Photography matters, writes Jerry Thompson, because of how it works - not only as an artistic medium but also as a way of knowing. With this provocative observation, Thompson begins a wide-ranging and lucid meditation on why photography is unique among the picture-making arts. He constructs an argument that moves with natural logic from Thomas Pynchon (and why we read him for his vision and not his command of miscellaneous facts) to Jonathan Swift to Plato to Emily Dickinson (who wrote "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant") to detailed readings of photographs by Eugène Atget, Garry Winogrand, Marcia Due, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank. Forcefully and persuasively, he argues for photography as a medium whose business is not constructing fantasies pleasing to the eye or imagination, but describing the world in the toughest and deepest way.
Jerry L. Thompson is a working photographer who also writes about photography. He worked as Walker Evans’s principal assistant from 1973 to Evans’s death in 1975. He is the author of The Last Years of Walker Evans and Truth and Photography.
“How photographs work is the challenging subject of Jerry Thompson’s radiant new book. Once considered revolutionary in their illumination of the world, photographs have long since been reconceived as prestigious aesthetic objects. Against this turn Thompson argues reflectively and philosophically for a restored sense of need and purpose. The book offers a stunning recovery of the original raison d’être of camera work as revelation and knowledge.” —Alan Trachtenberg, Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies, Yale University; and author of Reading American Photographs and other books