John Szarkowski

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John Szarkowski
John Szarkowski-crop.jpg
Portrait of Szarkowski (cropped) in 1975 by Richard Avedon
Thaddeus John Szarkowski

(1925-12-18)December 18, 1925
DiedJuly 7, 2007(2007-07-07) (aged 81)
Known forPhotography curator

Thaddeus John Szarkowski (December 18, 1925 – July 7, 2007)[1] was an American photographer, curator, historian, and critic.[2] From 1962 to 1991 Szarkowski was the director of photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).[3]

Early life and career[edit]

He was born and grew up in the small northern Wisconsin city of Ashland, and became interested in photography at age eleven. In World War II Szarkowski served in the U.S. Army, after which he graduated in 1947 in art history from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He then began his career as a museum photographer at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

At this time he was also a practicing art photographer; he had his first solo show at the Walker Art Center in 1949, the first of a number of solo exhibitions. In 1954 Szarkowski received the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships, resulting in the book The Idea of Louis Sullivan (1956). Between 1958 and 1962, he returned to rural Wisconsin. There, he undertook a second Guggenheim fellowship in 1961, researching into ideas about wilderness and the relationship between people and the land.

Museum of Modern Art[edit]

New York's Museum of Modern Art appointed Szarkowski director of its department of photography, beginning July 1, 1962.[4][5] Edward Steichen chose Szarkowski as his successor. In 1973 Szarkowski began service to the National Endowment for the Arts as one of its three photography panelists.

In 1973 Szarkowski published Looking at Photographs a practical set of examples on how to write about photographs.[3] The book is still required reading for students of photography, and argues for the importance of looking carefully and bringing to bear every bit of intelligence and understanding possessed by the viewer. Szarkowski has also published numerous books on individual photographers, including, with Maria Morris Hamburg, the definitive four-volume work on the photography of Atget.

He wrote Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978)[6] identifying a dichotomy between strategies of pictorial expression in American photography; "It seems to this viewer that the difference between [Minor] White and [Robert] Frank relates to the difference between the goal of self-expression and the goal of exploration." Though not all photographers in the book are American (Frank was Swiss, for example), the pictures were taken and/or exhibited there. The publication is divided almost equally into Parts I (pps. 29–86) and II (pps. 87–148). His 'Mirror' analogy represents self-reflective photography, represented in the book by Jerry N. Uelsmann, Paul Caponigro, Joseph Bellanca, Gianni Penati, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michals, Judy Dater and others; while the idea of the 'Window' is found in the documentary approach, exemplified by inclusions of work by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Henry Wessel, Joel Meyerowitz, and Garry Winogrand.

He taught at Harvard, Yale, and New York University, and continued to lecture and teach. From 1983 to 1989, he was an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.[7] In 1990, U.S. News & World Report said: "Szarkowski's thinking, whether Americans know it or not, has become our thinking about photography".[8]

In 1991 Szarkowski retired from his post at the MoMA, during which he had developed a reputation for being somewhat autocratic,[citation needed] and became the museum's photography director emeritus. He was succeeded by Peter Galassi, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz chief curator of the department of photography at The Museum of Modern Art.[9][10]

Exhibitions curated by Szarkowski[edit]


In retirement, Szarkowski served on the boards of several of the mutual funds sold by Dreyfus Corporation. Szarkowski returned to making his own photographic work, mostly attempting to picture a spirit of place in the American landscape. In 2005 he had several major solo exhibitions across the USA. The first retrospective of his work was exhibited at MoMA in early 2006.[29]

Szarkowski died from complications of a stroke on July 7, 2007, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, aged 81.[30]


In conjunction with exhibitions curated by Szarkowski[edit]

  • "The Photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue", New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963. ASIN B0018MX7JK
  • The Animals, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969. ASIN B0006BWLBO
  • E.J. Bellocq Storyville Portraits, New York: Little Brown & Co, 1970. ISBN 978-0870702501
  • From the Picture Press, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973. ISBN 978-0870703348
  • New Japanese Photography, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1974. ISBN 978-0870705021
  • William Eggleston's Guide, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1976. ISBN 978-0262050180
  • Callahan, New York: Museum of Modern Art; New York, Aperture, 1976. ISBN 978-0900406836
  • Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978. ISBN 978-0870704765
  • American Landscapes, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981. ISBN 978-0870702075
  • Irving Penn, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984. ISBN 978-0870705625
  • Winogrand: Figments from the Real World, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1988. ISBN 978-0870706400
  • Photography Until Now, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989. ISBN 978-0870705731
  • Ansel Adams at 100, 2001. ISBN 978-0821225158

Photographic theory by Szarkowski[edit]

Writing contributions by Szarkowski[edit]

Containing Szarkowski's photographic works[edit]

Documentaries about Szarkowski[edit]

  • John Szarkowski: A Life in Photography (Checkerboard, 1998). 48-minute documentary on his life and work.
  • Speaking of Art: John Szarkowski on John Szarkowski (Checkerboard, 2005). 60-minute film of a lecture in which he talks about his own photography.

Exhibitions of Szarkowski's photographs[edit]

  • 2005–2006: John Szarkowski: Photographs, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 5 February – 15 May 2005[31] and toured to Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1 February – 15 May 2006.[32]


  1. ^ Gefter, Philip (9 July 2007). "John Szarkowski, Eminent Curator of Photography, Dies at 81". The New York Times.
  2. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (20 July 2010). "Was John Szarkowski the most influential person in 20th-century photography?". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (July 13, 2007). "John Szarkowski, 81; Cast New Light on Photography". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ "John Szarkowski, Director, Department of Photography" (PDF). 1972. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  5. ^ Sischy, Ingrid; Brant, Sandra, (editor.); Sischy, Ingrid. Let's pretend; Sischy, Ingrid. Hands of time; Sischy, Ingrid. White and black; Sischy, Ingrid. Sam Wagstaff's silver; Sischy, Ingrid. Belief; Sischy, Ingrid. Selling dreams; Sischy, Ingrid. Lee Friedhandler: nudes; Sischy, Ingrid. Some clothes of one's own; Sischy, Ingrid. Good intentions; Sischy, Ingrid. Exposure (2018), Nothing is lost : selected essays of Ingrid Sischy (First ed.), Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-1-5247-3203-5 {{citation}}: |author2= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Szarkowski, John; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) (1978). "Mirrors and windows American photography since 1960" (PDF). New York Museum of Modern Art.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Program for Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large". Cornell University. 2018. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  8. ^ Horn, Miriam (February 12, 1990). "American Vision: The eye of John Szarkowski". U.S. News & World Report.
  9. ^ "Peter Galassi Appointed Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art; John Szarkowski Named Director Emeritus" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  10. ^ "Peter Galassi to Retire From the Museum of Modern Art After 30 Years" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-07-01. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
  11. ^ "The Photographer and The American Landscape" (PDF) (Press release). The Museum of Modern Art. September 24, 1963. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  12. ^ "André Kertész" (PDF) (Press release). The Museum of Modern Art. November 24, 1964. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  13. ^ "Exhibition – The Photographers Eye" (PDF) (Press release). The Museum of Modern Art. May 27, 1964. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  14. ^ "The Photo Essay" (PDF) (Press release). The Museum of Modern Art. March 16, 1965. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  15. ^ "Dorothea Lange" (PDF) (Press release). The Museum of Modern Art. January 25, 1966. Retrieved May 23, 2018.
  16. ^ "Once Invisible" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  17. ^ "New Documents" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  18. ^ "About 150 works by one of the 20th-century masters of photography, the French artist Henri Cartier-Bresson, will be on view" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Brassai, whom Henry Miller once called the "eye of Paris," ..." (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  20. ^ "Bill Brandt's Photographs at Museum of Modern Art" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Atget at the Museum of Modern Art" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  22. ^ "The Animals" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  23. ^ "Photography: New Acquisitions" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  24. ^ "East 100th Street" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  25. ^ "E. J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  26. ^ "Photographs by Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  27. ^ "Diane Arbus" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  28. ^ Department of Public Information, Museum of Modern Art. "Photography Until Now Press Release". Museum of Modern Art Press Releases. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  29. ^ "John Szarkowski: Photographs February 1 – May 15, 2006". Museum of Modern Art.
  30. ^ Gefter, Philip (July 9, 2007). "John Szarkowski, Curator of Photography, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  31. ^ "John Szarkowski: Photographs To Open At SFMOMA". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  32. ^ "John Szarkowski: Photographs". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 8 February 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Philip Gefter. "The Photographer's Curator Curates His Own," The New York Times, (January 30, 2005)
  • Andy Grundberg. "An Interview with John Szarkowski". Afterimage, Volume 12 No. 3 (October 1984), pages 12–13.
  • "An interview with John Szarkowski". Modern Painters (Spring 2004).
  • Hilton Als. "Looking at Pictures". Grand Street, No. 59, page 102.
  • Mark Haworth-Booth. "An Interview with John Szarkowski". History of Photography, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1991), pages 302–306.

External links[edit]