of narrative in photography. The author concludes by musing on late photographs (or sets of photos) from three outstanding photographers: "Point Lobos" by Edward Weston (1944), the "Equivalents" series of clouds by Stieglitz (1920s - early 1930s), and "Fall in Movement" by Strand (1973). Some 10 pages of notes follow the 162 pages of text. I found the book thought-provoking, and many of the photographs were new to me, but the book could have been improved in the following ways. First, an index would have enabled the reader to find specific passages or artworks of interest. For example, one might like to see again the paragraphs on Poincaré on pages 74-75, or the photos by Sternfeld on pages 80 and 85. Second, it would have been nice to know the dimensions of the original photographs. A work that is only a few square inches in size will have a different impact than one that covers an entire wall. Third, virtually the entire book discusses creations by white men; it would have been nice to introduce some diversity in race and gender. Finally, while the off-white matte 6"x8.5" paper is lovely for the text, it does not allow high-quality reproduction of the photographs. Pure white semi-glossy paper in a larger format would have been better. Buy this book from Amazon.com!
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In his introduction to this book David Travis says that he wants readers to consider "that some images are expressions that found their form because of particular human conditions in the lives of the photographers." That certainly sounds like a more achievable goal than the exploration of talent and genius described in the subtitle.
Of the seven essays included, five are devoted to the photographers Brasai, Andre Kertesz, Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand. Two essays are more general dealing with the relationship between mathematics and photography and narrative and photography.
The essays about the artists are chatty little stories, most of which seem to support a thesis that photographers careers reflect a movement from trying to please their public to trying to please themselves. The essays are interesting, but don't seem to lead to what the author himself calls the "aha" phenomena. Since the audience for this book is likely to be people who take a serious interest in photography, rather than the man on the street, the reader is unlikely to be surprised by the conclusion that some pictures nail us into a moment while others are full of ambiguity. And the essay that says that some mathematical models call to mind the work of some photographers is more likely to tell us something about the mind of Travis then about photography.
It's nice to know that even when the artist Michel Seuphor pressured Kertesz into taking pictures of Piet Mondrian's studio, Kertesz was able to impress his vision upon the picture, or that Stieglitz's affair with the 23-years-younger Georgia O'Keefe affected his photography (I should hope so!).Read more ›
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