Issue #114  11/15/2006
Photo Books and Dealer Catalogues

By Matt Damsker


Introduction by Gay Talese. Photo editors: Jim Mones and Vin Alabiso. 736 pages; 365 photos; hardback; US $29.95, CAN $38.95. ISBN No. 978-0-8109-4942-3. Published by Harry N. Abrams, 115 West 18th St., New York NY 10011; information: http://www.hnabooks.com .

There are more than seven million photographs in the archives of The New York Times, but this relative handful of shots makes the case well enough for the tradition of great photojournalism in America's greatest city. From the low-key 1911 image of Wilbur Wright flying one of the first airplanes in range of the Statue of Liberty, to the explosive and dramatically charged sequence that chronicles the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the power and grandeur of Manhattan's iconography is the theme that unites these 365 images.

Walls, bridges, skyscrapers, crowds, walkers, riders, paraders, panhandlers, street vendors, the famous (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Rudolph Giuliani), the infamous (prostitutes on Times Square, before its clean-up in the 1980s) and the unnameable make up the mosaic. And it is not surprising that so many of the shots of everyday life taken by New York Times photographers possess an abstract power--such as Fred Conrad's 2003 shot of a red umbrella adding a single drop of color to a snowy landscape in Madison Square Park, Tony Cenicola's shot of phantasmagoric graffiti murals transforming the walls in the borough of Queens, or Marilynn K. Yee's liquid image of yellow taxis in Columbus Circle, as reflected in the mirrored skin of the Time Warner Center. Indeed, these photographs and so many others continue to reveal "The City" as the ultimate canvas for expression, random action, folly, fear and aspiration. The editors of this volume do a good job selecting a cross-section that emphasizes the infinite variety of New York life and New York looks--the pastoral four-season beauty of Central Park or the Botanical Garden, the scale and energy of the architecture, the sophistication of its high and low players, and the palpable collective will that makes this sliver of land a center of civilization.



Edited by Jeffrey Fraenkel. Published by the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA, on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name, which continues through November 25, 2006. In five volumes; paperback; approximately 80 photographs. ISBN No. 978-1-881337-21-8. Information: Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94108; phone: +1-415-981-2661; http://www.fraenkelgallery.com .

Richard Avedon was always busier making his own pictures than collecting the photography of others, but his obsession with and respect for the medium inevitably led him to amass a worthy and eclectic collection over the course of 50 years. This exhibition, which began this fall at New York's Pace/MacGill Gallery before moving to the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, emphasizes the rich variety and vintage of Avedon's collection.

As Jeffrey Fraenkel points out, Avedon bought most of these photos, while some were gifts and bear inscriptions of great respect from the likes of Lartigue and Cartier-Bresson. Significantly, Avedon was the first collector to purchase Diane Arbus's 1970 "A Box of Ten Photographs," which meant so much to Arbus that she retitled Avedon's portfolio to include an eleventh print (taken at a Halloween party for mentally retarded women). The Arbus photos--including the famed images of identical twins, Mexican dwarf Lauro Morales, a young man in hair curlers, and the piercingly strange photo of a tattooed man at a carnival--have their parallels in Avedon's own fine-art work, of course, and comprise one of five slim volumes assembled by Fraenkel to set Avedon's collection in sharp relief.

The other four volumes include what Fraenkel cites as the most important collection of 18 portraits of the Countess de Castiglione (by Pierre-Louis Pierson), considered the most beautiful woman of her day. Shot mainly in the 1860s, these are among photography's earliest and most evocative celebrity portraits, remarkable studies of the female mystique (and feminine vanity) that still haunt us with the force and hauteur of the Countess's personality.

Then there are the austere portraits of Peter Hujar, from the 1970s; a series of Irving Penn's 1975 photographs of cigarettes; and, finally, a volume of "Etcetera," ranging from 19th-century ephemera to Helmut Newton and Joel-Peter Witkin. Avedon's collection seems to reflect both his own rigorousness and approach to photography--the frequent emphasis on foursquare frontality, and a search for the sitters' psyches not through the faces they put on for the world, but rather through the evidence of what time and the world has done to those faces. Ironically, this is perfectly expressed in Penn's close-ups of the cigarette butts, which become stand-ins for a worn-and-torn humanity. Avedon must have loved those photographs especially.


From Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books in London, "The East Indies" catalogues rare travel photographs from the 19th century in more than 100 pages, all photos well-represented in good size and with generous annotations. From Afghanistan through Russia, Ceylon, India, Burma, Vietnam, Sumatra, the islands of Fiji and Samoa, to China, these photos should be of interest to the serious collector. Randolph Holmes's panoramic images of the Anglo-Afghan War of 1919 are especially notable, along with more familiar prints of India's landscape and architecture by Felice Beato, Samuel Bourne and others (India gets the lion share of pages, with nearly 100 offerings). Information: Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books, 32 Saint George St., London W1S 2EA; phone +44 (0)20 7493 0867l; fax: +44 (0)20 7229 7860l; email: roland@shapero.com ; http://www.shapero.com .

From antiquarian bookseller Charles B. Wood III, Catalogue 126 of "Nineteenth Century Photography" delineates illustrated books, albums, catalogues, and technical manuals. The offerings are generally intriguing, including what Wood describes as the first American book illustrated with a photograph ("Homes of American Statesmen," 1854, G.P. Putnam & Co.), and the only British book to be illustrated after daguerreotypes (Alexander Keith's 1848 "Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion," William Whyte & Co.). The catalogue is print-heavy, with relatively few examples of the photography it describes, but the range and depth of 19th-century work held by Wood is evident. This catalogue is offered at $10 per copy, refundable against purchase. Information: Charles B Wood III, P.O. Box 2369, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA; phone: +617 868 1711; fax +617 868 2960; email: cbw@world.std.com ; charles@cbwoodbooks.com ; http://www.cbwoodbooks.com .

And from Librairie Alain Brieux in Paris, "Promenades Photographiques 1760-1942" offers 41 examples of continental photography, including albums and various books. The premier curiosity is a rare work from 1760: the first and only edition of "Giphante" by a Utopian (Charles-Francois Tiphaigne de la Roche), in which a surprising premonitory description of the technique of photography is found (a fleeting image is fixed on a piece of fabric using light rays and a coating of some liquid chemical). From there, 19th-century examples include the first medical book with original photographs (Duchenne de Boulogne's photos of patients stimulated by electricity, from 1862) and rare editions of Roentgen's pamphlets announcing the discovery of the X-ray. Information: Librairie Alain Brieux, 48, rue Jacob 75006 Paris, France; phone: +33-(0)1 42 60 21 98; fax: +33-(0)1 42 60 55 24; email: alain.brieux@wanadoo.fr .

By the way, to see all of our past book reviews, go to: http://www.iphotocentral.com/collecting/collecting.php and scroll down the page to Photography Book Reviews.

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.)