Living With His Camera

Writing about photography is usually either from the point of view of the photographer or of the viewer; this book speaks of photography from the standpoint of the photographed subject, a standpoint which has rarely produced public or intellectual discourse about photography.

Dick Blau has been making art photographs of the people he lives with for more than 30 years now; Jane Gallop has been living with him for twenty years.  “Living With His Camera” is about his photography.

Blau’s photographs are located at the intersection of art and family photography–two types of photography which used to be diametrically opposed but in the last few decades a number of artists have explored this hybrid genre of family art photography.  By producing art in and of his family, Blau works at the intersection of the public and the private, the personal and the professional.  Gallop is a respected cultural theorist.  This book which combines reflection on Gallop’s home life with sophisticated cultural criticism operates, like Blau’s photos, at the intersection of the personal and the professional.

This book is a complex reflection on photography and the place it has in our desires and our lives, especially our home lives.  It is also a reflection on family, an attempt (like Blau’s photographs themselves) to portray the realities of family life, beyond the pieties and idealizations of conventional representations.

Each chapter of the book reads Blau’s pictures in conjunction with a major book on photography.  It treats (in succession) major statements on photography by Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, the novelist Kathryn Harrison, and Pierre Bourdieu.

Written in a readable and often humorous style, Living With His Camera is a sophisticated mix of theoretical elaboration, personal reflection, and close reading of texts (written and photographic).

With his photographs and her text, Living With His Camera is a portrait of a professional couple, one where their professional activity is part of their private life, where their private life is viewed through their professional gazes, and where their differences are felt rather than covered over in a polite joint presentation.  It is also a sustained intellectual reflection on parenting.

All too often we drop our sophisticated views when we turn to the sentimental affections of home life.  Gallop and Blau look at each other with great affection but also with the keen focus of a sharp, critical gaze.

“This book is a book of almost filial devotion — a sympathetic reading of classic books in the field of photographic theory. It is especially interesting on two of my favorites in the field, Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, and Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middlebrow Art. Gallop critiques these and others from the point of view of the day to day experience of being the photographic subject of her photographer husband, Dick Blau, whose excellent family photographs illustrate the text. The photographed subject does not often have a voice in theory. Gallop’s contribution helps fill that gap.” 

– Margaret Olin

Buy Living With His Camera at Duke University Press

Discussion: Observations of a Mother

 Discussion: Pictures of Innocence

“Children and adults may not enjoy the world they share. What children know about adults is not always pleasant. Dick Blau confronts us with the bleaker possibilities. In his grim Family Scene (1978), the adults seem to have given up, hands over their eyes, slumped and weary. Two children plod on, both moving blindly in the same direction, their rhymed movements pushing against the adults’ static bulk. The seam of the dock, right in the middle of the foreground, acts as a psychological barrier between opposed forces of adult and child. This is the kind of scene no one would want in their family album, including Blau. His partner Jane Gallop puts her snapshots in the family albums instead. Blau has told me he and his family find it hard to look at some of his work, this photograph in particular. Yet it expresses, in part by the ordinariness of its moment, in part by the extraordinariness of its insight, a side of family life that shapes family identities as surely as happy, smiling Kodak moments.”

 

 Discussion: Pregnant Pictures

 

 Discussion: Fotosynkeria Catalog