Book Review: Looking at Photography by Stephen Frailey

© Tim Davis, Profile (from permanent collection), 2003

Stephen Frailey’s book, Looking at Photography, was inspired by John Szarkowski’s influential book Looking at Photographs, published in 1973. While paying homage to the concept of one hundred images and one page of text for each image, Frailey takes the baton from Szarkowski and starts running his own race, albeit in the same direction.

Frailey’s essays feel alive and relevant to now. In his introduction, he describes Szarkowsi’s writing as lively and unpredictable, concise and anecdotal; fitting descriptions for such an important book and influencer. Much like Szarkowski, Frailey shares what he is thinking, he shows people what they should look at, and how to look. But by comparison, Szarkowski’s essays and his selected works from MOMA’s collection feel like they are from the protected past, and we have that afforded comfort and safety of relating to the work. Frailey’s approach feels more like active photo criticism versus photo history. By discussing the significance of the individual works, Frailey articulates the themes and sensibilities of contemporary photography. This makes Looking at Photography a book worthy of wanting not just because the selected images selected are from contemporary photography icons, but due to the draw of smart insights and opinion.

In his essay on the work of Alex Prager, Frailey writes, “The series ‘Face in the Crowd’ engages some of the pleasures of speculation while watching a crowd. Filled with extras: typecast character actors as archetypes of middle century generalizations, social typology as rendered in popular culture – in a costume drama, without plot activation. Prager’s mise en scéne is not based on individual experience but of an immersion in collective fiction, a nostalgia for an idealized past, the stock image.”

This is six pages into the book, and I’m already hooked. Forty pages further, and I’m hanging on every word.

Frailey gives socio political insight into Leibovitz’s privileged portraits of the bourgeois, waxes poetic in a description of the Bruce Davidson’s subway work, immediately followed by the sexually charged work of Bruce Weber and how its “shrewd function in the avarice of the market place would have profound effect on culture”, immediately followed by an image by Carrie Mae Weems which pivots nicely into the influence and tour de force which she fiercely established as an artist of color, a woman, and a storyteller who explores the narrative of African-Americans in an unflinching manner. Timely? Pertinent? Alive? Yes to all.

Frailey takes a somber tone in speaking about the image by Dawoud Bey, ‘Untitled #2 (Trees and Farmhouse)’, 2017. Rather than primarily critiquing the image itself, Frailey speaks to the concept behind what he surmises as the photographers intent. The mood of the image and the technical choices in either shooting or printing the image are the driving force behind its meaning. “The mood can be inherent, or to result from the deliberate decisions of the photographer and the use of photographic tools. Light may be considered as one of the most frequent components of photographic tonality in the same way that it can influence one’s temperament in daily life,” Frailey writes.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, the book is illustrated with major works by acclaimed artists (presented in alphabetical order within the book) such as Dawoud Bey, Tina Barney, Jeff Wall, Steven Meisel, Nan Goldin, Helmut Newton, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Martin Parr, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Tim Walker, Wolfgang Tillmans, among others. It is worth noting that the book feels like an attempt was made touch on work by artists across a range of different genders, race, and ethnicities without feeling heavy handed. It is also worth noting that may of the artists are both Western and male – a byproduct of the historically privileged art world, and the gatekeepers at the doorway to the club.

The tone and approach of the book reminds me of something Robert Adams wrote in ‘Beauty in Photography, 1981’. He says, “William Carlos Williams said that poets write for a single reason – to give witness to splendor. It is a useful word, especially for a photographer, because it implies light – light of overwhelming intensity.” In a similar way, Frailey’s essays and curated images speak to the illuminating aspect photography gives to our collective lives; its splendor is revealed when its many facets are shone upon.

© Alex Prager, Crowd #4, New Haven, 2013


© Nick Knight, Pink Powder, Lily Donaldson wearing John Galliano, 2008


© Joel Sternfeld, After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, 1979


© Zanele Muholi, Bester V, Mayotte, 2015


Spread from ‘Looking at Photography’ by Stephen Frailey


Spread from ‘Looking at Photography’ by Stephen Frailey


Spread from ‘Looking at Photography’ by Stephen Frailey


© Larry Sultan, Dad on Bed, 1984


© Cindy Sherman, Untitled #167, 1986


© Dawoud Bey, Untitled #2 (Trees and Farmhouse) 2017


Looking at Photography by Stephen Frailey
Published March 2020
204 pages
Published by Damiani SRL

Stephen Frailey, the Chair of the Photography and Video Department at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1998 to 2018, is now Chair Emeritus. In 2012 he co-founded the Graduate MPS Fashion Photography program at SVA, and is currently the Director of Education for Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn. He has had solo exhibitions at 303 Gallery and the Julie Saul Gallery and group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; International Center for Photography, New York; and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC. His work has been widely reviewed in the ‘New York Times’, ‘Arts Magazine’, ‘ARTnews’, ‘Artforum’, the ‘Village Voice’, and the ‘New Yorker’.

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Image credits: 1. Tom Kiefer 2. Jon Henry 3. Holly Andres 4. Jamil Hellu 5. Julie Blackmon

September 24–December 10, 2020

Exhibiting artists: Intisar Abioto, Holly Andres, Julie Blackmon, Kris Graves, Jamil Hellu, Jon Henry, Thomas Kiefer, Mia K. McNeal, Carlos Javier Ortis, Cinthya Santos-Briones, Hank Willis Thomas, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and Matika Wilbur

“The American Dream, the national ethos of the United States, was born from the Declaration of Independence’s ideal that “all men are created equal”. Not women, not black, brown, or indigenous people, just white men. The ethos embodies the set of ideals determined to be fundamental to humanity—democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality. It is also the idea that the pursuit of “life, liberty, and happiness” will be rewarded to those willing to work hard. With every president and change in government comes new definitions of what that means. This exhibition is a look at how the American Dream evolves under the influence of technology, war, religion, racism, discrimination, economic disparity, and eternal hope. Out of this, we aim to foster dialogue, question assumptions, illuminate prejudice, and make space for community connection within and beyond American borders.”

900 12th Ave Seattle, WA 98122

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Book Review: Self Evident Truths by iO Tillett Wright

Elise, 30, artist Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America by Io Tillett Wright © Prestel Verlag, Munich·London·New York, 2020.

“In the spirit of Richard Avedon, this book contains striking photographic portraits of 10,000 people from across the US, bringing readers face to face with LGBTQ America,” the press release lets me know. Patrisse Cullors, “the cofounder of several organizations including Dignity and
Power Now, The Crenshaw Dairy Mart, and Black Lives Matter” characterises this book as “the
largest collection of photographs of queer, trans and non-binary people – 10,000 beautiful images
that capture us in all our complexity, our honesty, our raw selves.”

Well, I do not think that photographs can do what Patrisse Cullors claims they do. What she sees in them is what she brings to them. As far as I’m concerned photographs are inherently incapable of showing complexity, or honesty, or raw selves.

So what do I see in these photographs? Portraits of different people posing in a variety of ways against a black background. Some smile, some don’t, all try, I assume, to show themselves in what they consider a favourable pose. The vast majority of the pics are very small, some are presented in a larger format. Had I not been told that I’m looking at LGBTQ America I would have neither known nor guessed it; I would have simply seen fellow human beings.

The images come with scarce information. Here are a few randomly selected examples: Niki, 37, fashion co-owner; Blair, 29, graphic-design; Dena, 22, ESOL teacher; Seven, 48, nonprofit practitioner; Yvonne, 53, construction; DW Wiona, 13, brand ambassador; Dawn, 49, paralegal. At times, I’m baffled by labels I have never heard of: What, for instance, is “atmosphere” supposed to tell me? Or “PT”? Or “respite provider”?
The most striking to me is how different and special all look. And, I’m stunned by the variety of individual expressions. At the same time I wonder why they astonish me for aren’t individual expressions typical for human beings? Of course they are. Moreover, what these photographs are essentially showing me are human beings in their various shapes and forms.

How were these shots taken? Were the ones portrayed told how to pose? Was there some sort of communication before the shots? iO Tillett Wright elaborates: “I would not instruct people on what to wear, and there would be no glam or blemish retouching. Just them, as they walked in off the street and wanted to present themselves.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” states the Declaration of Independence yet this is, as we all know, more idealism than practiced reality. Needless to say, capitalism and globalism have resulted in more inequality than probably thought possible. But that would be another story.

Photographs are invitations to look and see. They also have the potential to trigger our common humanity – if we let them. The fact that millions of people in the US are deprived of basic rights merely because they aren’t heteronormative shouldn’t be tolerated. The belief “that it’s impossible to deny the humanity of anyone once you look into their eyes” gave birth to this book.
The goal of “Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America” is to familiarise you with people you know to be queer for “familiarity breeds empathy.” And, while this may not always be the case – just think of the ones who cannot stand being close to others – that empathy is key I do find indeed a self evident truth, a truth that can be experienced and felt.

Chris, police officer Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America by Io Tillett Wright © Prestel Verlag, Munich·London·New York, 2020.

Papa Bear, 53, retired Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America by Io Tillett Wright © Prestel Verlag, Munich·London·New York, 2020.

Reverend Jakob, 34, hospital chaplain Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America by Io Tillett Wright © Prestel Verlag, Munich·London·New York, 2020.


Self Evident Truths: 10,000 Portraits of Queer America
by iO Tillett Wright

Foreword by Patrisse Cullors
Prestel, Munich-London-New York 2020

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Rory Doyle: Delta Hill Riders @ Silver Eye Center for Photography

Rory Doyle: Delta Hill Riders
September 15th – December 31st, 2020

Opening September 15th, 2020

Fellowship Award winner Rory Doyle’s project, Delta Hill Riders, is an ongoing series which explores the subculture of African American cowboys and cowgirls in the rural Mississippi Delta, shedding light on a band of horse riders that have historically been overlooked.

Silver Eye Center for Photography
4808 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

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A Yellow Rose Project: Photographs by 100+ Women in Response to the 19th Amendment @ Colorado Photographic Arts Center


A Yellow Rose Project: Photographs by 100+ Women in Response to the 19th Amendment
October 9 – November 21

“A Yellow Rose Project is a large scale photographic collaboration made by women all across the country. A year ago, artists were invited to make work in response, reflection, or reaction to the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The goal of this project was to provide a focal point and platform for image makers to share contemporary viewpoints as we approached the centennial. Our mission in researching the complication of this anniversary was to gain a deeper understanding of American history and culture, from this moment in time, to build a bridge from the past to the present and on to the future. ”

Colorado Photographic Arts Center (CPAC)
1070 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80204

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FRESH 2020 @ Klompching Gallery




“The exhibition presents the work of 5 artists working with photography, each demonstrating an original voice and vision in their work. Whilst the artists are unable to be present for the opening, we are excited to share their outstanding work and look forward to welcoming you at the gallery.”

Klompching Gallery | 89 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Eva Petrič @ Photon Gallery

© Eva Petrič, SOUNDeSCAPES − Lullaby for Drones, 2020

Eva Petrič: SOUNDeSCAPES − Lullaby for Drones
24 September – 24 October 2020

Opening on Thursday, 24 September, at 7 pm

“The inviolability of what a photograph depicts has been considered somewhat sacred since the beginning of the medium itself. Even a small edit to the snapshot or damage to the physical photograph can change the meaning and clarity of what is conveyed. The mandate of the integrity of photography is, above all, present in its primary use – as a tool for depicting reality. It is thought to portray a continued, coherent, and an intact reality, which is not only impossible but also illusory. ”

Photon Gallery
Zieglergasse 34, 1070 Wien

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Interview with photographer Jessica Paullus

From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus

My Mother, Myself: Introspective Healing

I became aware of Jessica Paullus’ work in the past couple years, and then was suggested to get in touch with her through a third person. After Jessica and I had spoken and had some conversation about the work, I became more greatly attuned to the gravity of her project, My Mother, Myself.

I’ve had a photo book by Lorena Turner, A Habit of Self Deceit, for a couple years now. The book centers on the theme of loss, hurt, neglect and largely about parenting. I didn’t know how to process the work for a very long time. I needed to follow the breadcrumbs; find the influences behind the work. It was only until feeling rather lost myself, that I began to see the equivalents she made between places and objects which bear no direct meaning upon the other. When a viewer applies a theme, when one discovers the context needed, then the pieces can fall into place. I needed to feel lost in order to gain the insight. Is this being a method writer? I don’t know.

Many among us have had conflict with our parents and how they relate, or can’t relate to who we are. If you have children yourself, particularly teenagers, your sudden role reversal may leave you feeling dizzy. Jessica Paullus has taken steps to represent these feelings in the most honest light possible in her project centered on her relationship with her mother and the dynamics of parental relationships.

In speaking about honesty and transparency in a project of something so personal, Jessica says, “I think doing work of a personal nature might help people feel less alone if they relate to a similar experience. I feel a lot of what is portrayed on social media regarding motherhood is very skewed towards what I refer to as ‘mother worship’. I see so many posts where daughters view their mother as their best friend, and I don’t have that same experience with my mother. It creates a profound sense of loneliness to think that mine is the only experience that is different, which is surely not the case. It’s a little taboo in our culture to ‘speak ill’ of one’s family,” she adds, “but I feel a responsibility to acknowledge my version of events in my relationship with my mother are only being viewed from my perspective.”

My Mother, Myself is an ongoing project with a strong foundation. Paullus views her own role as a parent as an important one, both personally and creatively. “As I have gotten older, I realize what people mean when they say to create things from your own seemingly ordinary experience, and the power that it can have.” Sally Mann and Cindy Sherman are two influences who Jessica lists being important to her work. Mann and Sherman both explore aspects of a woman’s ‘role’ both as a parent and in that of an ‘expected’ persona of a woman in society. There is a perception of how one should be in their adulthood, and the actuality of how one makes their way into adulthood. Often the two are in opposition to each other, or when they do line up, it can present the question: What if I had chose a different path? Who would I have become… what if? My Mother, Myself explores this raw territory and exposes wounds.

In her application of different photographic techniques, Jessica conveys an inward exploration of self. “It’s really meant to portray a kind of questioning of reality and perception,” she says. “Is how I feel or how I remember things the true reality? How does one know with certainty?” This project contains a number of images which evoke memories of childhood by showing the viewer images of seemingly ordinary scenes which comment on the psychologic layers of memory. Jessica uses techniques like multiple exposure in a number of her images in the project. Much like Duane Michals’ groundbreaking photographic work centered on storytelling, this ‘simple’ technique is most effective when it merely looks simple. Superimposing an image with another marries the two into an entirely new context. New meanings are inferred, and the layers of memory are analogous to the layers of image. Jessica employs this technique to fuse multiple generations within her family and ponders the question of influence and support that family can provide, or not provide.

In trying to break a cycle of habits and patterns, exploring the rationale for abuse or neglect might gain insight or self awareness to impart meaningful change. The best way to change might be getting the feel of the role in order to intuitively make better decisions and move forward. Is this method parenting? I don’t know.

From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus

Jessica Paullus is a fine art photographer and writer currently based in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Jessica is most interested in exploring through her work the effects of psychological trauma on the individual and how these experiences affect the perception of the self, memory and relationships with others. To learn more about her work, visit her website at

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Peter Ydeen @ Sykes Gallery, Millersville University

Peter Ydeen: Easton Nights
September 14 – October 15 2020

Easton Nights is a story about small town America as told by Peter Ydeen’s night photography. The Lehigh Valley, where Easton lies, has close to a million people but almost no real downtown; but instead a sea of small towns which have grown together. It has its own personality, serving as a living museum of small town Americana.

Sykes Gallery, Millersville University
Breidenstine Hall, 46 E. Frederick Street, Millersville, PA
For further information please call 717 871 7249

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Oscar Marzaroli @ Street Level Photoworks

Oscar Marzaroli
10th September – 20th December 2020

“Oscar Marzaroli is arguably Scotland’s most notable documentary photographer. His photographs and films of Glasgow from the 1950s through to the 1980s captured a period of enormous change with images of people going about their lives in the city, at work and at leisure.”

Street Level Photoworks
Trongate 103
Glasgow G1 5HD

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