This link will take you to an article in the October issue of Art Forum's on line edition. The article is by Maria Morris Hambourg who worked closely with Szarkowski for many years.
What Ms. Hambourg says about JS is very clearly from the stand point of an admirer of the man, warts and all. She offers insights that will not be easily seen as time passes and the legend becomes larger than the man.
Perhaps the most important insight for me is the comment she offers about Szarkowski's view of the ever evolving photography world. Szarkowski was a student and protege of Walker Evans, in fact Evans was instrumental in Szrakowski's becoming curator of photography at MOMA.
Of most interest to me is the way she describes Szarkowski's reaction to the way some artists where beginning to use photography in the 1980s.
"And because of the new directorial mode, constructed realities, appropriated pictorial worlds, and borrowed media identities interested him not at all," and then she goes on to say he ignored many good artists who where not using photography the way he thought it should be used in fact he "ignored the work...of many good artists who where technically sophisticated but whose creative schemas lay beyond real life in the province of Art(which Szarkowski saw as a seductive but intellectually empty precinct compounded of artifice and attitude)."
I'll admit that I have seen work that I find enjoyable on one level but I have trouble accepting this as the "highest and best" use of the medium. I realize that the camera is only a "tool" and I admit that tools can be used in many different and varied ways.
Maybe it's the fact that some of the people I've had the privilege to meet who have used the camera in this way have produced work that I find to be artificial and empty. I've also been fortunate enough to have seen what can only be described as very serious and expensive collections of contemporary work that have left me wondering, "what does it all mean?", to quote my friend Freck. Certainly the people who built these collections where not spending large sums in a way that would lead me to believe that they are true connoisseurs but rather are trying to impress us with how much money they have.
While on the other hand the photographers that I know who do seem to follow the Walker Evans model are some of the most down to earth and straight forward people I have met.