THE FACE OF POETRY
Robert Haas, who worked with Margaretta and editor Zack Rogow to realize this project — an eight-year journey, in Margaretta’s words — writes in his foreword that the fact that “American higher education now provides a place where aspiring writers study poetry and poets make a living teaching it…is surely one of the reasons for the explosion of the publication of poetry in the last twenty years… Margaretta Mitchell’s art gives faces to the social facts and gives us a series of striking portraits of individual artists to set against the poems. Between the poems and the faces looking out from the photographs a new space grows up, born of the conversation between poetry and photography.” Writing to express the experience of this book presents a challenge. It cannot be summarized. Margaretta Mitchell imagined this book and brought it to fruition — her art brings us the opportunity of a vigorous new appreciation of the poets and poetry of our time. It is a gift. Check it out. ASAP.
—Francesca Miller, Book Review, The Institute for Historical Study Newsletter, Volume 27 #1, Summer 2006
Mitchell’s exquisite photos convey the rich diversity of human countenance that produces poetry. Close-ups extreme enough to show wrinkles, moles, even pores somehow manage — unexpectedly — to make almost every face look beautiful, probably because Mitchell manages to find just that moment when essential character shows for an instant.
—From review by Gerald Nicosia, San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 2006
I was excited when I received my copy of The Face of Poetry. Not since I was a youngster had I opened a book with more enthusiasm — imagine pictures to go along with words — and to have the portraits of 46 poets looking at you through Margaretta K. Mitchell’s eyes, and how brilliantly she has done that. Dare I say she has captured their souls; captured and brought to life their vibrancy, their humanity. Mitchell is a photographer of renown; her collections are in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the New York Public Library, among others. She started making portraits of the poets reading at the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. What first struck me was how the eyes of the poets connected, drew me in, the way Mitchell made use of hands, postures, the very structure of their faces, to produce a communal feel between reader and poet….The portraits, the poems, the oral tradition of art and poetry coalesce beautifully in this anthology — from Mitchell’s startling representations, to the voices of the poets weaving a tapestry. This is, The Face of Poetry.
—Joseph Zaccardi, Rattle, Winter 2006 (Vol. 12 #2), Issue 26, p. 22
Based on a series of poetry readings at The University of California, Berkeley, the volume presents portraits and poems by 46 poets. Photographer Margaretta K. Mitchell catches the poet’s inner hunger for surprise. Imagine: a formal looking portrait of Czeslaw Milosz and he’s actually smiling! Each face has spirit. And the eyes don’t always focus on the middle distance; as often as not, the poet’s gaze connects with the viewer. Surprise! If a lined face is a palimpsest, the choice of poems does more than speak for the poet. Together, portrait and poetry illustrate Fanny Howe’s lines: “The mystery of preference / is never solved by acts.”
—Tom D’Evelyn, The Providence Journal, December 18, 2005
I will begin this review with my initial response to this extraordinary book. When I picked it up, the book opened to Margaretta Mitchell’s portrait of Gary Snyder, a man and poet I know. I nearly laughed aloud at the brilliance of the portrait: it illuminates Snyder, the slyness of his wit — always asking, “does this person get it?” — the countrified dress Snyder affects as part of his desire to remind us that we come from and will return to earth, the intelligence of his countenance, his mouth — is he smiling, or deadly serious? Or both. Snyder writes in “The Bath,” in which he is bathing his young son, “the soapy hand feeling / through and around the globes and curves of his body / I squat all naked too.” Snyder takes us into his wife’s body, into conception, and back to the bath with the boy, asking, “Is this our body?”
In Margaretta Mitchell’s photograph the man who wrote those lines is revealed, wry, skeptic, always probing the reader, the listener, to think, respond, react. So too does Mitchell’s portraiture. It is remarkable…
Bay Area photographer Margaretta K. Mitchell became involved in the project from the beginning through one of the series organizers, Zack Rogow. After studying each poet’s work, Mitchell would attend the readings and make portraits of each poet in her studio after the event. She posed her subjects in front of a plain background, focusing on their faces and upper bodies. Despite the simplicity of the setting, these black-and-white images are dynamic and diverse portraits. They capture a range of moods from formal to sage, open to distant, silly to mysterious. The facial expressions and gestures of each poet provides a window into their personalities, as well as a tiny glimpse into their interaction with Mitchell. The viewer can’t help but wonder about the conversation between visual and verbal artist, that led to these expressive portraits.
—AB, ASMP Bulletin, 2005
Margaretta Mitchell’s photographs give faces to, make a serial portrait of, the social facts, and give us also a series of portraits of individual artists to set against the poems, where at best an interesting space might grow up between the poems and the faces looking out from the photographs, in the conversation between the two art forms. The face of poetry is, finally, in the poems themselves, which returns us to the fact of reading. Finally, it is the poems that matter, and when the poems matters , so does the culture that produces them and the social history of this art form in a given time and place, which the photographs convey. The poems matter if they come to life inside readers.
—Robert Hass, from The Face of Poetry, 2005
RECOLLECTIONS: TEN WOMEN OF PHOTOGRAPHY
“It [the book] and the exhibition give satisfaction….”
—New York Times, September 28, 1979
“Though it serves as a catalogue of a show currently touring the country, this is a real book.”
—Hilton Kramer, New York Times Book Review, November 25, 1979
“A jewel of a book.” —Mademoiselle, September 1979
“The approaches and subject matter are wonderfully varied, giving utmost pleasure to all who will be making their acquaintance…”
—Chicago Tribune, December 2, 1979
“A remarkable history.”
—Seattle Times Magazine, December 9, 1979
“The book, by Margaretta Mitchell, is a magical combination of photography, poetry of children, of children, people and of time and place.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, 1971
“I admire Recollections. It must rank as among the greatest photographic books in this century. To do such an epic work requires courage, folly, imagination and a big intellect.”
—Herbert Lust, Greenwich, Connecticut.
“[Margaretta Mitchell’s] “Old Rose” achieves its commanding, seductive presence through a combination of textured, rich tones and uncanny, large scale.”
—New York Times, January 26, 1997
“Margaretta Mitchell likes to please. Her two still life photo(gravures) prove that photogravures can work in color.”
—Boston Globe, June 29, 1993
“Margaretta Mitchell…provides some of the exhibition’s strongest images…”
—San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 1971
DANCE FOR LIFE
“The photographs of Margaretta K. Mitchell in her portfolio Dance for Life present a beautifully joyous and deeply moving evocation of the tradition of Isadora Duncan…”
—James D. Hart, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
“The form Margaretta Mitchell has given her portfolio, Dance for Life, powerfully evokes the spirit of Isadora Duncan….Rarely have photographs been so sensitively printed.”
—Adrian Wilson, Book Designer, Author, MacArthur Fellow
“In her abstract massings of space and light, she also looks back to pictorialist work but at the same time imposes her own late-twentieth-century eye on the work. The effects are rapturous. Through subtle manipulation and eliminations, the photographer has rendered her dancers timeless, beyond moment and place.”
—Wanda M. Corn, Author and Art Historian, Stanford University, Stanford, CA