On this page you’ll find selected essays I have written about photography, most of which have been previously published elsewhere. I published my first article in 1998 (an intemperate takedown of a Debbie Fleming Caffrey lecture that has hopefully been lost to history), and have seen over 500 reviews and essays go to print since then. I will gradually archive a number of my better pieces here, and would encourage other art writers to make their older pieces readily available online as well. (Standard copyright laws apply, obviously.)
WEST OF LAST CHANCE
SPOT, the Houston Center for Photography’s biannual publication, is one of my favorite smaller photography magazines, and I was all too happy to spend a quiet afternoon or two with Peter Brown’s West of Last Chance for the Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue of SPOT.
REVIEW: WEST OF LAST CHANCE BY PETER BROWN AND KENT HARUF, 2009 © Chas Bowie (PDF)
BILL THOMAS’ “RATS AND SYRINGES”
In 2007, X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly asked me to contribute a piece to its recurring “One Image One Minute” feature. I was free to write about any photograph I wanted, as long as I kept it at 150 words—the rough equivalent of one minute’s worth of speech. I knew instantly that I wanted to write about Bill Thomas, a Houston photographer whose suicide self-portraits from the 1990s thrill me on many levels. I hadn’t counted on how fast 150 words would fly by, though.
“One Image One Minute: Bill Thomas’ ‘Rats and Syringes,” 2007, © Chas Bowie (PDF)
NAN GOLDIN: THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND
This review of Goldin’s massive tome from Phaidon Press was originally published in SPOT: The Journal of the Houston Center for Photography in the Fall of 2005, following an editorial shakeup and a long overdue redesign from the small but fantastic magazine. Years later I would return to Goldin in a research paper that examined the social, aesthetic, and conceptual parallels between she and Edgar Degas.
“Review: Nan Goldin, The Devil’s Playground,” 2004, © Chas Bowie (PDF)
BEYOND THE SIX-ACTOR CONCEIT: WHY I’M NOT THERE MATTERS
Rarely has a film impressed me as deeply as Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, which had been slated for a paltry 300-word review in the Portland Mercury, where I worked at the time. Thanks to an irresponsible freelancer and a blown deadline, however, the paper found itself with a full page that needed a story, so I made a case for quadrupling the word count on the not-a-biopic review, and was able to give this brilliant, inventive, funny, and soulful work of art a slightly larger fraction of the affection I had for it, and to transcribe a few more of the thoughts it inspired in me.
“Why I’m Not There Matters,” 2007, © Chas Bowie (PDF)
PHILIP-LORCA DICORCIA’S THOUSAND
One of my last book reviews as an editor for the Portland Mercury was a short take on Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s collection of 1,000 career-spanning, previously-unseen Polaroids. Physically, the book is a wonderful balance of delicacy and imposition; it’s no stretch to say the same about diCorcia’s photographs.
“Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Thousand,” 2008, © Chas Bowie (PDF)
PROPOSALS FOR AN IMAGINARY PHOTOGRAPHER
This is one of my earliest pieces I can read without experiencing dizzying flushes of mortification. I was at home one afternoon in late 2000 or early 2001, feeling down on myself for not writing more about photography, so I challenged myself to pick up a book off the shelf and write something about it—anything—start to finish. I wrote this piece that afternoon on my front porch; the book was David Byrne’s Strange Ritual, which was one of the most formative books in my life at that point. “Proposals” functions independently of Strange Ritual, but I think the essay’s written tone was certainly influenced by Byrne’s inquisitive naif Narrator character in True Stories. I probably wouldn’t write this piece the exact same way today, but I’ve always been pleased with how people have responded to it.
“Proposals for an Imaginary Photographer,” 2000, © Chas Bowie (PDF)