Charles Harbutt, “I Don’t Take Pictures; Pictures Take Me”

One book, amongst others, that I keep close at hand is “Travelog”, by Charles Harbutt. I have no recollection of purchasing it, but I have owned my hardcover copy for over 35 years. It is one of many books that I keep returning to again and again. Harbutt was for many years a photojournalist, widely traveled, a teacher, and notably, twice a past president of Magnum.

What is it that keeps me returning to Harbutt’s work? I have yet to put my finger on it. Though, through the passing years its meaning becomes clearer and clearer. I know these images intimately in many ways. They are part of my subconscious.

“My photographs are both real and surreal,” Charles Harbutt writes of Travelog, containing some 120 examples of his work. “For a while I called them superbanalisms. I don’t think of this book as a portfolio of my best work, but rather as an integrated set of photographs that express where I have been psychologically, emotionally, physically. In a way it is Bloom walking the world. The loneliness, alienation, and fears, the lusts and sexual sorrows, the difficulties of sustaining emotional relationships. The damage people do to each other and the delight they can and do give one another. Throughout the desire to break free. At the same time it is about what is specifically photographic about photography….”


Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

12 thoughts on “Charles Harbutt, “I Don’t Take Pictures; Pictures Take Me”

  1. I do not have to book but I know a few pictures of Harbutt Essay, a very good photographer, if I come to NYC in April, I think I’ll do some library books to find some of my favorite photographers.

    1. Not too many bookstores around that specialize in photo books anymore. There is a shop on Avenue A and 6th street that has a good selection, but they can be expensive.

  2. Harbutt, from what I have read was a great teacher as well Chris.If he gave a workshop here, he would be one of the few I would pay to spend a weekend with.

  3. Thank you for this valuable information, actually Mr. Harbutt is an excellent photographer. I spend a good day with James Nachtwey, I think he lives in Brooklyn when he is not on assignment in this world without mercy! good luck Keith.

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