Thursday, January 31, 2019

Q & A with John Harding

John Harding (b. 1940) is a photographer based in San Francisco. His book Analog Days was my favorite photobook discovered in 2018. More of his photos can be found on his website, and in the online collection at SFMoMA.

BA: Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Granite City, Illinois across the river from St. Louis. Worked at Granite City Steel, went to SIU, Carbondale, Il. Travelled thru Europe, camping for a year. 

JH: How and when did you first get into photography?

I had my first camera, one I got with Blue Chip Stamps after I saw the movie Blow-Up.

How did you wind up in San Francisco?

Eileen, Judy, Phil and John Mosbacher, from the portfolio Siblings, 1977

Got a job in San Francisco that I didn't like very much. Started taking photographs of Siblings that turned into a B/W book, which got me into graduate school at SFAI. Henry Wessel was one of the teachers at SFAI and Garry Winogrand visited the class. I learned from them what a photograph could be. I began to  photograph in color everything that interested me. Sandra Phillips saw and exhibited the work as did John Szarkowski. I read everything they and others wrote. 

What other photographic training did you have? 

I was also freelancing for Fortune, Newsweek and other magazines. There was a lot of work, you just had to be competent and show up. In fifteen plus years I did over a thousand assignments. It supported my work. 

Did you also make photos for yourself during those commissions? Or did you keep your personal work separate? 

Yes, the work is separate because assignment work is problem solving and personal work is about seeing things that you are not trying to solve but to experience.

Does the process of looking for photos sometimes interfere with experiencing things?

Experience and looking are the same thing.

San Francisco, California, Castro Street Parking lot, 1984, from the book Analog Days 

What did you do after freelancing?

Later I had a part-time job teaching Editorial Photography at SF City College. There were many good students making great photographs.

A couple of times a year I would go out to Hank (Wessel)'s with a hundred or so work prints. He would do a Yes stack and a No stack of prints. Nobody knew the possibilities of photography better than Hank. Hank Wessel edited Analog Days and the new book Streets of Discontent. I thanked him for what was there and more importantly for what was not there. 

I love the idea of Yes and No stacks. I'm curious how often you disagreed with his choices. Did you trust him fully with the edit? Or were there certain photos, either Yes or No, that you decided to part from Wessel?

I fully trusted Hank Wessel and came for his advice and did not want to amend it. And in the final edit I used photographs that he did not recommend but spoke to me.

How did the resulting book Analog Days come to be published in Japan? 

Because I was there and showed work to the publisher.

Published in 2012, Analog Days finally sold out in August 2018

The captions in Analog Days are extremely specific, down to the exact date. Can you tell me something about your archiving/filing system, which allows such specific indexing?

I just date the film as I shoot it.

Now that Henry Wessel is gone, do you have a community or close group of friends with whom you can share photos? 

No community of close friends, Photography is alone activity. Thankfully. I photograph everyday and the world is a wonder to me. 

When and why did you begin using flash with your street photography?

I use flash very seldom and not at all in the latest book.

Can you tell me anything more about your process? 

I shoot everyday and follow the light, try not think or expect too much. I go where the people gather like birds. I am the birdwatcher.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Erratic Musings

Hot tip for photobook junkies. Powell's in Portland is currently stocking remaindered copies of Errata's Books On Books series. There are quite a few to choose from. You can see exactly what's available here. Although the Powell's site lists them as Used, they are in fact brand new, no remainder marks, shrinkwrapped at $18.95 apiece. That's less than half list price. I'm not sure how Powell's wound up with these but they've only got a few copies of each title. So if you've had your eye on a specific Errata book, now may be the time to bite, especially if you live near Portland. 

I picked up Bad Weather (sorry, last copy) and 60 Fotos yesterday. Bad Weather has always been my favorite Parr book. The photos are quick and raw and frosty, with none of the garish glitz of his recent stuff. As for the mysterious Moholy-Nagy, he's always seemed one step ahead of the game. Although he worked with photos, I think at heart he was a graphic designer, and a very good one. 60 Fotos was initially published in 1930, before various photographic camps and genres had begun to solidify. It's a free form stream of pictures, negatives, photograms, and collage, all blended into a sort of boundary busting book stew. Super eclectic and right up my alley. Why are there so few books like that being made today?

What this means for Errata Editions is anyone's guess. It's been over two years since their last book came out. They've posted a few events on social media since then, but nary a peep about upcoming books. Ed Grazda just came out with his own book Mean Streets, and Jeff Ladd is busy with young kids, and making new photos in Germany, so one can assume they are consumed with non-Errata stuff. But does this mean Errata has run its course? Unclear. All I know is it's generally not a good sign when a publisher relegates half its back catalog to the remainder shelf. 

Whither Errata Editions?

I've griped here plenty about the inaccessibility of out-of-print photobooks. No need to rehash all that again. Errata's raison d'ĂȘtre — "dedicated do making rare and out-of-print photography books accessible to students and photobook enthusiasts"— states the problem clearly, a view closely aligned with my own. If someone's resurfacing old books, I'm in their corner all the way. 

That said, Errata has never fully satisfied my out-of-print book itch. Don't get me wrong. I love their books. I own several. But they've always felt more like academic studies than actual photobooks. They're a bit on the small side, the idiosyncrasies scraped clean, a shadow of the originals. Mind you, they are great for what they are, but I often find myself just wanting to see and hold the actual photobook dangit. Errata feels like an old film that's been pirated 2nd hand from a movie screen. Fun to watch but in the end I'm even more hungry for the projected version. Or something like that.

I can't help wondering how much the good ol' Internet has effected Errata. Many out-of-print titles can now be viewed page-for-page on Youtube or Vimeo, while sites like Josef Chladek's reproduce photobooks in their entirety as jpgs. These free options sit right in the same target space as Errata, and I think they may have crowded the field for their products. But who really knows. Perhaps in an effort to ward off the digital threat, Errata's titles were deep cuts unlikely to appear online. Kudos to them for shining a light into obscure corners. But frankly, some of those corner were less than exciting.

If this is in fact the end of Errata, it's been a fine run. If not, I'm looking forward to whatever's next. Either way I'll probably be back at Powell's next week to see what remainders.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Street Resurfacing, Cont.

My last post put me in a Winogrand mood, so I figured it'd be fun to share some other old ephemera. The photos below are from an early Garry Winogrand photo essay published in the debut edition of Eros, Spring 1962, which I stumbled upon in a Maine bookshop several years ago. 

I guess Winogrand's Love In The Subway fit the journal's theme. 

As far as I can tell Eros was a soft-porn journal aimed at the intellectual crowd. This was back before the sexual revolution when such subjects were taboo, so Eros had to hint at the subject sideways. It's full of double entendre and poetry and wink-wink/nudge-nudge, plus a few photos. 

The photos seem pretty tepid to me, unremarkable by today's standards. 

They're only noteworthy because of who made them and what he'd do later.

But I guess that's the crux of the issue. 

How did a 34-year old journeyman assignment photographer break through from shooting this mediocre material to his miracle year 1964 just two years later? 

Something in the water? Drugs? Indian Yogis? The sixties? The 10,000 hour rule? 

Your guess is as good as mine. Just grateful it happened.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Street Resurfacing Project

John Sypal recently sent me a photocopy of this old interview with Garry Winogrand, conducted by Charles Hagen. It was originally published in Afterimage in December 1977, just before Winogrand's 50th birthday, and arguably near the peak of his career. Some of the photos included are recognizable from Public Relations which had just been published, and Stock Photographs, which would come out a few years later. Maybe they looked ok in the original magazine, but here they're severely degraded by multiple copy/scans. So it's probably best to ignore them and just enjoy the text, which is chock full of interesting nuggets. To the best of my knowledge this is not online elsewhere. For serious photo nerds only!

1/18 Update: PDF version available here (Thanks, Ben Helton)