E-Photo
Issue #94  10/4/2005
 
New Photo Books and Catalogues

By Matt Damsker

PARIS EN FETE.

Text by Francoise Paviot. Published by Editions du Collectionneur. ISBN No. 2-847620-00-1. Priced at 29 Euros. 172 pages; approximately 70 plates. Editions du Collectionnear, 60, rue Saint-andre-des-Arts, 75006 Paris, France. Information: Galerie Françoise Paviot, 57, rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 Paris; phone: +33(0)142-601001

City of Lights, of course, but even more so, Paris is a city of life, and Francoise Paviot celebrates that happy fact with this collection of Parisian photographs that takes us from the medium's early days and into the 1990s. The images are all black-and-white, some are iconic (Eugene Atget's "Organ Grinder," for instance), and the unifying theme is the great city's embrace of scale, spectacle, and always, the local color of its people.

In her text (in French), gallery owner and collector Paviot notes that Paris is the official birthplace of photography, and indeed, from the first daguerreotypes, it has been one of the medium's great subjects--arguably its greatest. It would be hard to imagine any icon that has been more photographed than the Eiffel Tower, but Paviot does not drown us with Tower photos, preferring instead to connect the human with the monumental, as in the charming cover shot of stylish 1920s louche youth hanging out, smoking and preening high upon the Tower (during the making of Rene Clair's 1927 film, "Paris qui dort"), as well as a more formal shot by Pierre Petit of dignitaries assembled at the Tower's 1889 inauguration. And André Kertész's 1927 shot of the Tower illuminated by bolts of lightning is, of course, incomparable.

Indeed, Parisian architecture is central to these shots, beginning with an 1844 image by Charles-Marie Isodore of riders on horseback on the Pont Royal, in full view of a magnificent mansard-roofed dwelling. Other 19th-century images capture the splendor of La Place de la Concorde, the grand boulevards, fountains, arches, and the Seine, including a wonderful rooftop perspective along the Boulevard des Capucines, by William Henry Fox Talbot. Chronicling the wonders of the Second Empire, Paviot finds images of the great Parisian boom in urban development, along with parades, gatherings, and the sights of the Universal Exposition of 1867.

These historical photos are at once charming and broad, mainly long views that capture scale at the expense of intimate detail, as in an important documentary shot of Victor Hugo's massive funeral on the steps of the Pantheon. As the 20th century begins, along with France's Third Empire, photography's refinement is evident in the works not only of Atget, but of Emile Joachim Constant Puyo, whose wonderful image of a chambermaid peering over a balcony in Montmartre--with Sacre Coeur mistily off in the distance--is a 1906 masterwork.

There is also a photo by Emile Zola of a pavilion at the universal exposition of 1900, and images of Parisians at galleries, peering through telescopes, observing a solar eclipse through smoked glass, and a panoramic shot by Jacques-Henri Lartigue of his model Bibi at the 1927 international exposition of decorative and industrial arts. Indeed, to celebrate Paris is to celebrate its artists, and there is a fine still from Rene Clair's 1924 film "Entracte", featuring Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray playing chess, as well as an anonymous image depicting surrealist founder Andre Breton playfully holding a friend upside down from atop a ladder with a bicycle in front of a gallery showing paintings by Max Ernst.

Moving into the pre- and post-World War II eras, the photographs capture the intensity of modernity, with its cars, crowds, and anxious faces, always with the timelessness of Paris as a backdrop. There is Robert Doisneau's memorable 1944 shot of jubilant young students in a marching band, and Christophe Gin's 1993 image of gay-pride marchers, their painted faces betraying a solemn sense of the outsider. And Wolfgang Volz's 1985 shot of the Pont Neuf wrapped in the vast shroudings of artist Christo brings us full circle--from a Paris of the Old World to a Paris that can more than accommodate the shock of the new.

DAVID GOLDBLATT: INTERSECTIONS.

Published this year by Prestel, in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name held at Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf, from June 17 to August 21, 2005 and Camera Austria, Graz, from December 10, 2005 to February 26, 2006. Essays by Christoph Danelzik-Bruggemann, Michael Stevenson, and an interview with the photographer by Mark Haworth-Booth. 124 pages; approximately 40 color plates. ISBN no.: 3-7913-3247-3; Library of Congress control no.: 2005900732. Prestel Publishing, 900 Broadway, Ste. 603, New York, NY 10003; phone: +1-212-995-2720; fax: +1-212-995-2733, http://www.prestel.com . Price: $60.

South Africa's David Goldblatt has spent more than three decades chronicling the soul and soil of his troubled native land, resulting not only in an internationally collected body of work but also a unique perspective on a unique corner of the world. Born of Lithuanian-Jewish descent in Randfontein, South Africa (he now resides in Johannesburg), Goldblatt brings a somewhat haunted sense of the outsider to his large-format, austere color images. They open out on a sun-bleached landscape intersected mainly by a poor, scuffling humanity--a human presence in uneasy harmony with the land. If Goldblatt shares that unease, perhaps it's a measure of his marginal identification with the white oppressors who perpetuated apartheid for so long, but his photography doesn't stoop to rhetorical statements or images of pathos. Instead, a suggestion of spiritual emptiness pervades.

Indeed, as Michael Stevenson essay's quotes the great South African author J.M. Coetzee: "There are, it seems, no angels in this part of the sky, no God in this part of the world. It belongs only to the sun. I do not think that it was ever intended that people should live here. This is a land made for insects who eat sand and lay eggs in each other's corpses and have no voices with which to scream when they die." Such a scathing meditation seems to suit Goldblatt's recent images of a post-apartheid country ("nation" seems the wrong word), in which the freedom of a black majority is stilled twinned with poverty and struggle. In Goldblatt's photos, the South African veldt stretches unforgivingly, and unchangingly, through the social upheavals that have brought its people into awkward truce with the 21st century.

In fact, the highest achievement of Goldblatt's recent photography may well be his exploration of interior scenes as complements to the dominant landscapes. These shots, from a series entitled "Municipal People," focus on the new generation of local bureaucrats, captured in stark, wide-angle solemnity in their offices, and with their certificates of officialdom hung alongside portraits of Nelson Mandela. Despite the dignity and pride we sense from these people, Goldblatt locates the modern void that envelops them--the mostly bare walls and sparely furnished surroundings, the inertia of civil service made manifest in drab settings.

In contrast, the great void of Goldblatt's landscapes dwarfs its people in a comparable way, as the flat, rocky scrubland stretches toward mountainous beauty on one hand, yet offers little nourishment. The shacks and shanties which (barely) house their poor inhabitants are stuck like thumbtacks to this land, it seems, while life goes on somehow. A young woman fixes her hair next to one shack; men rest in the meager shade of a tree with their dogs; a goat farmer plays solitaire under the flap of his tent; children make a playground of a roadside width of dirt. Bursts of color enliven the desert's ochre monotone--whether from the flowers of a highway memorial (barely noticeable as the road stretches endlessly and Goldblatt focuses on its infinity), or, ironically, from the beautiful sprinkle of blue asbestos fibers that mark the rocks of the Owendale Mine, a reminder of South Africa's industrial legacy.

Many of these photos are of monuments, handmade signs, cemeteries--all of them overshadowed by the indifference of the land. In one image, the hundreds of white crosses marking graves on a broad hillside are hardly visible amidst the bleached vegetation and in the broad context of Goldblatt's sweeping view, from short foreground to vast horizon, with a highway crossing the top of the photo and vehicles whizzing by, hopelessly distanced from the dead. It may be facile to connect Goldblatt's work with those of other contemporary landscape photographers--say, John Gossage or Marcus Doyle--who make potent statements about modernity and human presence mainly by photographing scenes of human absence, for Goldblatt's work stands further apart. Its rewards lay in his organic conception of land, social fabric and humanity in metaphysical coexistence, separated yet always intersecting, enacting an almost Biblical narrative of interior and exterior wilderness.

A CATALOGUE OF VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS.

Text in French. Offered by Denis Ozanne, 18 Rue de Provence, 75009 Paris, France. Phone: +33 (0) 148 01 02 37; fax: +33 (0) 148 01 06 29. Email: dnozanne@club-internet.fr . 48 pages.

This wide-ranging catalogue of vintage books describes 188 collectibles on offer from Parisian collector Denis Ozanne. Each selection features a full-color reproduction of the book cover, plus very basic information, in French, regarding the contents of the books. A complete list of prices, in Euros, is included.

Ozanne's collection spans the world of 20th-century photography, with interesting works by the likes of conceptualist John Baldessari ("Close-Cropped Tales," from a 1981 Buffalo CEPA Gallery exhibition; "The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentlemen," from 1988; and "Ingres and Other Parables," from 1972), along with Richard Avedon's 1993 study, "Gianni Versace," a 184-page luxury item chronicling the late designer's couture. Allan Kaprow's 1966 publication, "Assemblage, Environments & Happening," is a true classic. And several examples of Larry Clark's outlaw oeuvre (including "Teenage Lust," from 1983, and "Tulsa," from 1979) are offered, along with Lee Friedlander's 1976 "The American Monument," with its 213 reproductions.

In addition, there's a wonderfully vintage Bill Brandt collection, "Londres de Nuit," from 1938, with 64 photographs of a nocturnal London, and an equally atmospheric collection from Paul Morand, "Paris de Nuit," with 62 plates. And a 1955 Cartier-Bresson volume, "Moscou," features 163 images of Russia's capital, while a 1982 volume of Brassai, "Les artistes de ma vie," features photos of immortal painters from Bonnard and Braque to Kokoschka, Matisse, Miro, and Picasso. Books by Robert Doisneau include his marvelous 1960 study of barroom life, "Bistrots," with a poem by Jacques Prevert.

The avant-garde, and especially the eastern European chroniclers of life during and after the Soviet era, are well-represented here. From Allan Ginsberg's intimate 1990 trove of 92 photographs of friends, lovers, and notes in his own handwriting, to Gilbert & George's 1976 "Dark Shadow," with its red and black marbled cover, there are joyous discoveries. From Prague, Miroslav Hak's "Ocima," from 1947, is a nude collection of great rigor, while Hungary's Ivan Hevesy is represented by images of European life from the 1930s.

Ozanne also offers Japanese classics, especially Eikoh Hosoe's 1961 "Man and Woman", with its 33 images matched by Taro Yamamoto's poetry. And there is an especially broad collection of books by Edward Ruscha, from his 1968 collection of "Business Cards" to his 1970 "Babycakes with weights", his 1969 "Crackers" and "Twenty Six gasoline Stantions", and his classic 1971 "Every Building on the Sunset Strip", which folds out to reveal lengthy sequences of urban observation. Rounding out the offerings, Andy Warhol's 1967 "Andy Warhol Index" features 72 pages of photos, interviews, and random sights from the artist's Factory--preserved in its original plastic envelope.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.

He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)