CHARLES HARBUTT | Romance for the Real 5

Issue 13

Christianity was of course the primary art motif in the Middle Ages. Like the Egyptians, the priests claimed to have figured out a system to achieve immortality, eternal life, which they controlled and whose verbal brains legislated the rules, but medieval class structure was a subtext, through the positioning of subjects. God was highest and frequently the largest figure in the frame, cardinals, saints and bishops were next, emperors and other believers next, especially the nobility and at the bottom came the serfs and sinners, often tiny. Art’s purpose was to teach religion’ as Pope Saint Gregory said: The picture is to the illiterate what the written word is to the educated. A detailed list of symbols was promulgated to which artists had to conform. There could no longer be any reference to anything actual because neither the artists nor the image police had ever seen the events being portrayed.

CHARLES HARBUTT | Romance for the Real, Part IV

Issue 12

The Greeks Greece is the stencil of western civilization; it is where we have looked for democracy’s model. In Greece, the frontal lobes, the rational, verbal brain took over control of communication. Greek letter-forms are abstract shapes referring to the sounds of the letters themselves, not to any drawing of something real as in earlier alphabets. There is a theory that this divorce led to the triumph of abstract thinking in the West, the “victory” of the verbal brain.

CHARLES HARBUTT | Romace for the Real, Part III

Issue 12

I started these Reflections because I felt that the art histories I’ve read left too much out, especially things relevant to photography. In the first article I talked about the evolution of our three brains: reptilian, mammalian (visual) and neomammalian (verbal), each with its own intelligence. In the second piece, I pointed out that from the beginning people have valued visual objects where something in the actual world made its own image, a good description of photography, even before its literal invention. This piece explores the impact of the word-oriented civilization on the visual arts, a not always friendly relationship.

CHARLES HARBUTT | Romance for the Real, Part II

Issue 12

In the first chapter, I pointed out that the human ability to draw appears to have evolved from our primate ancestors, with whom we share that paleomammalian—visual, emotional—brain. Unfortunately, no sightings have been reported of gorillas drawing in the wild. Perhaps the researchers were so focused on the conscious topics of their academic studies they didn’t SEE the drawings in the sand. They were blinded by what they were looking for.

CHARLES HARBUTT | Romance for the Real, Part I

Issue 12

A NOTE ABOUT HISTORIES. Most professional historians pride themselves in presenting the facts of history without any comment or response and that is valuable, like good journalism. However, the result is often dull and reductive: no juices, no attitude to what is being reported. These essays are not like that, and are not written from an observer’s detached point of view. I make pictures and what I’m reporting is VERY meaningful to me. I’m trying to describe the situation for a visual person in a verbal world.

CHARLES HARBUTT | The Unconcerned Photographer

Issue 12

I chose to show this film at the start of my talk tonight because in many ways it is relevant to my topic of change. First of all, the entire Magnum Crisis in the America project, from which the film was made, was very much a punctuation mark in my career—whether an exclamation point, question mark, comma or period—I’m not sure yet. But I do know a fundamental change has occurred in my relationship to my medium.

CHARLES HARBUTT | Kertesz—Manchester Festshrift

Issue 12

In 1980, the city of Salford in England mounted a huge photography festival. The director asked me to help arrange a large purchase of Kertesz’ work. It would be held by a trust which would provide for pictures from that collection to be on perpetual display in a gallery of the Halle orchestra hall. Kertesz was delighted because while many museums owned prints, they could just as easily let them molder away in storage as show them. When the collection decided to honor Andre on his 90th birthday with a festschrift/catalog, they asked me to write an essay for the book.

CHARLES HARBUTT | The Art World Horse Race

Issue 12

The Subcommittee. One of the prices you pay for being a professor at a university is service on committees. But this one turned out to be fun. We decided that the individual is the source of creativity and our report should demonstrate that in form as well as content. So rather than an anonymous and bland group report, we submitted papers prepared and signed by each individual member. This was mine.

CHARLES HARBUTT | How I Became A Photographer

Issue 11

MY EARLIEST BRUSH with photography came when I was three. My best friend and everyday playmate was having a birthday party and her cake, the biggest I had ever seen, was displayed on a small table. It was a chocolate cake with vanilla icing. The photographer, a mother or grandmother, told us to stand behind the cake for a picture. We did. Then she told us to kiss. Well, we weren’t into that, but my friend put her arm around me and I acquired a lifelong love of chocolate cake … with vanilla icing. I learned that pictures can make people laugh. Maybe somehow, I also learned that pictures can hint at what’s happening inside a person, as well as showing their surface. In my memory, the shadow was much larger and more ominous. So finding a copy of the picture taught that memories are tricky. But I’m still not so keen about posing pictures.


Issue 05

I was born nearsighted, or myopic. Everything more than a few inches from my face was a blur with little detail. I did not know there was anything unusual about it. I thought everyone saw the world that way. Myopia made every day an adventure. Wow, was that a bear coming in the front door? Ah, no, it was just mom in her fur coat. Every moment was full of possibilities and I had to figure out what was actually going on.


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