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Photobook Reviews » John Sexton

John Sexton: Recollections. Three Decades of Photographs £80

One of the most challenging aspects concerning my own photography is how tough I find it is to be objective about the photographs I create myself. There are just too many personal feelings that get in the way of making a valid judgement. But when it comes to viewing and forming an opinion about the work of other photographers, I have the opposite reaction, finding the whole process free of angst and full of pleasure.

As a consequence of this I've developed an extremely catholic taste over the three decades that I've been looking at photography, both professionally and for pleasure, and I now have an appreciation for pretty much every style and subject that falls loosely within the landscape and street genres. Take a glance along my shelves and your eye will fall on photobooks that range from Bruce Barnbaum's traditional interpretations of English and French cathedrals, right through to the other end of the spectrum in Daido Moriyama's ink-black portraits of Tokyo's red light district. That's quite a photographic journey, although I must assure you that I draw the line at Nobuyoshi Araki, even on a quiet day.

It's always dangerous to assume or presume anything, but I'll hazard a guess that most of the red lights John Sexton has seen in his life are the ones that illuminate his darkroom. After a career spanning 50 years he is considered one of America's finest photographers and printers of the type of black and white landscapes that fall within what could be called the classic "Ansel Adams genre". At an early stage of his career Sexton worked alongside Adams, so as you turn the pages of Recollections: Three Decades of Photographs, it's intriguing to know that in your hands is a strong link to one of the most significant contributors in the entire history of photography. I rather like that.

Recollections is a retrospective of Sexton's photography from 1977 to 2005 and given his background it's not surprising to see ubiquitous images of Antelope Canyon and aspens in the mist, plus the obligatory Death Valley sand dunes at dawn and corn lilies at dusk. But don't be put off, the rest of the book's photographs are pretty much cliche free, and in fairness to Sexton, he chose to photograph these now so-familiar subjects at a time when they were still relatively original. It's not his fault that it feels as if we have seen them since as many times as Santa Claus.

Although the book's cost is high, the reproduction quality is quite superb and justifies the price. The quiet elegance of Sexton's work is enhanced through semi-gloss paper of the highest calibre, with each of the 50 photographs standing alone on the right hand page, and just the caption added on the left. This makes the book a real pleasure to look at, but bear in mind that it does require the right light to reveal the most from Sexton's subtle way of printing.

It would be tempting for digital photographers to view Sexton's approach as being relevant only to those still working in the wet darkroom, but I think that would be wrong. Read between the lines and you can learn from his delicate methods. If you use the dry darkroom to print black and white landscapes and aim to achieve the same conventionally subtle and tonally wide interpretation in your own prints as Sexton does in his, then you will not regret buying this book. Have it open beside you next time you sit in front of the monitor and it should provide plenty of creative inspiration, as it did for me.

Garry Winogrand by Leo Rubinfien

Garry Winogrand by Leo Rubinfien

Garry Winogrand by Leo Rubinfien

Garry Winogrand by Leo Rubinfien

Garry Winogrand by Leo Rubinfien


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