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John Szarkowski

John Szarkowski

American curator
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American curator
A.K.A. Thaddeus John Szarkowski
Countries United States of America
Occupations Photographer Art historian Historian Writer
Gender male
Birth 18 December 1925 (Ashland, Ashland County, Wisconsin, U.S.A.)
Death 7 July 2007 (Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.)
Education University of Wisconsin–Madison
The details
Biography

Thaddeus John Szarkowski (December 18, 1925 – July 7, 2007) was a photographer, curator, historian, and critic. From 1962 to 1991 Szarkowski was the Director of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Early life and career

He was born and grew up in the small northern Wisconsin city of Ashland, and became interested in photography at age eleven. In World War II Szarkowski served in the U.S. Army, after which he graduated in 1947 in Art History from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He then began his career as a museum photographer at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

At this time he was also a practicing art photographer; he had his first solo show at the Walker Art Center in 1949, the first of a number of solo exhibitions. In 1954 Szarkowski received the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships, resulting in the book The Idea of Louis Sullivan (1956). Between 1958 and 1962, he returned to rural Wisconsin. There, he undertook a second Guggenheim fellowship in 1961, researching into ideas about wilderness and the relationship between people and the land.

Museum of Modern Art

On July 1, 1962 Szarkowski was appointed the Director of the Department of Photography of The Museum of Modern Art. He was picked by Edward Steichen to be Steichen's successor.

In 1973 Szarkowski published Looking at Photographs a practical set of examples on how to write about photographs. The book is still required reading for students of photography, and argues for the importance of looking carefully and bringing to bear every bit of intelligence and understanding possessed by the viewer. Szarkowski has also published numerous books on individual photographers, including, with Maria Morris Hamburg, the definitive four-volume work on the photography of Atget.

He wrote Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978) describing photography which dichotomized two strategies of pictoral expression. The 'Mirror' strategy focuses on self-expressive photography and the 'Window' element in which photographers like Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Henry Wessel, and Garry Winogrand leave their comfort zone to explore.

He taught at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and New York University, and continued to lecture and teach. In 1990, U.S. News & World Report said: "Szarkowski's thinking, whether Americans know it or not, has become our thinking about photography".

In 1991 Szarkowski retired from his post at the MoMA, during which he had developed a reputation for being somewhat autocratic, and became the Museum's Photography Director Emeritus. He was succeeded by Peter Galassi, the The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art.

Exhibitions curated by Szarkowski

  • 1963: The Photographer and the American Landscape. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1964: Andre Kertesz. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1964: The Photographer's Eye. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1965: The Photo Essay. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1966: Dorthea Lange. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1967: Once Invisible. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1967: New Documents. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1968: Henri Cartier Bresson. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1968: Brassai. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1969: Bill Brandt.Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1969: Eugene Atget. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1969: Garry Winorgrand: The Animals. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1970: New Acquisitions. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1970: Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
  • 1971: Photographs by Walker Evans. Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Retrospective exhibition.
  • 1995: Ansel Adams at 100. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. Curated with Sandra S. Phillips.

Retirement

In retirement, Szarkowski served on the boards of several of the mutual funds sold by Dreyfus Corporation. Szarkowski returned to making his own photographic work, mostly attempting to picture a spirit of place in the American landscape. In 2005 he had several major solo exhibitions across the USA. The first retrospective of his work was exhibited at MOMA in early 2006.

Szarkowski died from complications of a stroke on July 7, 2007 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, aged 81.

Publications

In conjunction with exhibitions curated by Szarkowski

  • "The Photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue", New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963. ASIN B0018MX7JK
  • The Animals, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969. ASIN B0006BWLBO
  • E.J. Bellocq Storyville Portraits, New York: Little Brown & Co, 1970. ISBN 978-0870702501
  • From the Picture Press, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973. ISBN 978-0870703348
  • New Japanese Photography, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1974. ISBN 978-0870705021
  • William Eggelston's Guide, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1976. ISBN 978-0262050180
  • Callahan, New York: Museum of Modern Art; New York, Aperture, 1976. ISBN 978-0900406836
  • Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978. ISBN 978-0870704765
  • American Landscapes, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981. ISBN 978-0870702075
  • Irving Penn, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984. ISBN 978-0870705625
  • Winogrand: Figments from the Real World, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988. ISBN 978-0870706400
  • Photography Until Now, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989. ISBN 978-0870705731
  • Ansel Adams at 100, 2001. ISBN 978-0821225158

Photographic theory by Szarkowski

  • The Photographer's Eye, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1966. ISBN 978-0870705250
  • Looking at Photographs., New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973. ISBN 978-0-87070-515-1

Writing contributions by Szarkowski

  • The Portfolios of Ansel Adams. New York: Bulfinch, 1977. ISBN 978-0821207239.
  • Wright Morris: Origin of a Species. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992. ISBN 978-0918471246.
  • Jan Groover: Photographs. New York: Bulfinch, 1993. ISBN 978-0821220061.
  • Alfred Stieglitz at Lake George. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1995. ASIN B00276L2CA.
  • Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, the Red-Light District of New Orleans. New York: Random House, 1996. ISBN 978-0679449751.
  • A Maritime Album: 100 Photographs and Their Stories. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0300073423.
  • Atget. New York: Callaway, 2000. ISBN 978-0935112566.
  • Still Life: Irving Penn Photographs, 1938-2000. Thames & Hudson, 2001. ISBN 978-0500542484.
  • Nature. Göttingen: Steidl; New York: Pace/MacGill, 2007. ISBN 978-3865214379.

Containing Szarkowski's photographic works

  • The Idea of Louis Sullivan, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956. ASIN B0041LVXMS
  • The Face of Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958. ASIN: B0000CK4KY
  • Mr. Bristol's Barn, Harry N Abrams, 1997. ISBN 978-0810942868
  • John Szarkowski: Photographs. New York: Bulfinch, 2005. ISBN 9780821261989. Text by Sandra S. Phillips.

Documentaries about Szarkowski

  • John Szarkowski: A Life in Photography (Checkerboard, 1998). 48-minute documentary on his life and work.
  • Speaking of Art: John Szarkowski on John Szarkowski (Checkerboard, 2005). 60-minute film of a lecture in which he talks about his own photography.

Exhibitions of Szarkowski's photographs

  • 2005-2006: John Szarkowski: Photographs, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 5 February – 15 May 2005 and toured to Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1 February – 15 May 2006.
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