The on-line Oxford Dictionary defines the word magnificent simply as "impressively beautiful"; where beauty is said to be "a combination of qualities that delights the aesthetic senses." While both words come to mind in describing John Sexton's new book, Recollections: Three Decades of Photographs, if we are to go by Oxford's rather banal definitions, neither word even comes close to conveying the depths of visual and spiritual pleasures that await anyone who focuses their eye on the masterful B&W images assembled here.
Though I own hundreds of photography books, and regularly peruse most of them for years, I have had a relatively few "Wow!" reactions over the years - indeed, the last such experiences are at least two decades old (!): to Bruce Barnbaum's late 1970s' Visual Symphony and, in the middle 1980s, to Fay Godwin's Land - but Sexton's new Opus not only evoked an immediate heartfelt "Wow!" from me, it also raises the bar on what will trigger a similar exclamation from me in the future. I sat transfixed for hours after receiving it in the mail yesterday, and already consider it a sacrosanct member of the deepest core of my photography library. It is truly an extraordinary work of art; one that I will be savoring - and learning from - for years to come.
It is also clearly the work of a master photographer and printer, at the height of his creative powers; and a "master" not just of the "moment" compared to his living peers, but a "master" as judged in the context of the history of the medium.
Of course, it is impossible to describe the "contents" of this book, except to say that it contains 52 plates (and a few short essays) of such things as rocks, trees, and water. But, as with all great photographic art, by the time you get to even the second image, such conventional, blandly and trivially representational categories are understood as absurd and meaningless. The best of Sexton's images - and there are none in this book that are not! - capture spirit itself.