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Poetic Photography and an Invitation to Fall in Love

“Robert Doisneau with Rolleiflex” by Peter Hamilton

In going through some boxes of my books, I unearthed a couple of treasures that I hadn’t seen in oh-too-many years.  (Too few shelves, too little time!)  One of them, called Dialogue with Photography, is a collection of interviews with master photographers.  They were conducted by gentlemen named Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper for a European magazine named Camera, and the book was published in 1979.  The interviewees include Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Brassai, W. Eugene Smith, Andre Kertesz, Wynn Bullock, Minor White, among other luminaries.

The book is filled with rareties and realities.  When Imogen Cunningham is asked if Edward Weston ever bought one of her prints, she replies that he never had enough money to buy anyone’s work.  In this and later posts, I’ll share with you some passages that I like especially, beginning with this from the wonderful Robert Doisneau (into which I’ll insert a few of his photographs):

“Picasso’s Bread” by Robert Doisneau

            The photographer should be a filter between the mysterious unknown and the reception of this world.  It is possible that the photographer has a ‘psyphoto’ side. . . .  but when you say this you seem crazy – ‘the poor fellow, he must be exhausted!’  But I believe in this to a certain extent.  There is a language in photography that is somewhat mysterious, which isn’t a vocabulary, which isn’t an alphabet, which isn’t a science, or even an art as a ‘cultural phenomenon,’ which may be as a fellow said, ‘in direct contact with the unconscious.’  This may be possible in relation to photography.

“The Inferno” by Robert Doisneau

Do you relate this to poetry?

There is nothing closer!  It is tremendous!  The poetic language of people, like Ronsard, is extraordinary!  The choice of words, the bouquet of words without logical construction, is the same as that within a photo.  Poetry and photography are much closer together than photography and painting.  It is wonderful!  You touch the exact thing, the unconscious side of this thing!  And again it is here that the poetry of Prevert was very close to photography.

“Jacques Prevert” by Robert Doisneau

It is taking, within language, the used and worn-out expressions and setting them into a kind of ring so that they shine. 

“A Woman Passes” by Robert Doisneau

This is marvelous.  It is true poetry, not studied . . .  Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Ronsard, Rabelais, and Cendrars – they used images, and they didn’t mince their words.

“Be-Bop Cellar, St. Germain de Pres, 1951” by Robert Doisneau

And what that last means to me, in part, is that we shouldn’t turn away from working on an image, or presenting that image, just because we think that its viewers may find it confounding, unsettling, inexplicable, even morbid — if we ourselves believe that the mysterious reality’s light shines through it.

And I’ll add in closing:  If you don’t already know Doisneau’s work, and if you’ll spend some time exploring it, I believe the chances are very good that you’ll wind up falling in love with him!

“The Last Waltz of Bastille Day” by Robert Doisneau

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .

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