The Difficulties of Nonsense

Photographs by Robert Cumming

Edited and with an essay by Sarah Bay Gachot
Interview by David Campany

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9 x 10 1/2 in 180 pages, 150 duotone and four-color images Hardcover 978-1-59711-300-7 May 2016

In the “Curiosity” issue of Aperture magazine, Sarah Bay Gachot writes that Robert Cumming’s interest in photography spawned from his interest in perception: “Cumming wanted the viewer to get to know, personally, the process of perception—perhaps to ward off the onset of visual inertia. The pictures unfold slowly over time; the more you look, the more you see.”


The Difficulties of Nonsense features Cumming’s conceptual black-and-white and color photographs from the 1970s, revealing his fascination with illusion and trickery. From his base in Los Angeles, Cumming made functional-looking constructions, rendered useless and created primarily to be photographed with his 8-by-10 camera. Playing with props, proportions, unusual angles, light, and mirrors, the images invite viewers to look in—and then to second-guess what they see. As the first publication to survey this significant series, The Difficulties of Nonsense serves as a touchstone for contemporary artists and for those interested in artwork that came out of Los Angeles in the 1970s. With an essay by Sarah Bay Gachot and an interview by David Campany, this monograph pays homage to a time when Cumming, and many in the photographic community, worked to playfully push the boundaries of photography and narrative.


Robert Cumming (born in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1943) is best-known for his conceptual photography of sculptures and drawings which play with the mechanics of photographic practice. He was originally a painting student in the ’60s, and received a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1967. He moved primarily into sculpture and three-dimensional art, and soon was creating sculptures for the camera. His work is represented in the permanent collections of many major art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Sarah Bay Gachot (essay) is a writer, educator, and artist who lives in Los Angeles, California.


David Campany (interview) is one of the best-known and most accessible writers on photography. His books include The Open Road (Aperture, 2014), Walker Evans: The Magazine Work (2013), Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (2011), Photography and Cinema (2008), and Art and Photography (2003). His essays have appeared in numerous books and he contributes regularly to Aperture, Frieze, Photoworks, and Oxford Art Journal.

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