The listing that jumped out at me from the most recent catalog was John Szarkowski's Photographs, a comprehensive retrospective of the late MOMA curator's personal work. When it was released just a few years ago I figured it would be shortly out of print. But here it is three years later selling for less than $20. You can never tell.
Not to overstate things but Szarkowski is about as central to current photographic thought as the four apostles are to Christianity. By singlehandedly championing Friedlander, Winogrand, Eggleston, and Shore (among many others) he basically created the taste of an entire generation of art photography to follow. Who knows? If it weren't for him color might never have caught fire. The snapshot might still be relegated to family albums, safely quarantined from museums.
The irony is that Szarkowski's photographs —the ones which make up the bulk of his remaindered book which I don't plan to buy— look nothing like the work he helped establish. Instead it seems trapped in the pre-Szarkowski era. His photography is of the Weston school, large format b/w previsualized on a tripod with a heavy emphasis on natural forms. Trees, shadows, and rustic homes shown in infinite detail, the same junk we've all seen a million times. Although there are many current practitioners of this aesthetic I can't help consider it a little dated, and judging by the sales of his book I don't think I'm alone. Szarkowski himself must have sensed its tiredness, and that probably motivated him to expand photography's reach.
Yet even as his curatorial work was helping this style into obsolescence, his own photography never varied from it. To me this seems like the central paradox of his life. How was he able to see the work of others with such a fresh eye, and yet not have the same vision when viewing his own work? That question should be a spur to all photographers to look carefully at their own work and try to see it as others might.