At the Edge of the Light: Thoughts on Photography & Photographers, Talent & Genius

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David R. Godine Publisher, 2003 - Photography - 173 pages
2 Reviews
In these seven essays, revised, rewritten, and expanded from his lectures, David Travis presents his thoughts on some of his favorite subjects: Weston, Stieglitz, Kertesz, Brassai, and Strand. His knowledge is such (often enriched by firsthand acquaintance) that he can, and does, discuss more than images or personalities; he understands what informs the work, from what milieu it derives, under what influences it matured, how it evolved, and how it succeeded. He is an art historian willing to venture far beyond the periphery of traditional academic fences; to discuss number theory (quite literally), the mathematics of G. H. Hardy, the poetry of Rimbaud Valery, Rilke, and Goethe, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the extravagance of Henry Miller.

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At the Edge of the Light: Thoughts on Photography and Photographers, on Talent and Genius

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Curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, Travis undertakes the difficult task of explaining why good photography is good. With seven essays taken from the author's own lectures, this ... Read full review

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Whether it's a re-interpretation of Bresson's "decisive moment" or his feeling of strangeness that Kertsz's Chez Mondrian remained unpublished and unknown for so long; David Travis' seven essays make for an excellent afternoon's read and offers insight into some of the subtle nuances that comprise the gamut of photographic genius. In fact, I found his essay on Kertsz more interesting for what it said about Mondrian than about Kertsz himself although it does provide context for his meticulous compositions Chez Mondrian and Mondrian's Pipe and that the Mondrian studio environment may have "helped to discipline [Kertsz's] lyrical eye."
I'm afraid I was less than convinced with the curious relationship of number theory to photographic composition. Particularly the statement attributed to Cantor that "...these two sets form the same size of infinite set.." (an absurdity without dimension) and I switched-off from the details at that point. I did however, enjoy his conjecture regarding the role of the subconscious in both mathematical and artistic creativity and the acknowledgement that inspiration and perspective is often found far away from the perceived comfort of our own artistic discipline. For me this is where the book's title made every sense and on reflection served as it most important lesson.
Travis' final three essays offer plausible conjecture into the generational stages of Weston, Stieglitz and Strand not only with regards to the chronology of creative expression as identified by the Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu but also because there is much within the Rikyu aesthetic that speaks to their latter work. Well recommended!!

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About the author (2003)

David Travis is Curator of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago where he has directed photography programs and acquisitions since 1972.

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