Defiant wabi-sabi

For about a year now, I’ve been doing a mail art project, of sorts. I’ve been making postcards — some by hand, and some mechanically produced — and sending them away. I send them to a broad range of people; in true dada fashion, some of these people are chosen at random, but most are sent to people in the field of photography, people I admire. The most recent of these was a set of postcards made on book plates from an early field guide to birds.


One of the frequent recipients of these cards is the photographer Robert Adams. He is an artist I’ve admired for years, and we’ve had a sort of pen-pal relationship over time. I was delighted and surprised to receive a letter from him this afternoon. His letter was succinct, but quite insightful in understanding my predicament as a photographer. He wrote this in particular about my mail art project:

Many thanks for the lovely little fragments, defiant wabi-sabi out into…what?….well, we know what — our “mutilated” world, as Adam Zagajewski has rightly called it.

I like that, defiant wabi-sabi.


He also sent me a xeroxed photograph of Buster Keaton, and a transcript of a graduation speech given by John Szarkowski to a group of art students in Minneapolis in 1975. I’m attaching pdf of the speech. It has some lovely moments.

Szarkowski speech


4 thoughts on “Defiant wabi-sabi

  1. Thanks for posting the .pdf of the transcript. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done so: be sure to read Adams’s lucid “Beauty in Photography”. And drink more whisky at night, if only to honor John’s memory.

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