The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1

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9780714857435: The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1

This volume 1 of a comprehensive illustrated history of the photobook, featuring over 200 photobooks dating from the 19th century to the radical Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 70s. It includes well-known publications such as Walker Evans' "American Photographs" (1938), alongside lesser-known but significant works such as Kikuji Kawada's "The Map" (1965). It offers a fresh approach to photographic history, focusing on the development of photography in its published form and covers key artistic movements and epochs. Broadly thematic and chronological in structure, each chapter features an introductory essay followed by detailed captions alongside images of the photobook covers and spreads, which provide the central means of telling the history of the photobook.

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Review:

From Street Life in London to Hiroshima, from The Royal Mummies to Perspective of Nudes and The Sweet Flypaper of Life, photobooks encompass a tremendous diversity of subjects and styles. While some of these illustrated volumes are famous (Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion, Robert Frank's The Americans), many others are known only to specialists. The Photobook: A History offers an engrossing survey of this art form, beginning with early experiments in photography in mid-19yh-century England and ending with raucous Japanese photo-diaries of the 1990s. The scope of this handsomely designed book—the first of two volumes—is so broad that only a few pages of each photobook could be illustrated, and some of the 750 color and black-and-white reproductions are quite small. But the incisive commentary by British photographer Martin Parr and photo critic Gerry Badger opens up new worlds of visual information. The authors provide essential grounding, not only in the history of photography, but also in the artistic and social movements that influenced the look and content of photobooks.

In the 19th century, the object was to collect and to classify, whether the subject was a foreign landscape, a war, the surface of the moon or the manufacture of bread. Conversely, 20th-century photobooks are often frankly subjective, drawing on movements ranging from surrealism to the Beats. Yet a quasi-scientific approach could result in poignant imagery (as in Facies Dolorosa, a study of the faces of seriously ill people), and artistic subjectivity could yield bitter truths (Helen Levitt's A Way of Seeing, images of poor children in New York). Describing photobooks of the polemical 1930s as "the great persuaders," Parr and Badger remark that the best documentary work demonstrates an awareness of the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the medium. Although we tend to think of propaganda solely as the product of totalitarian regimes (see "Long Live the Bright Instruction," a Chinese tract featuring unnervingly happy workers), the authors remind us that photobooks celebrating the American way of life often naively ignored the complex socio-political forces that underlie a sentimental or cheerful scene. The final chapter, devoted to postwar Japanese photobooks, vividly illuminates the cocktail of hedonism, rage and despair that makes these volumes extraordinary visual documents. --Cathy Curtis

About the Author:

The work of Martin Parr bridges the divide between art and documentary photography. His studies of the idiosyncrasies of mass culture and consumerism around the world, his innovative imagery and his prolific output have placed him firmly at the forefront of contemporary art. A member of the international photo agency Magnum, Parr is an avid collector of books and a world authority on the photobook. Gerry Badger is a photo historian and critic. He regularly writes and lectures on photography and has curated a number of exhibitions. His published books include Collecting Photography and monographs on John Gossage and Stephen Shore, as well as Phaidon's 55s on Chris Killip (2001) and Eugene Atget (2001)

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