The Light Of Coincidence: The Photographs Of Kenneth Josephson appeared on my radar thanks to Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer, and I’m better for it.

There are so many great photographers of the (recent) past, and I am so ignorant of them. Kenneth Josephson is one of those.

I should’ve known better. His picture of his arm, holding a picture of a ship out over the ocean, adorns the cover of Stephen Shore’s The Nature of Photographs, which is maybe 5 feet from me as I write. Szarkowski has his picture of his young son, holding up a polaroid of himself in front of his face like a ground glass, in Looking at Photographs, which is almost just out of reach, at the bottom of a pile of books on the side table.

Josephson is something of a photographer’s photographer. He went to RIT ID and founded the photography department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and taught there for nearly 40 years. And his photography is, jokes and all, an examination of what photography is and can do.

The Light of Coincidence opens with essays from Gerry Badger and Lynne Warren (which I actually read, but very early in the morning and too quickly, such that I only dimly recollect) and the plates are organized into six sections: Self-Portrait (often his shadow, or a piece of it, and including some of the ones where his arm is seen, holding something out); Family (including the famous picture of his shadow looming over his infant son); Women (many nudes…); Cityscape (many interiors…); Landscape (many with a ruler or that carpentry tool for measuring complex angles); and Object (mostly easily or wildly conceptual).

I admit to not having spent enough time with this book… I flipped through it once for the unboxing and again before writing this (not-a-)review, but it’s really something best digested in small doses.

As Mike Johnston says,

You know that third helping of dessert when the first helping was ecstatically delicious, or rides at Six Flags, or that friend of yours who’s full of new jokes, amazing facts, facile wordplay, excessive bonhomie, and too much energy by half, but who wears you out after three or four hours?

He goes on to suggest picking the book up, flipping to a random page, looking at 12 or 15 pictures, then putting it down again, and I think I agree, partly, but the big problem for me is precisely the aforementioned organization.

Josephson worked on specific projects and put together specific bodies of work. Sure, he probably started by just walking home from work and shooting whatever caught his fancy, but he eventually figured out that he was shooting, say, rulers and yardsticks held up against things, or his arm, holding out photographs or mat board with a square cut in it, framing the world, or making excruciatingly conceptual references to photographs of the past, like the four horseshoes ‘floating’ on a wall referencing Muybridge. If I could see all of these “History of Photography” series, or all of the arm holding out a photograph pictures, or (and especially) all of the cut and stacked photographs (where he made multiple photographs from the same location, then cut and stacked and made some strange new thing) together, and just look at one of them at a time, rather than jumping hither and yon all over his long career (there are pictures from the late 1950s and from them mid-2010s in the book).

Still, given that I was only aware of a few Josephson pictures (and didn’t know who made them) before I picked this up, I’m glad to have The Light of Coincidence as a part of my collection.

Unrated, recommended

You can still find The Light of Coincidence: the Photographs of Kenneth Josephson new on that jungle site and elsewhere, and shows numerous new and used copies available all over for ~2/3 of the cover price. If you’re someone who likes to look, who likes to think about photography, who wants to think about looking at photography in different ways, it’s definitely worth picking up.

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