Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History

Geoffrey Batchen, Author
Geoffrey Batchen, Author MIT Press (MA) $60 (248p) ISBN 978-0-262-02486-0
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 248 pages - 978-0-262-52324-0
Hardcover - 249 pages - 978-0-262-26789-2
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That English photographic pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot and computer inventor Charles Babbage moved in the same circles is just one of the provocative factoids marshaled by University of New Mexico art and art history professor Batchen (Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography) in this collection of nine essays tracing photography's prehistory and mapping its digital future. Particularly strong is Batchen's survey of the vernacular tradition of his native Australia, which offers sharp readings of several of the book's 34 b&w photos and illustrations, analyzing how they are used and interpreted by Australian institutions in ways resonant with the charged racial and political curatorial climate of North America. A piece on the history of photography as a genre lays to rest forever any notion of a single inventor of the medium, challenging the relevance of any canonical ""great names"" approach to an activity so thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life. As is inevitable with a book occasioned by a number of different professional circumstances, some of the essays will interest some readers more than others, and there is some repetition, but the ideas and motifs that Batchen returns to as to what constitutes a photograph, what photography's full set of origins are, who gets included and excluded from its canon, and how digital imaging is changing the medium are so richly explored that one hardly feels cause for complaint. Sontag and Barthes are usually invoked in praise of books on photography, but Batchen's daunting immersion in his subject and his theoretical acumen leave them both behind. (Apr.) Forecast: This book is pitched at the arts criticism community, but will be picked up by many practicing artists, photographers, academics and museum professionals as well. University libraries where an arts M.F.A., photography B.F.A. or art history degree are offered may find it turning up on reserve lists.
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