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The Ongoing Moment Hardcover – October 11, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Having already tackled jazz (But Beautiful) and D.H. Lawrence (Out of Sheer Rage), cultural critic Dyer now turns his intelligent and discriminating eye to photography. Essentially a fast-moving series of highly focused "close readings," his volume zeros in on the way "certain photographs serve as nodes, places where subjects initially considered distinct converge and merge." Thus Paul Strand's "Blind Woman, New York, 1916" leads Dyer not only to other photographs of the blind by Lewis Hine and Gary Winogrand, but also to a survey of different portraits of blind author Jorge Luis Borges and to a consideration of Walker Evans's SX-70 photographs. Like the great English critic John Berger (Ways of Seeing), whom Dyer wrote about in Ways of Telling, the author has a lively and dramatic sense of provocation. He declares, for instance, that William Eggleston's photographs look "like they were taken by a Martian who lost the ticket for his flight home and ended up working at a gun shop in a small town near Memphis." He also has a loose-limbed—and mostly surefooted—ability to balance a number of elements into a functioning whole. In an overcrowded field, Dyer's book is distinguished by an idiosyncratic and infectious enthusiasm. 8 pages color illus. not seen by PW. (Oct. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

A self-styled "scholarly gatecrasher," Dyer has written with equal fervor about D. H. Lawrence, military history, and jazz. Here he turns to photography, with the caveat "I make no claim to being an expert in this or any other field." Indeed, he confesses, "I don't even own a camera." The resulting book is a curious encyclopedia, purposefully eclectic and incomplete. The images are taken mostly from the canon of American twentieth-century photography, but Dyer arranges them in unexpected clusters—blind accordionists here, vacant benches there. He imagines William Eggleston's pictures to be the work of a Martian, stranded in Middle America, who keeps looking for his lost ticket home, "with a haphazard thoroughness that confounds established methods of investigation." The Martian is an apt stand-in for Dyer, a flâneur in the world of photography, who bypasses the famous sights in favor of back alleys and side streets.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422157
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #966,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mike Windsor on January 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Lets say that you had a smart friend who had studied photography, and who had a good photograph collection. And lets say that you and that friend spent some time going through the photos and discussing them. And lets say that your friend wrote a series of narratives based upon your discussions. Now you have an idea of what The Ongoing Moment is going to be like.

Make no mistake, the book is not a transcript of conversations, but the segments have a more the feel of a talk with a friend than a lecture. This feeling may come from the somewhat random order of discussions. The book is not a history, and it is not arranged chronologically. There are no overly technical discussion in the book. Technical aspects are mentioned only to the extent that they are needed to discuss why an object is lighted in a particular way, or why an object is or is not in focus.

The emphasis of the book is on photography as art. Dorthea Lang, whose Depression-era photos are often considered photojournalism, is well-represented, but her photos are discussed more as art, rather than as news or current event reporting. The book focuses primarily on photographers who worked in the U.S. in the Twentieth Century. Ms. Lang, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, and Michael Ormerod figure prominently in the book.

Here is an example of how the sections can run. The first section starts with a photo of a blind beggar, then discusses other photos of blind beggars, then blind beggars with accordions, then accordionists who are not blind or beggars. Another section discusses the omnipresence of men in hats. During the Depression, the hats get shabbier.
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Format: Hardcover
An informal streaming flow of conversation about photography, is how I would summarize this book. A lack of chapters but a mostly connected stream of ideas, floating like a leaf down a gentle stream, is what it is like to read this book.

Dyer, who does not even own a camera himself, discusses forty-two well known photographers, just about all of whom you would expect to be found on the shelves of a well-stocked used bookstore, names like Talbot, Paul Strand, Stieglitz, Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Dorthea Lange, Diane Arbus, Gary Winogrand, Thomas Eggleston, etc. And some not as well known names, too.

The loose structure of the book suits the subject matter well. At times Dyer compares how different photographers approach the same subject matter (the book opens with the famous 1916 Paul Strand photo, "Blind Woman New York" and proceeds to show and discuss similar photos by Lewis Hine, Gary Winogrand, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Andre Kertesz, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, and Bruce Davidson. Not all themes are so lavishly represented by examples in the book, which includes 93 B&W photos, 12 color plates. At times, Dyer examines the photos, and at other times the photographers, including a most interesting complex relationship between Strand and Stieglitz, different stages of their relationship demonstrated in portraits they took of one another. (this particular section includes explicit photos and discussions with strong sexual content.) Subjects/themes discussed include hands, hats, park benches, drive-in movies, stairs and fences, barber shops, doors, and others.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The association of one photo to another is interesting. The photos selected are all well discussed with true or fabricated stories behind. However, there are two inadequacies. One is the undivided trunk of text which makes reading lack of rhythm. I would rather prefer books with chapters or sections to make chewing easier. The other more important inadequacy is the omission of all colour plates in the Kindle version. It is grossly unfair to readers, especially for books of photography where seeing the photos is the essence.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dyer, a non-photographer has taken on the task of trying to catalog trends in photography. Its weaknesses are that it is limited as the author writes (he did have to get permission to use images) and is mainly American men and twentieth century. While it includes Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange and Nan Goldin extensively and two brief mentions of Imogen Cunningham. The absence of Margaret Bourke-White, Lisette Model, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and Tina Barney when they would have fit into what was studied created the typical boys club attitude.

That being said it is still a good introductory to thinking about what is going in your photographs. Without taking a photograph he illuminates the subject of subject matter.

By having no chapters but rather by slipping in and out of subject matter he does a very good job of introducing photographic history and theory to the beginner. He allows people to think about how they have been influenced by the images and social meanings of subject matter that goes into a photographer's decision to trip the shutter.

One of the greatest lessons for a photographer to learn is that you are not photographing a completely new idea. You as a photographer have been influenced by the society that you have grown up in and while you may not consciously recognize that an image is familiar to you that image has been seen before. Dyer indicates that quotation can sometimes create better images by the quoter than the quoted and allows the photographer to make a statement about the quoted.

Dyer as an Englishman can take an outsider's view of American photography and recognize cultural differences and preferences that an American inherently overlooks as natural.
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