They have the power to steal your breath, provoke tears. They might overwhelm and inspire you, bring you to your knees, even.
But they won't. These moments passed into oblivion, unfixed by the camera - snapshots that went unsnapped. Now, they're in a book: a photography book without pictures.
The collection, "Photographs Not Taken," edited by Will Steacy, features the testimonies of 60 photographers who recount the moments that slipped from their photographic grip, either because they couldn't take the picture, or wouldn't. (Peter Moskowitz The New York Times
Photographs Not Taken is a book about photography in which there is not a single photograph. It's a collection of essays by 62 photographers about the ones that got away: the images - burned to memory and conscience - that, for one reason or another, the photographer could not make.
The photo community has grasped this little book to its bosom. The premise is simple and the emotions expressed, often by big-name photographers - Jim Goldberg, Emmet Gowin, Todd Hido, Nadav Kander, Mary Ellen Mark, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Sylvia Plachy, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti, to name a few - are common to us all. Readers learn that talented photographers experience wobbles just like anyone else, and that photography, as it reflects life, can be a struggle. PNT is now in its second run after the first edition sold out in March.
The 200+ pages of Photographs Not Taken do not focus on amazing light, or compositions missed, but on humanity seen, remembered, cherished, learned and broken. Maybe photography can't live up to experience. Maybe photography steals away - or sullies - the preciousness of memory. After reading Photographs Not Taken, those moments of hesitation, so warmly shared, are far more arresting than some of the most engaging photographs. As Aaron Schuman speculates, those memories are "perhaps the photographs kept, not taken." (Pete Brook Wired
The most thoughtful and provocative book on photography i've read in a long time contains not a single photograph, but it's full of memorable images. For Photographs Not Taken, editor Will Steacy asked 62 photographers to describe the ones that got away - the "mental negatives" that haunt them years later. The results - brief essays, many no more than a page - are unexpectedly eloquent and revealing. (Vince Aletti Photograph Magazine
No printed images mar this page-turning collection of anecdotes from 62 working photographers. They are men and women like Mary Ellen Mark, Andrew Moore, Laurel Nakadate, Alec Soth, Todd Hido and the late Tim Hetherington, whose cameras are practically extensions of their bodies. Editor Will Steacy asked each to describe an irresistible photo op that they let pass, however great the temptation or ingrained the habit.
Their "mental negatives," as Steacy terms their recollections, bring up a variety of ethical questions that stem from a common predicament: whether to shoot or not -- or, in Hetherington's case, whether to expose an image of the dead to the public or not. Agony, frustration, fear and longing persist throughout. (Linda Yablonsky Artnet
The book is full of lost moments and missed opportunities, some poignant, some hilarious, some mysterious. (We never find out why Ballen did not photograph inside the witch doctor's house. Was it superstition, or had he simply gone out without his camera?) One of the funniest is told by Matt Salacuse. As a struggling photographer in New York, he was waiting to meet his father in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, when he spotted Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman with their newborn adopted baby. Salacuse went outside and positioned himself by a waiting limo, waiting for the celebrity couple to emerge. Just as he was about to photograph them, Cruise looked straight at him and said calmly: "You're not going to do that." Salacuse writes: "It must have been some crazy Scientologist voodoo mind trick, because I looked at him and said, 'You are right. I am not.' And, I didn't."
Like the others, all that Salacuse was left with from his chance encounter was a story about a great photograph that never happened. Sometimes, as this book shows, that's enough. (Sean O'Hagan The Guardian
The next time someone criticizes professional photographers as callous and indifferent to their subjects, open this volume to any page at random and read the the thoughtful, soulful words. Reflecting on the photos they do not have, the contributors also reflect on their occasional uneasiness in their role as observers, their relationships with the people they photograph, the meaning of photos in preserving memories and what Nadav Kander calls the times 'you just get an instinct when to put the camera down and be fully present.' (Photo District News