You Should Know: John Szarkowski

John Szarkowski

In the most recent You Should Know post, I mentioned that Edward Steichen appointed John Szarkowski as his replacement as the Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Szarkowski held that post for 29 years and in the process helped elevate photography’s status in the art world to unprecedented heights. He also wrote about photography at length with several highly influential books to his name.

John Szarkowski

The Big Deal

When Szarkowski took on his post at MoMA in 1962, the notion of photography as a collectible art item was nearly non-existent. He pushed modern photography and was able to spot talent early on giving many great photographers we know today their initial breaks. Among them were Dianne Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and William Eggleston. He was also a critic and writer, his books Mirrors and Windows, Looking at Photographs, and The Photographer’s Eye are often studied in art school.

Life in Brief

Born in Wisconsin in 1925, Szarkowski started taking photos when he was eleven. He served in the US Army during World War 2 and then received a degree in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1947. Szarkowski then started working as a museum photographer at the Walker Art Center, which is where he had his first solo show in 1949. In 1954 and then again in 1961, Szarkowski received Guggenheim Fellowships. In 1961 he was picked to replace Edward Steichen at MoMA. He wrote The Photographer’s Eye in 1966, Looking at Photographs in 1974, and Mirrors and Windows in 1978. While at MoMA, he also taught at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and New York University. In 1991, Szarkowski retired from his post at MoMA and returned to making his own photographs. Szarkowski died at the age of 81 in 2007.

Trivia Tidbit

When Szarkowski curated William Eggleston’s solo show “William Eggleston’s Guide”, many considered it the worst photography show of the year.

For More

John Szarkowski, Curator of Photography, Dies at 81


Photograph by Eamonn McCabe