by Susan Bright
Bright has collected the work of eighty contemporary photographers for this volume, dividing their work into seven sections: portrait, landscape, narrative, object, fashion, document, and city. She acknowledges the images could in some cases easily belong to a different section; organizing principles being apparently necessary and given the limitations of print, she had to choose.
You could probably go on and on about the choosing in a book like this. Why this photographer and not that one? Why these images, when this other work is better/more interesting/less expected/etc.? Why give more space to X instead of Y? I’ll be honest: I just don’t find those questions all that interesting with a book like this. It’s a survey, taken by one person, and you are clearly getting that one person’s point of view… idiosyncrasies, publishing limitations, favoritisms, and all.
I picked this up (borrowed from a library) and decided to spend time with it because I’d heard of enough of the photographers in it to be curious about the ones I hadn’t. Yes, the bunny-headed man on the cover grabbed my attention. There are 261 photographs included in the collection, the vast majority in color. For each photographer, Bright has includes a short introductory paragraph and then gets out of the way, letting the photographer speak for herself/himself about the work, and of course letting the work speak. The introductory essays for each section are similarly short, though I can’t say they added much for me. This isn’t a knock on Bright; it’s more and admission that the images were the draw, and what I really cared to focus on.
So, how are they? There’s probably something for everyone with an interest in contemporary photography. Some familiar names and images (Nan Goldin, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, Jeff Wall, Uta Barth, Olivio Barbieri), some familiar names with less familiar to me images (Wolfgang Tillmans, Hiroshi Sugimoto), and some folks I wasn’t familiar with at all (Hannah Starkey, Collier Schorr, Melanie Manchot). In this I think the collection does it’s job: shows you a bit of what you know, alongside something you’ve heard of, mixed in with new. The point isn’t to recognize every photographer or image, but to look around a bit and identify new dots on the map for later exploring.