Pointing in photography

Picking up on the Atget theme from my previous post, I refer to the idea of the photographer as ‘pointer’from the article written by John Szarkowski in his introduction to The Art of Atget (Vol. 1, Old France, pages 10-11), the incredible series of four volumes the Museum of Modern Art published in 1981. Here’s the quote that has been part of my frame of reference ever since:

“To note the similarity between photography and pointing seems to me useful. Surely the best of photographers have been first of all pointers—men and women whose work says: I call your attention to this pyramid, face, battlefield, pattern of nature, ephemeral juxtaposition.
But it is also clear that the simile has its flaws, which become obvious if we consider the different ways in which the photographer and the hypothetical pointer work. The formal nature of pointing (if the notion is admissible) deals with the center of an undefined field. The finger points to (of course) a point, or to a spot not much larger: to the eyes of the accused, or a cloud in the sky, or a finial or cartouche on a curious building, or the running pickpocket—without describing the limits of the context in which that spot should be considered. An art of pointing would be a conceptual art, for the subject of the work would be defined in intellectual or psychic terms, not by an objective physical record. The pointing finger identifies that conceptual center on which the mind’s eye focuses—a clear patch of the visual field that one might cover with a silver dollar held at arm’s length—outside of which a progressive vagueness extends to the periphery of our vision.
The photographer’s procedure (and his problem) is different, for whether he means to or not he will make a picture of sorts: a discrete object with categorical edges.”

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