SPBH, 2021. Softcover, 120pp., 4 x 6 inches
Instructional Photography: Learning How to Live Now is a timely and explosive book by artist and writer Carmen Winant. An investigation of a genre of photographs Winant calls “instructional”, it asks: can photographs teach, in and of themselves? If so, how might we look to them to demonstrate new possibilities, from social organizing to self-actualization?
Alternating between found images and shorter, text-based observations (which serve to reinforce, rather than explain, one another), Winant delves into this new category of images through her own collection, understanding them as something beyond, or at least in between, documentary and fine art. Included in the volume are pictures of dog-training techniques, home gynaecological exams, sitting Shiva, and massaging young children, among many others. Moving image by image, Winant queries how each behaves as a small mirror, arguing for the primacy of photographs to instruct and impart both technical and ontological knowledge (sometimes in the same shot). Instructional Photographs is a treatise in photographic categorization, but also informed compassion: we understand our bodies – and the conditions of our world – best when they are faithfully related back to us.