A Handful of Dust: a talk by David Campany @ Waterstones


I did not make notes during this lecture and the following quote is from David Campany talking about a photograph of dust by Man Ray …

” … I don’t even know if I like it. I know it fascinates me, and fascination doesn’t have much to with likes or dislikes. To be fascinated is to be captivated, compelled, absorbed, beguiled even.”
Campany’s book is reviewed thus …
“a Handful of Dust is David Campany’s speculative history of the last century, and a visual journey through some of its unlikeliest imagery. Let’s suppose the modern era begins in October of 1922. A little French avant-garde journal publishes a photograph of a sheet of glass covered in dust. The photographer is Man Ray, the glass is by Marcel Duchamp. At first they called it a view from an aeroplane. Then they called it Dust Breeding. It’s abstract, it’s realist. It’s an artwork, it’s a document. It’s revolting and compelling. Cameras must be kept away from dust but they find it highly photogenic. At the same time, a little English journal publishes TS Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” And what if dust is really the key to the intervening years? Why do we dislike it? Is it cosmic? We are stardust, after all. Is it domestic? Inevitable and unruly, dust is the enemy of the modern order, its repressed other, its nemesis. But it has a story to tell from the other side. Campany’s connections range far and wide, from aerial reconnaisance and the American dustbowl to Mussolini’s final car journey and the wars in Iraq. a Handful of Dust will accompany Campany’s exhibition of the same name, curated for Le Bal, Paris (16 October 2015 – 17 January 2016), with works by Man Ray, John Divola, Sophie Ristelhueber, Mona Kuhn, Gerhard Richter, Xavier Ribas, Nick Waplington, Jeff Wall and many others, alongside anonymous press photos, postcards, magazine spreads and movies.
Campany raises interesting points and his musing on a photograph by Man Ray is no exception. He sees this image as iconic, it was taken in the company of Marcel Duchamp, and Campany talked about the way in which many other images resonate with it. These similar images which come from a variety of sources were shown on the screen and presumably form the content of the book which I have not looked into as I needed to leave before the end of the event. The way images might correspond with each other either by design, compositional approach or similar subject matter is an interesting point to consider. This seems to be the kind of book one might spend a lot of time looking over and in doing so digest some great work. There is also an essay which forms a book within a book and can be detatched; as Campany remarks, ” … It can also be thrown away if you like!” Good to hear an author who does not take himself too seriously and recognises that writing about photography which has now become so highly developed is perhaps not to be taken too literally.

3 thoughts on “A Handful of Dust: a talk by David Campany @ Waterstones

    • The book is published by MACK who are an interesting and frequent publisher of photographic books (particularly exhibition catalogues such as Alec Soth’s Gathered Leaves). They have refused to do a deal with Amazon and so their books retain their value and you pay the nominal price of £25 while Amazon would be more inclined to knock it down to about £16. Interestingly, secondhand copies are already on sale and are going for £27 even though the original is still out there having only been published a week ago.

  1. Pingback: Books recommended by the OCA – Amano Level Three

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