Photographic Wonder

Marvin Heiferman. Photo: Alex Welsh/WIRED

We know that one day, hopefully not too far off, the wunderkind of La Paz Group’s photographic contributors will get his gear fired up and we will be displaying his latest wonders here again. We hear that his hiatus in Ithaca, NY since about one year ago has run its course, full of fascinations, back-looking reflections, photographic recapitulations, and even small distractions. Onward, westward, as ancestors of his did in previous centuries. More from Milo soon, we hope.

Meanwhile, on the topic of photography and wonders, Wired offers an interview to illuminate what might not otherwise be obvious at first glance:

For his book Photography Changes Everything, Marvin Heiferman spoke to experts in 3-D graphics, neurobiology, online dating, the commercial flower industry, global terrorism, giant pandas, and snowflake structure to understand the infinite ways imagery affects our everyday lives…

…The book synthesizes the obvious yet subconscious truth that photography has leapt up several meta levels from its traditional definition as a hobby or career. It’s a universal language. And there’s no better authority to make this reveal than Heiferman. He cut his photo-teeth in the early ’70s as assistant director of LIGHT Gallery — the first gallery dedicated to contemporary photography in New York City — working with Callahan, Gowin, Hosoe, Kertesz, Mapplethorpe, and other big-hitters…

Wired: The title of your book is Photography Changes Everything. Are we really talking about photography or are we talking about imaging?

Marvin Heiferman (MH): It’s about photographic imaging. The book is mostly about still images but it is a problem now to try to wall off still photography from video or video stills. My interest in this project came from working at the Smithsonian with access to the 14 million photographs and the keepers of the photography collections. I began to understand that the medium worked so differently for different people. It was time to explore the medium itself from multiple vantage points instead of the perspective you get when you are looking at photography in art museums.

Wired: What is the thrust of the book?

MH: People talk about photography being a universal language but really it’s not; it’s multiple languages. The dialogues you can have with neuroscientists about photographic images are as interesting and as provocative as the dialogues you can have with artists. People have wildly different contexts in which they use photographs — different criteria for assessing them, reasons for taking them, priorities when looking at and evaluating them. It creates incredible possibilities for dialogue when you realize the medium is so flexible and so useful.

MHJonathan A. Coddington, Curator of Arachnids and Myriapods at the Smithsonian who is a great, eccentric and lively scientist. I asked, ‘How does photography change what you do?’ He thought about it for a while and realized that it had. You cannot study spiders and understand spider behavior without the study of webs. Webs could not be photographed adequately until the 1960s. [Before then] people would try to take webs indoors and ruin the architecture, or spritz them with water which would distort the architecture. One researcher’s grandmother told the entomologists to sprinkle webs with cornstarch.

Wired: Did any essayists change your own views on photography?

MH: Those who profoundly changed my thinking were visual anthropologists. They talked about the materiality of photographs; as things! As opposed to people who spoke about how the functions of photographs are changing with the digitization of imaging.

I followed how photography worked for all sorts of people. People who were doing photographs for people for dating websites. I came across a story about the head of adoption services for the state of New Mexico who was having trouble placing teens who were aging out of the system, or siblings that needed to be adopted jointly — they were not the cute little babies that people preferred to adopt. The head of the adoption service came up with the idea to have local photographers make portraits of these children and mount an exhibition at one of the preeminent galleries in Santa Fe. All of a sudden people started adopting children who had not been adopted before. The idea grew and spread to 40 other states.

Photography Changes Everything is a project to start to raise the issue of photography’s central role in our culture, in our thinking and in our perception which is not something that is talked about or explored much, even in museums that do photography shows…

Read the whole interview here.

One thought on “Photographic Wonder

  1. Pingback: Photography, History, Destiny |

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