Last Updated July 13, 2018

John Szarkowski

American (Born 1925 - Died 2007 ) PREMIUM LISTING
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DESCRIPTION / BIOGRAPHY
John Szarkowski, full name, Thaddeus John Szarkowski, was a photographer, curator, historian, writer and critic. He is best known for his photographic writings and for his role as the director of photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), a position he held from 1962 to 1991.

Szarkowski was born in rural Wisconsin and began photographing as a boy. He attended the University of Wisconsin, interrupting his studies to serve in the army during the second world war, returning to graduate with a degree in art history in 1948.

His first job was at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where he worked as a museum photographer, exhibiting his own photographs there in 1949.

He moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1951 taking up a position as an instructor in photography, history of art and design at the Albright Art School, and from there to Chicago, where, with the help of a Guggenheim fellowship, he photographed the Quetico-Superior wilderness, an area shared between Minnesota and Ontario.

This project came to an end in 1962 when Szarkowski was invited to succeed Edward Steichen in charge of MoMA's department of photography. During his tenure at MoMA, Szarkowski curated 160 exhibitions and helped launch the careers of many prominent photographers. These included Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand and he helped expand the reputations of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, among others.

Many of his exhibitions presented groundbreaking theories on photography, its capacity as a visual medium, and its place in the museum and the larger art world.

Szarkowski’s work was featured in his 1956 book on Louis Sullivan as well as in The Face of Minnesota (1958). He was also the author of The Photographer’s Eye (1966), Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (1973), William Eggleston’s Guide (1976), the four-volume The Work of Atget (1981–85; with Maria Morris Hambourg), and Photography Until Now (1989).

In 2002 he visited London to address a packed lecture theatre at the Victoria and Albert Museum. After retiring from MoMA, during which time he had put his personal photographic work aside, Szarkowski returned his attention to making his own images. In 2005 a retrospective of his work premiered at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.