Review: Dear Photograph, by Taylor Jones

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

For all the talk (including quite a bit in The First 10,000) about mindful, even artistic, images, that’s not all there is to photography. Most photographers are snapshot shooters, and even the most diehard photo fanatic — the ones who obsess over every last setting and compositional detail, nearly every time — have times when they let their hair down, figuratively speaking, and shoot spontaneously. Just because.

There’s something vaguely voyeuristic about Taylor Jones’s Dear Photograph, which began life as a blog and now finds itself between covers. The idea works in part because it’s so simple; find an old snapshot, find the place where it was shot, and “reframe” the shot within a new photo.

The resulting photo is accompanied by a short blurb from the photographer, explaining the story behind the original photo, and the feelings that go with it now. In concept, it comes off a bit “meta,” as though someone’s sending postcards to postcards. In practice, there’s a poignance that you might not necessarily expect to come from looking over someone else’s shoulder.

As I’ve alluded to elsewhere, books derived from websites are a decidedly mixed lot, but this one works in a way that the book based on, say, Awkward Family Photos doesn’t. That’s not to say that I can’t kill an entire afternoon on Awkard Family Photos (I can, and very nearly have). It’s just that once you’ve seen the photo, the joke’s over. You won’t get quite the same effect the second time around.  In the case of Dear Photograph, however, the photograph isn’t just a one-note joke or concept, and isn’t simply self-referential. We’re not just invited into someone else’s memories as if into their living rooms, in other words; we’re reminded first of the power of a photograph to preserve moments in time, then of the persistance of memory, then invited in some sense to think back on similar moments in our own lives.

This isn’t one of those photo books filled with gorgeously-exposed, perfectly composed shots calculated to give you goosebumps because of their sheer, improbable perfection. The goosebumps here come for another reason altogether. These photos are all too probable; they’re ordinary, and lived-in. And that’s fine, ’cause life’s full of “just because” moments, those times when someone does something silly, memorable, even poignant, and it’s up to the person on the other side of the camera to just put all the technicality to one side for a bit and get the darn photo. The power in a photo like that comes precisely from its spontaneity and imperfection. They’re moments captured one at a time from lives not as we wish them to be, but as we actually lived them, with all the complication and emotion and imperfection intact. There’s a palpable warmth to Dear Photograph, not despite those rough edges, but because of them.

You can purchase Dear Photograph through this Amazon affilite link to help support The First 10,000. You can — well, really, you should — also visit Dear Photograph on the web here: