Joan Liftin’s Water for Tears (Damiani, 2018) is at once a memoir in photographs and a love letter to her recently deceased husband, photographer Charles Harbutt. The beautifully designed and sequenced book includes her pictures from 1975 to 2009; the collection includes work from the USSR made while there on assignment, photographs of her family, evocative views of the places she has traveled, images that reflect the magical and unexpected ways that film sees the world, and gestural pictures that raise more questions than they answer. There are five short passages of writing in which Liftin tells us just enough about herself to infuse the photographs with familiarity, allowing us to know her, and them, more deeply. The pictures of people, both her family members and strangers, convey a deep curiosity about those around her and a sensitivity to the way bodies express attitude. The pictures of place reveal a similar curiosity, coupled with a sober delight in the possibilities that “somewhere else” offers.
Rebecca Senf is chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson and holds a joint appointment at the Phoenix Art Museum as Norton Family Curator.