Stalker/Zona

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Geoff Dyer has “broken” America, as they say in Britain. This year’s National Book Critics’ Circle award for his collection of essays, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, capped his rise from the occasional introducer of republished classics to a regular columnist in the New York Times Book Review, where he writes about more or less whatever he wants, more or less whenever he wants. His new book, Zona, is ostensibly a summary of the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, a director he calls “cinema’s great poet of stillness.” It is a testament to how high Dyer’s star has risen in the last few years, for while there are few people who could have written this book, there are fewer still who could have gotten it published. It is also an account of Stalker‘s production, a vicarious autobiography, a state-of-the-culture address, and a meditation on cinema and youth. It is, in other words, a secondary text that aspires to the stature of the primary.

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Pont Blank

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“Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy.” –Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977

“It is necessary that the piece of card is animated with some help from me, giving it meaning it did not yet have. If I see Pierre in the photo, it is because I put him there.” –Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary, 1940

This is the story of how I came to be profoundly disillusioned with the modernist photographic tradition. Through careful study of their work, it came to my attention that Eugène Atget, André Kertész, Brassaï, Robert Doisneau, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, men whom I had once taken for heroes, were involved in the systematic corruption of the tradition they had helped found. The story I have to tell is complicated. To tell you the truth, there are times when even I’m not sure I understand exactly what it is I’ve stumbled upon. But I have rehearsed it enough times by now to be able to make it as clear as possible. You see, this is not the first time I’ve tried to tell this story. For nearly two years, I’ve been sending versions of what follows into the most important photographic journals and magazines. As you might expect, the photographic establishment, which has so much to lose from what I’ve uncovered, has been unanimous in its rejection of my articles and essays on the subject. Before I go any further, then, I would like to make it clear that I have no wish to compromise the art form to which I have dedicated a great many years of my life. It is my sincere hope that by publishing here the establishment will cease to turn a blind eye to the corruption of its forbears. If photography is to have any future at all, the grotesque deceptions of its past must be exposed and these traitors disowned.

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