Book Review: Robert Hirsch’s Transformational Imagemaking

Book Review: Robert Hirsch’s Transformational Imagemaking


Book review by Katt Janson Merilo

This one’s for the image makers, not the takers: Robert Hirsch’s Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography since 1960 is a visual and textual catalog of artists who approach their photography as constructions.

Hirsch writes in the preface:

“[the book] emphasizes photographic ‘makers’ who direct and control their final image as opposed to photographic ‘takers’ who capture their images from the flow of outer reality.”

“Conceptually, these artists propel the medium’s evolution by materially realizing the pictures that otherwise exist only in the mind’s eye…”

Preceding the visual collection of images are a thought-provoking preface and in-depth history on the artform of handmade photography, beginning with the first hand colored Daguerreotypes and bringing us all the way up to modern day haptics and realists. After reading this comprehensive history retold with such devotion to the subject, one cannot help but gain increased respect for the meeting of philosophy, creativity, and kinesthesia that underlies the handmade photography world.

The featured artists are shown in a loose chronological order and grouped among their contemporaries. Scattered among the artists are some textual asides, exploring subjects such as major exhibitions and uniting projects—such as Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959)—that give one a greater sense of context.

Artist interviews accompany the images and give an interesting insight into the thought process behind the photographs. A common question among the artists is the role that time plays on their work. This question leads to several very different answers that inform upon each artists’ concept of time. Jerry Spagnoli—an artist working with, among other things, daguerreotypes — answers the question with the following:

“…I think that by using methods that come from different historical periods there’s a collapsing of the space-time continuum. When you take a daguerreotype of an event like Obama’s first Presidential inauguration or the destruction of the World Trade Center, it puts these events into a larger continuum… That perspective provides more of a sense of your place in historical time.”

Following the artist features is one last word from the author, meant both to wrap up as well as address the general criticisms that the genre has collected over the years. It is here that Hirsch brings further meaning to the common question of time in his artist interviews:

“Whereas Decisive Moment photographers think ‘in the flow of clock time’ and therefore are time bound, the handmakers think ‘outside of linear time’ and are capable of transcending it.”

The artwork and theory in this book are as diverse as the artists who create and share it, and will therefore have many hits and a few misses for any reader. With a body of work this far-ranging and writing that informs as much as it inspires and challenges, most anyone will find something worthwhile to takeaway from its pages.

Read some excerpts from the book


Figments of Reality: An Exhibition of Contemporary Landscape Images

Figments of Reality: An Exhibition of Contemporary Landscape Images

Diffusion 2014 Results: The Matter of Light

Diffusion 2014 Results: The Matter of Light