E-Photo
Issue #107  7/10/2006
 
For Your Summer Reading Pleasure: Photography Books and Catalogues

By Matt Damsker

LUCIEN CLERGUE: FIFTY YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHY; VINTAGE AND RECENT WORKS.

100 pages; 52 plates. Essay by Karen Sinsheimer. Hardback, limited edition of 500. ISBN No. 0-9749421-4-6. Published by Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069; phone 1-310-276-0147; fax: 1-310-276-7740. http://www.louissternfinearts.com .

Cocteau described him as a "poet with a camera" and Picasso championed him within Europe's cosmopolitan elite, and now, a vital septuagenarian, Lucien Clergue is very much with us. This handsome catalogue, sumptuously printed on Japanese white matte art paper, commemorates a recent display of his old and recent photography at Louis Stern Fine Arts, in which Clergue's consummate style and elegance are evident across five decades. The wonderful, theatrical images from the 1950s are incomparable--the richly shadowed street scenes, the portraits of street performers and the iconic shots of Picasso, Dali, and bullfighters, all of them vibrantly alive in Clergue's dramatic lighting and unerring composition.

By the '60s, of course, his artistry began to blossom, with shots of artfully posed, undulant nudes against natural textures of sand, rock and sea, or with zebra-striped shadowing. In the '80s, his color work offered vibrant portraiture, in Cibachrome, Ilfochrome, Polaroid--of artist David Hockney in a canary yellow shirt, against a field of sunflowers, or red abstractions. Always, an intensely sensual curiosity matches form with hue, geometry with tonality. The results are captivatingly diverse, as this elegant book portrays a visual imagination that seems incapable of running out of material.

WILLIAM, EARL OF CRAVEN & THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

By Noel Chanan. Published by Halsgrove; 2006; 240 pages. ISBN Nos. 1-84114-491-6; 978-1-84114-491-7. Halsgrove House, Lower Moor Way, Tiverton, Devon EX16 6SS; phone: 01884 243242; fax: 01884 243325; email: sales@halsgrove.com ; Website: http://www.halsgrove.com . Hardback, priced at 34.99 pounds (currently around $65).

Virtually unknown until the discovery in 1998 and 1999 of his large-scale photographs and an album of his photographic experiments, William, 2nd Earl of Craven, quickly took his place among the 19th-century British pioneers of the medium. Now, author, filmmaker and photographer Noel Chanan has delivered this deeply researched biography of Craven, replete with lovingly reproduced plates of his vintage sepia-toned images. The result is an important work of scholarship, handsomely bound and sure to take its place as a definitive study of Craven.

Being an independently wealthy member of the nobility, Craven was not motivated by financial need, and so he rarely exhibited, preferring to develop his artistry in the privacy of his estate, Ashdown Park, west of London. His leisurely approach seems well reflected by his output, which focused to a great extent upon his family, his homestead, the surrounding wealth of nature, especially the winter and summer trees of Ashdown, and even some self-portraiture. Craven also collected his contemporaries, including wet-plate photography pioneer Frederick Scott Archer, Roger Fenton and Gustave Le Gray. Indeed, Craven's photographs match up well with those of such well-known masters. As Chanan suggests, Craven's expertise with wet-collodion printing was likely a direct result of his contact with Archer, and the details of Craven's technique are exhaustively documented here.

Ultimately, though, it is the photographic evidence itself that marks Craven as an early master, conveying everything from the architectural loveliness of Ashdown to starkly contrasted views of magnificent trees that connect strongly with the emerging romanticism of the mid-1800s. If anything, Craven's deeply educated eye, so mindful of the techniques and traditions of painting, lent his photographs a powerful pictorial dimension, and so there is a universe of palpable mood and careful composition in these vintage images. For his scholarly devotion to Craven's quietly buried treasure, the photography world owes Chanan a debt of gratitude that will doubtless be repaid for years to come.

ANTIQUITY & PHOTOGRAPHY: EARLY VIEWS OF ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN SITES.

By Claire L. Lyons, John K. Papadopoulos, Lindsey S. Stewart, and Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. 2005; 226 pages, 124 color and 6 black-and-white plates; ISB-13 No. 978-0-89236-805-1; ISBN-10 No. 0-89236-805-5. Published by Getty Publications, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500, Los Angeles CA 90049-1682. http://www.getty.edu .

Issued in connection with an exhibition of the same title at the Getty Villa, Malibu, Calif., during the winter and spring of this year, this magisterial volume explores photography's influence on archaeology between 1840 and 1880, a time when both archaeology and photography were evolving rapidly as professions. Indeed, it's obvious that both pursuits depended on each other in that crucial period, with photography seeking exotic and distant locales for its development, and archaeology relying more and more on photographic documentation. Thus, these vintage, iconic images seem doubly valuable in the context of this study--early shots of the pyramids of Giza, the Roman Forum, and the Acropolis in Athens gave scholars worldwide a richness of detail to study, while enchanting a wider audience with the first great wave of photographic tourism.

The essays in this book look at the careers of such key early photographers as Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey and William James Stillman, along with portfolios by Maxime du Camp, John Beasley Greene, Francis Frith, Robert Macpherson and other luminaries of Mediterranean imagery. This first wave of photographers to visit the Mediterranean sites were eager to fill in the visual gaps that had been left by the draftsmen and painters of the pre-photographic era, and so their photos were geared toward maximizing the wide-angle potential, multiple views, and close-up detailing that only photography affords. For example, images of Egyptian ruins are carefully composed with human figures in the foreground, to provide a sense of realistic scale, while the long perspectives of Pompeii's ruined streets provide a sense of how day-to-day life must have felt in these ancient places.

Particularly impressive are the photographs of the buildings and heights of Athen's Acropolis, such as Dimitrios Constantin's 1865 view contrasted with Constantine's Athanassiou's 1880 view, both from the same encompassing vantage, detailing how much the landscape had been changed and unchanged in the intervening years. And the many views of the Parthenon and other iconic structures reveal the architectural splendor and atmosphere of these precious sites with tremendous immediacy and clarity.

TWO VOLUMES OF VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPHY OF VERONA, ITALY

Guided by the expert eye of "La Grafica" editor Giuseppe Milani, these two handsome hardback books explore the architecture of one of Italy's most picturesque locales, Verona, from multiple perspectives. In "I Cinguantacinque Ponti di Verona," (2003; 182 pages; approximately 150 plates), Milani explores the many and highly varied bridges that once spanned and still span the area, ranging from shots taken in the 1860s to the 1990s, and documenting not only the beauty of these structures but their evolution, construction, repair and their relationship to the surrounding urban scene. These wonderful moments in time capture people strolling or relaxing upon these bridges along with the exceptional latticework, masonry, and myriad design details that make each one unique. From the nearly ruined 16th-century stone masterwork, the Ponte Pietra a valle, photographed in 1859 (its end came in 1945 when the Nazi's blew it up; only to have the town rebuild it from the bricks retrieved from the river) to the modern-era steel spans that survive to this day, these remarkable works of civic pride and craftsmanship are preserved in photographic splendor by Milani.

Likewise, Milani's more recent tome, "Verona nelle fotografie dell'Ottocento" (2005; 223 pages; approximately 200 plates) explores the great urban images of Verono in the 19th century, preserving such superb architectural niceties as the Portoni della Bra, a high stone archway with its large clock centered between the dual arches. Many such portales are in evidence here, along with images of the vast piazzas and plazas, filled with citizenry during state occasions, or else majestically emptied of people.

The street scenes, the churches, and the countless facades are made remarkably vivid in these vintage photos, which are crisply printed on a fine glossy stock. The result is a textural wonderland of Italian culture and architectural fascination, bringing us closer to a vanished time than we would otherwise think possible.

For more information on these two books, visit the Website http://www.lagraficaeditrice.it or email tiplagrafica@tin..it .

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.)