In an age of heavy debate about what photography is, is not and possibly could be, Jason Langer‘s book Twenty Years (Radius, 2015) serves as a quiet reminder of why traditional black-and-white photography continues to delight, disturb and intrigue viewers through its poetic reflection of the world.
The black-and-white photographs Langer made in Paris, New York, New Orleans and other locales throughout the past two decades are the product of careful observation, chance and the technical skill Langer acquired, in part, as a printer for Ruth Bernhard, Arthur Tress and Michael Kenna. In a conversation recalled in John Hill’s introduction to the book, Hill quotes Langer referring to himself as “a hunter of images,” who goes out looking for photographs that address the passage of time, death and “the mystery of life.” Because he never knows what he might find, Langer explains, “every time I make a picture it feels like a small miracle.”
His 2002 photograph “Moonrise Over Montmartre,” for instance, shows a crescent moon just above the gables of a classic Parisian apartment building. A street lamp lights the foreground, and in the middle ground we see a figure standing in the building’s only lit window. We see a similarly serendipitous alignment in Langer’s 2008 image “Audience.” Two shadows are cast on a white wall: one is of a person’s shoulders and head, and the other resembles the head of a horned figure, the latter lurking behind the former.
Langer’s miracles, of which there are many here, urge us not only to linger and dwell and search for significance, they are evidence that there are countless miracles to be seen. Photography can be many things, but it has always encouraged us to look closely at what is, rather than rush on to what’s next.