Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) was designed by Conceptual artist Mel Bochner as part of the boxed set of artists’ books entitled Artists & Photographs. The complete set is exceedingly scarce at this point in time; the portfolio of works was set in a box designed by Dan Graham which contained books, objects, prints, and other materials of various dimensions by nineteen artists along with a text booklet by Lawrence Alloway. The set was published by gallerist Marian Goodman in conjunction with a 1970 exhibition that explored how contemporary artists, including Douglas Heubler, Allan Kaprow, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, and Ed Ruscha, were using photography in their work.
Bochner’s contribution to this set was inspired by his research into the medium’s history. Finding little material of theoretical value, Bochner began gathering quotations of misunderstandings regarding photography which form the basis for the title and the content of this book.
Misunderstandings comprises ten individual sheets loose within a plain brown envelope on which is a reproduction of the handwritten title and the artist’s name. Nine of the sheets inside are facsimiles of quotations handwritten on index cards. The quoted misunderstandings include statements such as “Photography is the product of complete alienation” (Marcel Proust) and “Photography cannot record abstract ideas” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Other quotations come from, for example, Marcel Duchamp, Mao Tse-Tung, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. To add to the confusion of the misunderstandings, Bochner made up three fake quotes which are also included. As a further play on the idea of photographic misunderstandings, the tenth sheet in the book reproduces a “negative” of a Polaroid – an impossibility because Polaroids do not have negatives.
Published by Multiples, Inc., this book is unsigned and unnumbered. Artists & Photographs was intended to have an edition size of around 1200 copies, but only about 200 were actually fabricated.
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