The PhotoBook Journal

January 5, 2010

August Sander – Face of Our Time

Copyright of the Estate of August Sander, 2003 courtesy Schirmer Mosel Verlag

In 1929 August Sander (1876 – 1964), a German portrait photographer published his first book Antlizer der Zeit (Faces of Our Times) by Kurt Wolff Verlag with an essay by the German writer Alfred Doblin. This famous book was re-issued by Schirmer Mosel Verlag in their Schirmer Art Books series which is a great little photobook about this well-known photographer.

The relatively compact size (7-1/2” x 5-3/4”) of this softcover book makes it a wonderful little reference photobook on Sander’s larger body of work. Although containing only 60 duotones it contains some of Sander’s trademark photographs of the German people he embarked on documenting. The rarity of the original book was increased in the late 1930’s when the Nazi regime seized his books and photographic plates and destroyed them.

Sander had a profitable portrait studio in Germany and after he joined “Group of Progressive Artists” in Cologne (Kohn) in the early 1920’s he embarked on documenting his contemporary society. What made a difference in his work was to photograph this project outside the confines of his studio and to go to the people and their environment. This was usually accomplished by riding his bike while lugging his plate camera. Sander’s series later evolved to his larger project People of the 20th Century (Menschen des 20 Jahrhundert) which he eventually expanded to an archive of over 40,000 photographs.

In this series he was attempting to illustrate a cross-section of  German society although he had intended to categorize them by certain social types. Stating that “[w]e know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled.”

The series is divided into seven sections: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, and The Last People.

In his naturalist style he has captured ordinary people leading their ordinary lives. So although his concept and intent was flawed he nevertheless captured some wonderful portraits of the people of his time.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

    

 

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May 26, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book Stores — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:19 pm

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Photographs copyright of the Estate of William Henry Fox Talbot, courtesy Phaidon Press

This retrospective book is edited by Geoffrey Batchen about William Henry Fox Talbot (b. 1800, d. 1877). It is very nicely written and printed book which does a wonderful job of keeping William Henry Fox Talbot’s extensive early photographic work in perspective.

The book provides Talbot’s early technical photographic achievements such the contact negative print known as the (salt-paper) Calotype and his insight that if you used the negative print to contact print another photograph the results would be a positive. Along the way Talbot figured out the basic formula to “fix” an image from a suggestion from John Herschel to ensure that the image did not fade away. In 1852 Talbot worked out the photogravure printing process making it possible to have high quality images in books. He may be the first person to use flash photography in 1851.

Talbot also made some nice photographic images including both urban and natural landscapes, botany details (salt-paper Calotypes), family photographs and documentary of upper class life on the estate. I find that the book includes a number of wonderful images such as the natural landscape photograph of the Oak Tree in Winter created between 1842-43 that is tipped into the book cover and included within the book, above.

I was equally captivated by plate 31, High Street, Oxford, 1843 the third image below. This photograph has similar qualities to the photographic work of Eugene Atget.  Due to the long exposure the people of the street almost disappear leaving only slight traces of their presence with the exception of the horse and carriage far up the street. The foreground is slightly out of focus providing depth to the image while the domed building far down the street is starting to fade into the sky. The image has a nice flow to it and the light reflecting off the near windows on the left provides a nice balance.

Talbot had used contact prints of plants while investigating his photographic discover, first photograph below.  Later he returned in 1853 to further explore the possibilities of his salt-paper Calotype by contact printing more of his botany specimens such as Seeds, second photography below. An interesting process still being utilized by artist today.

This book is a nice reference for those who are interested in the history and development of the photographic and printing processes. It is well thought out and provides interesting information about the man who started the art of photography as we know it today. I found that although I was familiar with Talbot’s technical achievements that I was not as aware of his photographic body of work.

The 8 3/4″ x 10 7/8″ hardcover book with a tipped-in image on the front cover was printed in China in 2008. There are 55 plates and each plate has a facing caption, proximal dating and a brief background article about the accompanying photograph. The book is paginated in the introductory text while the remaining pages are not with 124 pages per my count, plus end-papers. There is also a Biography for Talbot at the end of the book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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May 15, 2009

Bernd & Hilla Becher at Museo Morandi

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 8:29 pm

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Photographs copyright Bernd & Hilla Becher courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel and Prestel USA

Bernd and Hilla Becher are the German photographic team who become well known over the last 30+ years for the development of their industrial Typologies (and how many times have I unknowing read this as Topologies). This book is a catalog, published by Schirmer/Mosel in 2009, for the Becher’s retrospective exhibition at Museo Morandi in Bologna, Italy.

The images printed in the book are reminiscent of the presentation grid style developed by the Becher’s in the 1960’s in which the photographs are grouped by type or function. Industrial facilities are grouped together to illustrate both their similarities of function but the subtle differences in form. Thus the book’s emphasis is more on the grouping of types of subjects (a.ka. Typology) than the ability to dig into the detail of specific images.

The publishing of a photographic grid I found to be a tease when there is a group of 15 photographs on the relatively small page which does not allow much of the individual photograph to be evaluated. From the interview Hilla Becher provided in the text (Bernd passed away in 2007) the pair do not appear to as much interested in the individual photograph but how the group of like structures play off against each other.

The book will provide a sense of Becher’s Typologies with groups from their collection of Gas-tanks, Cooling Towers, Water Towers, Winding Towers, Lime Kilns, and Blast Furnaces. From these photographic groupings you can also discern how different cultures adopt similar functional designs and yet how these same industrial functions differ greatly from other geographic regions.

The book may also help with establishing the visual linkage of the early work by the German photographers August Sander and Albert Renger-Patzsch who are known for either photographing by categorizing types or photographing industrial buildings at a middle distance to emphasize their form.

The catalog provides a high level overview of the Becher’s formal photographic process and it may create an interest to seek one out one of their earlier books which provide more extensive details on one of their many subject types. Not recommended if you are looking for a collection of their work to understand in more detail one of their category types.

The perfect bound stiffcover book is 8″ x 9″ with 48 pages and 14 duotone plates that encompasses 153 photographic images made by the couple. The accompanying interview with Hilla Becher by Gianfranco Maraniello is in both English and Italian with beautiful printing and binding from Verona, Italy.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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April 30, 2009

The Best of Helmut Newton

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Book Stores — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 6:03 pm

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Photographs copyright of the Helmut Newton Estate courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel

Schirmer/Mosel which is the late Helmut Newton’s long term publishing partner has just re-issued a softback version their Best of Helmut Newton edited by Zdenek Felix with the art direction by June Newton, Helmut’s wife. The first edition hardbound book was initially published by Schirmer/Mosel in 1991.

This book provides a broad sampling of Newton’s body of work including his commercial fashion work and portraits as well as his personal nude projects, such as Big Nudes. The black and white photographs have a wonderful tonality and contrast. The color photographs in this book appear over saturated and perhaps many were made using Kodachrome which is a rather notorious high contrast color positive 35mm film.

Newton’s long term theme was sexuality ranging from subtle sensuality to overt eroticism usually utilizing one of his many fetish’s that he had became famous for. Most of the European publications did not have the same editorial limitations for the use of nudity and Newton used the nude models extensively. What is interesting to me is that many of his famous nudes were created in collaboration with his wife June Newton (who’s photographic pseudonym was Alice Springs a name taken from her native Australia).

A rather interesting photograph on the book’s back cover is a dual-self portrait of the couple with one of their athletic nude models photographed in Europe. Helmut is taking the photograph while wearing a trench-coat, hunched over his twin lens reflex camera and not unlike the cartoon charter of the “dirty old man” who opens his trench coat on the occasion to fully reveal himself. Meanwhile June sits to the side intently watching the two, but who really has her rapt gaze: her husband or the nude model? This juxtaposition creates a sexual tension beyond photographing a nude woman is a potential hint at a three way relationship. Alternatively  is June there to protect her husband from the temptations of the flesh, or is she there to protect the model from her “dirty old man”? The model being photographed appears strong and very comfortable with her nudity. She has an air of nobility about her posture and appears very confident about her lean and young body. The standing model is also looking in the direction of the sitting June; for her approval or is it a mutual interest? But in so looking at the model, you become aware of another pair of nude legs just beyond. Who is she and why is this other person there?

The setting is also interesting as we have been provided a larger view of not only of the photographer himself, the model and his wife, but also beyond. Behind June is the exit (sortie) to the studio with the door open and we can see cars either parked or driving by. It is very possible that those outside the studio can see in and view the posing nude model.  We can make out a silhouette of someone in a car which has paused at the entrance of the open studio door introducing another element that of voyeurism and creating additional sexual tension.

Newton imbues this sexual tension in his fashion photographs with one of my favorite photographs included below,of the woman seated on the couch intently observing the shirtless man. As required for a fashion photograph the details of the dress are evident. There is the overtly suggestive sexual element of how that this same dress can be effectively used to communicate her interest in a relationship such as the untied and open neck line. Like wise the models pose is very suggestive with her legs spread wide apart playing with a strand of her hair. She is wearing slippers and not high heels and since the man is shirtless is this moment a flirtation or post-glory?

Not every photograph by Newton is so layered with meaning, but many are, and his photographs warrant a revisit.

The 8 5/8″ x 10 5/8″ softcover book has 156 pages, with 105 color and duotone plates, and nicely printed in Verona Italy. The two insightful essays, translated from German in the English version, are by Noemi Smolik and Urs Stahel.

By Douglas Stockdale

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March 10, 2009

Paul Outerbridge Jr: Photographs

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:12 am

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Photographs are copyright of the estate of Paul Outerbridge Jr

This last month I have seen a small flurry of activity regarding the photographic body of work by Paul Outerbridge Jr. ( 1986 – 1958). Outerbridge was a eccentric contemporary and competitor of Edward Steichen, a friend of Marcel Ducamp, Man Ray and others while living in Paris and known for both his Platinum and Carbo-Color Prints. The latter better know for both the phonographic virtuoso technique and the fetish nude subject matter.

I decided to provide a quick review of my 1980 first edition of Paul Outerbridge Jr: Photographs published in hardcover with dust cover by Rizzoli, New York. I take full credit for a couple of the not-so-great copies of photographs from the book, below. Thus if Outerbridge was alive as the perfectionist that he apparently was he would have skinned me so I will have to make do with him just rolling in his grave.

This is a retrospective monograph of Outerbridge’s body of work edited by Graham Howe and G. Ray Hawkins and was the first published book about Outerbridge. Now how ever there have been a number of books produced about Outerbridge’s photographs and life.

Outerbridges photographic career can be broken into two distinct periods which the book provides a portfolio from his platinum prints dating from 1921 – 1933 and then after learning the Carbo-Color process a portfolio of prints from 1935 – 1939.

During Outerbridge’s platinum period he was very much a competitor to Steichen’s commercial photography. Apparently the aesthetic side of their photographic competition was narrowed down between photographs of cups and saucers versus eggs and the ability to make the best possible photograph of a entirely white on white subject. There were other aspects of this rivalry which to the credit of Howe and Hawkins makes for an interesting read.

Outerbridge was captivated by the cubist movement and he felt that photography was even a better medium to create cubist work, which most of his contemporaries in Paris agreed. When Outerbridge moved to Paris it appears that he and Man Ray became close friends. The book’s authors trace some of Outerbridge’s later erotic work back to Man Ray’s own private photographic studies of himself with Kiki who was Ray’s model and muse that apparently was shared with Outerbridge.

Outerbridge was an earlier innovator of the limited edition print as he usually only printed one of each of his Platinum prints and like wise later when he began printing his Carbo-Color prints. Both processes are very labor intensive printing processes with the  Carbo-Color print taking upwards of nine hours to produce.

Since the Carbo-Color printing process utilized actual ink the prints are said to be absolutely amazing in their three dimension appearance. (Thus if you are in the Los Angeles area there will be an exhibition of Outerbridge’s photographs at the Getty Museum on exhibition March 31 – August 9th, 2009).  Regretfully that amazing color or feeling is not apparent from the printing of this book.

The 160 pages of the book provides a broad but not inclusive survey of Outerbridge’s body of photographic work with a strong concentration and emphasis on his earlier Platinum work.

For the color photographs the nudity was at the time very controversial and eventually led to the declining interest in Outerbridge’s prints in the 1930’s – 1950’s these are pretty tame by today’s Internet standards. Outerbridge apparently did understand the current issues of the time with his nude studies which he created as “neo-classical” studies which were his public work.  Because of the subject matter Museums did not purchase these or allowed them to exhibited.

He also had an “interest in sexuality, eroticism, fetishism and decadence”.  The latter were privately held for himself and a small group of friends with only a very few of these included within the book.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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December 1, 2008

Man Ray – Taschen Special Icons

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 6:24 am

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Copyright, Man Ray, 2008, Taschen

I recently picked up a Man Ray book published by Taschen  (published 2008) as part of their Special Icon series. I could almost afford not to as the new price was $7.99 USD at Borders. And this is a hardcover book with slip cover no  less. Wow!

This small book (7-5/8 x 5-3/4) has 192 pages and the black and white photographs have been spot varnished with a forward written by Andre Breton from 1927 (French Dadaist). It includes a wonderful Introduction written by Emmanuelle De L’Ecotais. The text is in German, French and English (American). Really nice!

Man Ray (b.1890 Emmanuel Rudnitzky, Philadephia – d. 1976 Paris, France) was the American photographer/painter in the middle of both the Dada and Surrealist movements in Paris during the 1920’s – 1940. He was known for early innovation of both his Rayographs (photo-grams) and the creation of solarization prints. Ray is also known as the artist whom Bernice Abbott was the darkroom assistant to when she stumbled across Eugene Atget and his photographs in Paris.

This book and biography are not inclusive off all Ray’s work but it does includes most of his well known photographs and chronologically follows his steps in photographic history. This book is a great collection of photographs by a well known photographer but perhaps not well known for his entire body of work. I was not been really searching for a Man Ray book at the time and saw the opportunity to have a compact unified collection of his photographs for future reference.

Included are Ray’s 1932 photograph of Pablo Picasso’s intense eyes and his hands. The solarized photographs of the Calla Lilies which have a sensual feel to them, almost erotic. The solarized nudes have wonderful clean lines similar to a gesture drawings. His Rayographs run the full gamut of complex to simplistic and a delight to read and think about.

Finding this little gem was impressive and at this price a highly recommended purchase.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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October 14, 2008

Diane Arbus – An Aperture Monograph

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:47 pm

I recently had the opportunity to purchase a copy of the Aperture Monograph of Diane Arbus, which had been reissued as a softcover in 1997 as a twenty-five year anniversary issue. With a retrospective look at a photographers body of work there is an opportunity to see how well it weathers the test of time.

The original publication of this book in 1972 was in conjunction with the retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) after her suicide in 1971. She already had been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships (1963 & 1966) and had been one of three photographers included in the 1967 MoMA exhibition “New Documents” along with Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander.

Arbus was recognized at the time as being in the  line of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Robert Frank. With her use of direct flash a little WeeGee (Arthur Fellis) thrown in.

I suspect that with the duotone separations completed by Robert Hennessey the images in the book are very faithful to Arbus’s printed photographic intent. Thus some of the images that do not illustrate the full tonal range were purposeful and are an interesting lesson on their own merits.

The eighty photographs within this book are not meant to be all inclusive of Arbus’s body of work and it does provide her best known photographs. Additionally, there are no photographs before 1962 but again I do feel that the intent was to be a complete biography and more about the personal projects that she undertook. There have been other books published about Arbus such as the SFMOMA Catalogue, and Diane Arbus Revelations which are more inclusive.

My principal (and minor) gripe with the book is the sequencing of the photographs as these are not in chronological order to perhaps provide a better grasp of the development of her vision and photography.  One plus is the capture of some of Arbus’s lectures just prior to her death to help place her photographs in a context of her intent. I had read about her lectures & writing but had experienced it only secondhand, thus it is a nice benefit to read them directly.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

October 8, 2008

Atget by John Szarkowski

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 7:00 pm

cour 7 rue de Valencia“, 1922, Eugene Atget, courtesy of MOMA

I had published an earlier article in Singular Images about my continuing interest in Eugene Atget’s photographic urban landscapes. I subsequently purchased the hardcover book Atget by the late John Szarkowski published by MOMA as a first edition in 2000. All I can say is that this is a wonderful book for anyone’s collection who is interested in Eugene Atget’s body of work.

Eugene Atget is usually characterized as the historical precedent for the photographic work of Walker Evans in the 1930’s then Robert Frank in the 1950’s and subsequently carried on by the photographs of Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Szarkowski elegantly articulates their direct way of seeing/photographing in his earlier book, Mirrors and Windows, which I commented on here.

I have a broad collection of photographic books that have had an image or two of Atget’s photographs and I really wanted to have a dedicated resource to read and study to further understand Atget’s way of looking at his environment. There are a number of alternative hardcover book options for Atgets photographs but to have access a paring of Atget’s photographs with the insights of Szarkowski and the beautifully printing and binding by MOMA in Italy was just too hard to resist.

The images are all well displayed in the book with a Atget photograph on the right and on the opposite spread the commentary about the photograph by Szarkowski.

So I have now traveled throught this book many times. At first I had hoped for a little more analysis of the structure of the photograph from Szarkowski and then I realized that he was helping to frame the context of the photograph as much as describing the photographs attributes.

The book sequences Atget photographs chronologically taking you on a historical journey through the development of Atget’s body of work. You come to understand that even Bernice Abbott, who became the champion of Atget’s photographs, did not get that close to the photographer himself.

So in conclusion this a book that I can really recommend.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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