Sep 23, 2009

i mean what had i been looking at?

lately, i've been thinking a lot about editing and books. ever since Dennis and i sat with denver, i've been thinking about sequences of photos, and history, and how things evolve. in October, Summer Nights is re-released as Summer Nights, Walking. i'm infinitely interested when a new issue of a classic book comes out, as it poses so many questions. the extended edit always excites me, but confuses me in equal measure. i guess, what i want is for there to be one right way to do it. and, i suppose, the fact that there isn't a right way is what makes it art. however, i want to believe that there is a magic algorithm of light, and form, magic, balance, and sequence that informs a great book. i want to believe that the original edit is it. that the other images, while beautiful, don't speak to the whole the way the original selection does. i want to believe that the first edit is history. unequivocal history.

i want all of this because the converse seems impossible to do without error. again, art.

having said that, i count Stephen Shore's new edition of Uncommon Places one of the most important books i am fortunate enough to own. yet, i found the following excerpt from the book Stephen Shore (from a conversation with Michael Fried) interesting:

MF: let me ask you a question about American Surfaces. did you make way more photos than are collects in the book?

SS: yes.

MF: so the book represents a significant winnowing.

SS: yes, it does, and the same is true of Uncommon Places. although the edition is called 'The Complete Works" it isn't. i have come to realize i am probably a terrible editor of my own work and there are many more pictures from the years of Uncommon Places that are just wonderful.

MF: i believe it. last year there was a show at a gallery in New York of vintage prints from, as it were, Uncommon Places, and i remember being surprised when i got to the Hammer that some of the images i liked best in the New York show weren't in Los Angeles or in the book. are there many such photos?

SS: yes, a significant number more. i regret it being called "The Complete Works"

MF: there will be a revised edition.

SS: or the catalog raisonné. or "The More Complete Works". i'm having a show at the end of this month at 303 Gallery, and i just could not believe the pictures i found that hadn't previously been shown. i mean what had i been looking at? maybe i just hadn't opened the right box or had completely forgotten to look in it.

U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973 © Stephen Shore

i think often about the wonderful images that get cast off. i wonder, with time and reflection, if the great works of today will be reissued as larger edits? will Alec edit an Insomnia by the Mississippi, or Dubois' a More Days and Nights?

in time, i secretly hope so.


Justin said...

I think that this can be useful to a point Ben. In terms of looking back at ones prior work and series, and therby deciding that some photographs were in fact good, which did not originally make the cut can be an interesting exercise. However, is SS's revised edition is Uncommon Places really better? I don't know. I personally own the newer edition as well, but was first introduced to his work through the first edition. While there are plenty of good images included in "The Complete Works" I do not necessarily think that any of them represent a dramatic shift or improve upon the project in any specific way. In some respects I think it is better for an artist to look forward to their new work as opposed to trying to pick out some prior gems.

ben huff said...

good points Justin. i think maybe Shore's isn't the best example, as it doesn't represent so much a narrative to me, as is does a group of photographs. maybe the inclusion, or omission, of images aren't as critical in the overall scope. i reference Alec's work in the end there, but really the two are separate animals for sure. i don't think Sleeping could be improved by a larger edit, as it would undoubtedly change the work entirely. it's too good as it is. i would be interested to see what ended up on the editing floor though.
your comment about looking forward is right on the money, and one of the reasons reissues are such a mystery to me.

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