Issue #112  10/10/2006
Photography Books

By Matt Damsker


Available from Librarie Serge Plantureux, 4 Galerie Vivienne 75002, Paris, France. Phone: +33 1 53 29 92 00; email: info@sergeplantureux.fr .

Each priced at just five euros, Serge Plantureux's latest crop of junior-edition monographs spans a fascinatingly diverse range of vintage photography. Especially noteworthy in this series is Steven Manford's study of the photography stamps of Man Ray, "Behind the Photo." As Manford tells it, he began with a simple task--photographing good Man Ray stamp impressions--and wound up discovering a galaxy of variations on the back of the master's Rayographs and other photos.

Amidst fraudulent and posthumous stamps, inexpensive rubber and elegantly embossed ones, Manford documents Man Ray's peripatetic life in photography, which ranged through Paris, London and California. There are, Manford asserts, 27 known lifetime stamps made for and used by Man Ray, but just as the artist himself proved so elusive, so his back-of-the-photo imprimaturs amount to a case study in just how difficult it can be to pin down the proof of his handiwork.

Also in the Rhinoceros series, a wonderful monograph by Franco el Gaucho explores photography's documentation of the charismatic Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. Che was immortalized, of course, by Alberto "Korda" Diaz Gutierrez's truly iconic photo, in which Guevara, glimpsed in noble close-up from a low angle, seems to embody all the power and vulnerability of mid-1960s anti-establishment courageousness. This monograph locates more casual images of Che--along with his brother in revolution, Fidel Castro, and such interlopers as Ernest Hemingway--including several warm and candid portraits by Venancia Diaz Maique and Elicer Vazquez. Fittingly, el Gaucho compares the classic Gutierrez photo to the Mona Lisa, but this monograph goes a long way toward bringing Che's persona back down to the Cuban earth he loved.

Three other Rhinoceros editions are here as well, including a study of Edmund Lebel's haunting 19th-century photographs of European forms, faces and spaces, documenting gypsies, peasants, grape-laden baskets, earthy facades, and transient foliage. Then there is the work of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who captured the sun-baked street life of Mexico from the 1930s through the 1980s, evoking the timelessness of his culture. And in another Rhinoceros volume, "Bogota Recia," a potpourri of Latin American images offers up the heat and dust of Colombia--from bullfights to evidence of inescapable modernity in shots of shop windows, television sets and supermarkets.

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.)