The Unconcerned Photographer by Charles Harbutt
6 x 9, hardcover; four black and white images; 54 pages; $25.00
Introduction by Joan Liftin | Afterword by Michelle Dunn Marsh
We honor the life and legacy of Joan Liftin (1935-2023). Hear her discuss her work, and The Unconcerned Photographer, here.
Minor Matters is pleased to present its first essay book, featuring the timely and timeless words of master photographer and educator Charles Harbutt (1935–2015).
The primary text of the book, “The Unconcerned Photographer,” was presented as a lecture at New York University in 1970 to introduce a screening of the film America In Crisis. Harbutt, then President of Magnum Photos, had produced that short film, in tandem with a book and exhibition bearing the same title, as a Magnum project.
The premise of his lecture was a discussion of change in photography—a discussion positioned against the backdrop of continued social unrest, and challenges to the media climate, circumstances that are repeating fifty years later.
Over his long career, Harbutt returned to many points first publicly shared in this speech. This is the first time it is being published in its entirety, and his clear words will undoubtedly resonate with and challenge audiences now considering the medium:
Photography is not art. It is something totally new in human experience, something humans have not been able to do until the last century or so. Like flying. Or blowing up the whole world (I hope we survive our inventive little minds). The basic impulse of the photographer is diametrically opposed to the basic impulse of the artist, no matter what the artist’s medium. The artist is trying to bring into existence something (even if only a concept) that never existed before. The photographer is trying to preserve, with the lens and especially the shutter, something in reality that will cease to exist in just that way in the next moment, or hour, or day.
from “The Unconcerned Photographer”
An introduction by photographer Joan Liftin, Harbutt’s wife and a noted photo editor, and an afterword by Minor Matters publisher Michelle Dunn Marsh add personal insights to Harbutt, and to the significance of publishing his words today.
CHARLES HARBUTT (b. 1935, Camden, New Jersey; d. 2015, Monteagle, Tennessee) was an American photographer and educator. His pictures have been exhibited internationally, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; the Art Institute of Chicago; and, in Paris, at the Beaubourg, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. He is represented in the permanent collections of those institutions, as well as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; George Eastman House, Rochester; and countless other private collections.
Harbutt is the author of four books including Departures and Arrivals (Damiani, 2012), Progreso (Navarin, 1986/Actuality Inc., 1987), and Travelog (MIT Press, 1973), and was a tenured professor in photography at Parsons / The New School 1999–2015.
In 1997 Harbutt’s negatives, master prints and archive were acquired for the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, handles print sales for the Charles Harbutt estate.
Joan Liftin was active in photography since 1971, when she became staff photographer and photo editor at UNICEF. She subsequently worked as director of the Magnum Photo library. In 1981, together with her husband, Charles Harbutt, Mary Ellen Mark, Abigail Heyman, and Mark Godfrey, she cofounded Archive Photos.
Liftin was a noted photobook editor who was involved with over twenty publications, including Mary Ellen Mark’s Falkland Road (Knopf, 1988), Charles Harbutt’s Departures and Arrivals (Damiani, 2012), Jeff Jacobson’s Melting Point (Nazraeli, 2006) and Andrea Stern’s Dog Days (BDP, 2017). From 1988 to 2000, she was chair of the International Center of Photography School’s documentary photography program.
She is the author of three monographs: Drive-ins (Trolley Press, 2004), Marseille (Damiani, 2015), and Water for Tears (Damiani, 2018).