Alan Huck writes about concepts from different disciplines that have been applied to photography. This article is the winner of the 2021 Source New Writing Prize. To see more information about the prize and other selected entries visit the Source website.
When the poet Mary Ruefle began writing the lectures that would later be collected in her book Madness, Rack and Honey, she realised that she could talk about anything in the world and still be talking about poetry. For a poet, it seems, anything that one experiences, from a tangible object to a vague feeling, is capable of being transmuted into the language of poetry. And just as the impulses for writing poetry can be found anywhere, the ideas used to inform and think about it as a discipline are also potentially as ubiquitous. They only have to be thought of in those terms, tailored appropriately, and applied. Photography, like poetry, is characterised by a constant channeling between itself and the world, a reciprocity, to borrow from its own vernacular. Photography looks at the world while also absorbing it, transforming aspects of it into something else altogether. Within this relationship there exists a wide range of diverse processes. Fragmentation, isolation, fixity, accumulation, reconstruction – these things are all integral to photography as a practice and help to make up the complex, mutable logic that regulates it. Film, as a technological extension of photography, shares some of its characteristics, though it too is grounded in its own particular set of principles, as are writing and music, mushroom hunting and race car driving. All of these endeavors contain an underlying logic that is endlessly transferable, capable of being transposed from one discipline or context to another. It all depends on how and where someone decides something may be useful. Minor White notably took inspiration from Richard Boleslavsky’s Acting: The First Six Lessons, written in 1933. He felt it contained the ‘essentials of creative work’ which were useful not only for the theatre, as it was intended for, but also for the practice of photography. Through it, he was made to understand the ‘clothing of the naked emotions that is necessary to art,’ the way that photographic form could be used to render private expressions as something universal. White looked to Boleslavsky’s work as a template for his own book-length manuscript, ‘Eight Lessons in Photography,’ which, although it was never published, served as the foundation of his teaching philosophy over the next few decades. Henri Cartier-Bresson, another master of 20th century photography, considered the book Zen in the Art of Archery ‘a manual of photography.’ Its lessons of mastering and transcending the technical aspects of shooting with a bow and arrow, so that it becomes an unconscious activity, make for an obvious parallel to Cartier-Bresson’s own mystical notion of ‘the decisive moment,’ when mind,