About the Photographer
American, b. 1935
Charles Harbutt began his career as a writer and a photojournalist. Eventually, he began using the camera to observe the world in a more personal way, reflecting on how photography both reproduces and filters lived reality. Five of Harbutt's photographs in MoCP's collection date from the late 1960s and 1970s and are represented in his 1973 monograph Travelog. With this body of work in particular, Harbutt left behind his photojournalist roots and began to approach photography as an intuitive process, grounded in his individual experience rather than dictated by the framework of external events. In his Travelog essay, Harbutt writes, "How is the continuum of photographer, world, and camera achieved? Each person must find it individually, but for me it has flowed from the realization that I don't take pictures, pictures take me. I can do nothing except have film in the camera and be alert."
Travelog is structured in four thematic sections—the World, The Flesh, The Devil, and Home—and the titles of the first three are drawn from a litany in the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer reads, "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, the devil, good Lord, deliver us." Harbutt saw Travelog as a reflection of his rhythms and movements through the world, and the book loosely suggests a narrative journey, not unlike Robert Frank's photographic sequence in The Americans. At the same time Harbutt outlines a struggle between good and evil, surrounded by the peculiarities of everyday life and imbued with a sense of tension between the real and the unreal.
In 1959, at the age of 23, Harbutt was invited by the Castro Underground to photograph the revolution in Cuba. Upon his return to the United States, he continued to make photographs that were engaged with social justice. He joined the renowned Magnum photography collective in 1963 and later served as its president. By the end of the 1960s, however, Harbutt had started growing skeptical of photojournalism's claim of neutrally communicating information and he began to feel a disconnect between his journalistic photographs and his own experience and memories. In subsequent years he focused increasingly on personal projects. Harbutt left Magnum in 1981 and founded a new cooperative agency, Archive Pictures Inc. He later joined the faculty at Parsons School of Design, New York, where he still teaches today. Harbutt's photographs have been exhibited at major museums throughout the United States and his archives and negatives are held at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson.