Cover: Photography and the Art of Chance, from Harvard University PressCover: Photography and the Art of Chance in HARDCOVER

Photography and the Art of Chance

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Product Details


$32.95 • £26.95 • €29.50

ISBN 9780674744004

Publication Date: 05/26/2015


416 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

9 color illustrations, 57 halftones

Belknap Press


In examining 20th-century photography, [Kelsey] fearlessly wades into the war of words among critics, curators, philosophers and artists alike trying to nail down the jelly-like nature and importance of photography. His prose is concise and academically framed but with a pleasing lack of jargon that makes this book accessible to a non-academic reader, unlike many books published on photo history in the past two decades… Kelsey’s book is a first incursion into an issue that has not been well explored in print, and its conclusions and assertions will certainly be the start of many years of arguments… It should be a standard text for those studying the history of photography in depth. But it also gives lay readers an opportunity to look afresh at the canon of photography and gain a deeper understanding of the constant tension between the camera’s mechanical nature and the photographer’s art.—Roger Watson, The Wall Street Journal

[A] revisionist and erudite history of the medium.—Christopher Turner, The Times Literary Supplement

This intriguing study delves into a subject that has troubled photographers since the invention of the medium in the 1840s: how do the happy accidents arising from a mechanical process relate to human dexterity in creating artistic images? Kelsey’s subjects range from early practitioners, including Fox Talbot and Stieglitz, to modernist innovators and 20th-century news photography.Apollo

Photography and the Art of Chance brilliantly interweaves the history of photography with a broader history of art and an intellectual history of chance. This interdisciplinary approach helps Kelsey sidestep claims about the ontological status of photography that separate the medium entirely from other forms… Perhaps more remarkable than the book’s breadth is that Kelsey moves across fields with a language that is both specific and accessible enough to make his book a satisfying read for a varied audience… Photography and the Art of Chance will reward specialists and general audiences, providing insights to a spectrum of readers disconcerted, resigned, or even enlivened by the apparent randomness and indifference that still characterizes so much of our modern lives.—Lauren Kroiz, [College Art Association]

Kelsey interweaves history, art, philosophy, psychology, and more with chance and photography to explore the complexity of photography’s roles and its challenges and changes to the visual arts.—C. Chiarenza, Choice

This ambitious text, both scholarly and affecting, combines art history, psychology, and the history of philosophy and science into a shrewd exploration of ‘how meaning is produced in a medium prone to chance.’ …Though Kelsey’s primary focus is the development of photography, the end result is a wholly informative, refreshing, and rich perspective on photography and Modernism.Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Photography and the Art of Chance takes up a venerable question: how can a photograph be art, when it is made with a machine that registers phenomena beyond the operator’s full awareness? With great originality, Kelsey shows that photography’s history is entangled with the history of chance, and he complicates our understanding of the medium in a refreshing way.—Douglas R. Nickel, Brown University

A brilliant choice of theme for an encompassing, revisionist history of photography that shows canonical figures at their best; chance is the flip side of techne and the motor of avant-garde aesthetics, as well as a key subject in the history of modern consciousness. Kelsey’s explanatory clarity and gift for concision, meanwhile, are no accident.—Matthew S. Witkovsky, The Art Institute of Chicago

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