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Photographs Not Taken 2nd Revised ed. Edition

4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0983231615
ISBN-10: 0983231613
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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)

About the Author

Lyle Rexer is the author of "Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde" and "How to Look at Outsider Art." He has contributed essays to several photographic monographs, including "Room to Play" by Simen Johan, and frequently writes for " The New York Times", "Art in America, Art on Paper" and "Graphis", among other publications.

ROGER BALLEN, born in New York City in 1950, has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, for more than 30 years. He worked as a geologist and mining consultant before making his name as a photographer by documenting the small dorps or towns of rural South Africa and their isolated inhabitants. Since DORPS was first published in 1986, Roger Ballen has produced a number of notable books, including "Platteland: Images from Rural South Africa, " (1994), "Outland "(2000), "Shadow Chamber" (2005), and "Boarding House" (2009). Ballen regularly shows his work in galleries around the world, and his photographs are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Tate, London and the Iziko National Gallery in Cape Town.

Lyle Rexer is the author of "Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde" and "How to Look at Outsider Art." He has contributed essays to several photographic monographs, including "Room to Play" by Simen Johan, and frequently writes for " The New York Times", "Art in America, Art on Paper" and "Graphis", among other publications.

Nina Berman is an associate professor of German at Ohio State University.

Nina Berman is an associate professor of German at Ohio State University.

ROGER BALLEN, born in New York City in 1950, has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, for more than 30 years. He worked as a geologist and mining consultant before making his name as a photographer by documenting the small dorps or towns of rural South Africa and their isolated inhabitants. Since DORPS was first published in 1986, Roger Ballen has produced a number of notable books, including "Platteland: Images from Rural South Africa, " (1994), "Outland "(2000), "Shadow Chamber" (2005), and "Boarding House" (2009). Ballen regularly shows his work in galleries around the world, and his photographs are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Tate, London and the Iziko National Gallery in Cape Town.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 223 pages
  • Publisher: Daylight Books; 2nd Revised ed. edition (March 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983231613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983231615
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew Ilachinski on April 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
The book is a collection of short essays - by a wide range of photographers - about moments in space and time that never became photographs! Oh, how well I (as all photographers can, at one time or another) resonate with those moments. Maybe we've forgotten our camera, or our tripod, or filter; maybe our camera froze at an inopportune moment; maybe the subject of our gaze shifted its position, or flew away, as we were preparing to take the picture; maybe a gust of wind blew that perfectly composed image into the mists of time, or that sudden burst of sun from behind a cloud ruined the perfect exposure.

As a photographer myself, the book made me think of many of my own "Photographs Not Taken" moments; when, even though I was in the right state of mind and soul, and had perfectly well functioning camera and gear by my side, the photograph I wanted to take - the photograph I needed to take - I did not take, and is now gone forever. I vividly recall one particular series of photographs I could easily have taken and never did. It happened between 25 and 30 years ago, when my dad (an art restorer / artist) was still in his prime and worked at home in his upstairs studio. Except for one precious photograph, captured more by accident than design, I do not have any other visual record of my dad working as an art restorer in his studio! This represents the single greatest regret in my life as a photographer (thus far); namely, that I had never trained my eye and camera on my dad while he was still alive and worked in his studio.

Photographs Not Taken contains many stories similar to mine, that range from whimsical, to personal, to tragic.
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OK so if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a picture untaken worth? This brisk but captivating collection answers that just question. In thoughtful, short vignettes accomplished photographers recall That Unsnapped Moment in their careers or lives. This book reports on how a photo that never happened occupies the imagination, how it is developed by memory, and rendered in writing. There is some magical imagery and sentence-ing in these collections and it's probably magical because it reminds us that any picture that presumes to capture the "now" becomes instantly elegiac (see Instagram, which fetishizes that transformation). So the perfectly composed moment remembered through the lens of relinquishment becomes even more haunted. It's also fascinating to browse through all the reasons that seasoned photographers miss or choose to miss the perfect shot. I was surprised how different all the disclosures are from each other, and yet how touchingly personal, whether an author is attending the birth of his child or chasing news in Syria.

The writing of some of these compact, punchy essays is so evocative I am encouraged to check out the work of these photographers to see if their snapped photos match the keeness of their observations. Here is Laurel Nagadate: "There is a beauty in not being enough. Sometimes, photographs live in our hearts as unborn ghosts and we survive not because their shadows find a permanence there, but because that thing that is larger than us, larger than the things we can point to, remember, and claim, escorts us from dark into light, we emerge from the flames with no one in our arms, and we never unpack the camera." This collection is a potent tribute to not unpacking the camera but taking the moment anyway. Highly recommended if you take photography or memory at all seriously.
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Although, conceptually, the book might prove interesting enough to be worth while, I found myself bored and wanting to abandoned the book altogether. But I stuck it out, hoping to find some tidbits of worthwhile insight to take away from it all. I found none.
Being a photographer myself, I have had my moments of photographs "not taken". These moments have been precious as they were moments where I was poised to take the shot, but consciously chose not to, so as not to rob myself of the full experience of the moment. In other words, I found more value in the observation and of the unadulterated moment, than I could ever feel from a picture produced of that moment.
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The production values in this book are delightful, very minimal and spares but eminently readable as a consequence. The essay a short and perfunctory, some soulful and reflective others a tad abstract, I've enjoyed most of them so far, still reading of course, but a nice little book to read in the small quiet times, when you aren't in the moo for a bigger read or don't have the time. I am a little disappointed by the lack of depth in some of the essays, still few photographers are writers, Emmet Gowin being the exception in this book.
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This book really allows you to let your imagination hold hands with these A list photographers as they each eloquently describe a photograph not taken. Simply being out of film, not knowing how to get into the action, respecting a subject's privacy or their own, every essay is a little gem and an insight to the realities and practicalities of this art. Sylvia Plachy's words haunt me: "Diane Arbus would have done it."
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