View Full Version : John Sexton's Places of Power

19-Nov-2016, 09:44
John Sexton’s Places of Power, The Aesthetics of Technology

I begin this thread with the acknowledgement that this book undoubtedly drew much discussion here when it was published in 2000 and in the years immediately following. However, given the challenge of extracting the threads in searches, and, in the interest of others who may not have seen the book, which met my eyes only last week, I will share a few thoughts, including some I shared in a note to Mr. Sexton’s contact address recently.

Places of Power, The Aesthetics of Technology, is superb in every respect, from conception through detail of execution. Sexton writes in it about his intention to compose the book as a unity, and he addresses the very fact that he chose to publish a physical book rather than rely on electronic publication. The design, paper quality, and printing are as fine as any I have come across, and, by design, the writing complements the conception of the book elegantly, with what one might justly call harmonious, or perhaps contrapuntal, contributions from Walter Cronkite and Sexton's friend Rob Pike.

While this forum is not a place for advancing philosophical or political beliefs, one cannot speak of this book fully without its subject, which unifies the three components: photographs of the Anasazi cliff-dwelling ruins, of the Hoover dam and electric-power-generating plants, and of the NASA space shuttle—technological achievements representing past, present, and future. The three writers speak to this remarkable group extraordinarily well; I will only add here, that they touch on something fundamental which deserves serious consideration by the public at large at a time when the word technology has been distorted in common parlance to refer only to electronic technology. Pike notes that technology was necessary for the first cave painter—he needed a marking instrument—and says, “Technology define us. It makes us human.” There’s a vital kernel of truth in that statement.

Like his teacher and friend Ansel Adams, Sexton loves Classical music. If any reader here shares this passion, he or she may find it interesting to consider, for example, Johannes Brahms’s Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, No. 2 for solo piano, as a "compositional complement" in some ways to, particularly, the Anasazi images. (I strongly recommend the performance by the young Dutch pianist, Arthur Jussen, found on YouTube, both for its moderate tempo and exceptionally thoughtful phrasing and voicing.) I do not mean the sort of multi-media experience that requires the viewer to hear music while viewing the images. Sexton has found a way to combine timeless stillness with the sometimes swirling, other times angular, apparent motion of the wind-eroded sandstone cliffs in a manner that conveys the unfolding of seemingly conflicting but lawfully intertwined processes. The process of composition of the mentioned Brahms piece, in my view, shares something of this with some of Sexton’s images. In the context of the book as a whole, the ironies of his compositions are indeed especially powerful.

As rich as the reproductions in the book are, the full-sized silver prints from this master of the medium must be breath-taking. One can only hope that exhibitions of this unified work will be “coming soon to a gallery near you!” Meanwhile, the book is a rare treat. Consider obtaining one through inter-library loan, as I did, if you can‘t get one otherwise.

19-Nov-2016, 09:49
I was setting up my current darkroom around 2000 to 2002. But not yet into Large Format. In 2005 when I started 4x5, I went back to those images as examples of 'state-of-the-art' 4x5 technique. To me, those images were more representative of what could be done with modern darkroom supplies (Metal field camera, wide coverage coated wide-angle lenses, T-max film, developer and multigrade paper) than images form the prior generation (Ansel Adams). I don't know what Sexton is using these days, but I'm still using all that same stuff.

20-Nov-2016, 04:13
Thanks for your perspective,Ulophot. It is interesting to hear others responses to Sexton's images.
BTW, John used a Hasselblad ArcBody for many of the space shuttle photos.

20-Nov-2016, 08:22
Having read this I've bought a copy from ebay. I'm looking forward to getting hold of it.

David Lobato
20-Nov-2016, 08:35
It's been several years since I saw the book. My main memory was his mastery of the extreme light values. Sexton's book is one of the best examples of overall technical excellence.

23-Nov-2016, 06:18
I bought a copy of this book several years ago after meeting John at one of his exhibitions in Carmel. I regularly refer to it to see what can be done with our materials if we could only master them.

I have to say he and his wife Anne were a delight to speak to and that would have continued for a while until he introduced me to Michael Adams.

Both events gave me a holiday to remember.

26-Nov-2016, 08:10
For those able and interested, Mr. Sexton has a "Black and White Friday" sale till Dec. 1: signed copies of "Places of Power" for $50 (half-price) plus $12 shipping.
Here's the link:

26-Nov-2016, 09:39
Thanks for posting.

neil poulsen
26-Nov-2016, 11:14
For those able and interested, Mr. Sexton has a "Black and White Friday" sale till Dec. 1: signed copies of "Places of Power" for $50 (half-price) plus $12 shipping.
Here's the link:

I ordered one yesterday and am looking forward to receiving it. I liked this book immediately, when I first saw it. It rarely pops up an our local Powell Book store, so I'd not yet acquired a copy.

Towards the bottom of the above link, it states the following:


I checked and was told that, while they last, these are signed 1st edition copies.

I dunno. I've always thought that it's kind of neat to have a 1st edition. (I guess I'm playing the game.)

26-Nov-2016, 11:33
Indeed a truly lovely book, as you say visually as well as in conception. And his writing is wonderful.

Randy Moe
26-Nov-2016, 11:48
I also ordered one. Really glad I hesitated on buying a used copy for nearly the same price.

26-Nov-2016, 18:47
just bought 2 copy's one for me and one as a gift

26-Nov-2016, 21:08
I have "Places of Power" and "Recollections". Both books have Photographer's Notes and Technical Information at the end which give a glimpse on HOW photographs were captured, processed and printed. The production quality is amazing, especially the "Recollections" which is expensive, but sets a true reference in publishing excellence IMO. I was lucky to see many of the original photographs in John's house in March (attended printing workshop) and these books really give that feeling ... and inspire to pursue LF with traditional silver gelatin process.

Louie Powell
27-Nov-2016, 06:19
If you are into this genre, there are two other books by LF photographers that you might want to seek out.

Structure by Tillman Crane concentrates on the order of physical things. Among the subjects he chose are water pumping stations in Boston.

Industrial Interiors by Ferit Kuyas. Kuyas is a Turkish LF photographer whose subjects include various industrial facilities in Europe - power plants, breweries, food production facilities, etc. The most striking aspect of his photographs is how clean his subjects are - one assumes that he spent days sweeping and cleaning each site before making his photographs.

27-Nov-2016, 10:39
Still hesitating to purchase a copy of Places of Power, anyday now though!.
But I'll Add to Louie's reccomendation that I think Michael A. Smith: A Visual Journey similarly contains excellent images, some process information, and excellent printing (lodima press).