Issue #148  9/28/2008
Photo Books: Coming of Rage; Dancing Walls; Vernacular to The Masters; and Two Historical Dutch Volumes

By Matt Damsker


2008, self-published; 32 pages, 28 black-and-white plates. For information, contact at EdEckstein@verizon.net , or at 1-610-258-8030 or 1-212-685-9342.

Ed Eckstein's self-published "Coming of Rage," is a small, stark time capsule stocked with 28 uniformly excellent black-and-white photos that chronicle the era of anti-war protests, the generation gap and the racial divide that swirled through the late1960s and their Summer of Love. Shot mostly in his native Philadelphia and in such simmering nearby locales as Wilmington--and as far afield as London and East Berlin--many of Eckstein's images of peace marchers, American Legion parades, Ku Klux Klan rallies and civil rights protests are, or deserve to be, iconic--and, indeed, you have seen some of these if you came of age in the '60s in the Philadelphia area.

In that remarkable, volatile moment, Eckstein's saw the anxiety of youth and age on opposite sides of the political argument--the young, headbanded hippies gathered against the Vietnam war seem at once vain and unsure of themselves, while the babyfaced soldier in basic training, or the elderly war veteran with his medals hanging from his chest, share a look of ageless worry. These were interesting times, and Eckstein avoided the polemic temptations of so many photo/journalists. His compositions are richly compassionate and aware of the human complexity, and irony, at hand--a group of young women in KKK garb, for example, chatting amiably with each other, are an image of gentle communion, while a black youth standing tall in a sea of white protestors at a Philadelphia anti-war event is a masterly portrait of racial isolation and possibility.

Eckstein made these mostly unpublished shots on what he calls "self-assignment" (he has been a stringer for the "New York Times" and worked for the Black Star Agency), and as an itinerant artist he falls into the great traditions of social realism and street photography, but it's his feel for the intimacy of human interaction that sets him apart from many other photojournalists. In one of his best and most Ecksteinian shots--of a tightly packed crowd attending a peace rally with Philadelphia's great City Hall looming in the mist--the two middle-aged woman closest to us, at the bottom of the frame, are whispering to each other, while the rest of the crowd seems raptly attentive to whatever's going on further away. Amidst the sturm-und-drang of that forgotten day, those two women seem charged with immediacy, plucked as they have been from the quotidian and burnished for posterity by Eckstein's eye.


Introduction by Alison Nordstrom. 88 pages, 38 color plates; hardcover. Published by Art Galerie, Siegen; John Cleary Gallery, Houston; K4 galerie, Werner Deller, Saarbrucken; Galerie Maurer, Munich; Schneider Gallery, Chicago; in focus Galerie, Burkhard Arnold, Cologne. Price: 29 euros, plus shipping. For information: http://www.tkellner.com .

Germany's Thomas Kellner has established a glossy style that might seem slick or gimmicky were it not for the rigor and visual power he elicits from his approach. Kellner's mosaic renderings of the world's buildings and interiors are achieved through a succession of carefully orchestrated individual shots that yield an overall image of architectural liquidity--a kind of photo-cubism not all that new conceptually (think of David Hockney's fragmented Polaroid portraits) but, through Kellner's lens, wonderfully obsessive and colorful.

This book--published by a consortium of the galleries in which Kellner will be exhibiting through 2008--documents his recent shift away from iconic architectural monuments to the somewhat fussier interiors of museums, libraries and palaces. As Alison Nordstrom, curator at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, puts it in her introduction: "This gentler, more delicate work, suggests a harmonious or organic rhythm, which Kellner himself refers to as 'vibration' or 'dancing glance' that delineates a built space like a living, breathing being…"

Thus, Kellner's mosaics of such gorgeous interiors as those of various Palazzos in Genova, Italy, or the modernist spaces of the Hearst Tower in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, or a resplendent basilica in Mexico City are shimmering distortions that make allusive contact with everything from Byzantine art (those Italian columns are beautifully misaligned) to the psychic spaces of de Chirico and, inevitably, the fragmentations and dreamscapes of Braque, Picasso, Dali. In each case, the high-ceilinged locales are flooded with light that plays fabulously into Kellner's designs, either emphasizing the richness of colors or lending a spiritual intensity to these vibrational studies, suggesting that Kellner's deconstruction/reconstruction of this architecture somehow reveals its invisible essence.


"VERNACULAR TO THE MASTERS: PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE ANONYMOUS AND THE CELEBRATED" documents an exhibition earlier this year at the Lehigh University Art Galleries in Bethlehem, PA, in which vintage anonymous photos and snapshots were played against complementary work by master photographers, neatly affirming the medium's democratic spirit. Indeed, it's hard to say whether the anonymous photo of a fisherman with his catch, standing with his back to the camera, is the equal of Manuel Alvarez Bravo's image of a pretty young girl standing on a dock with her fish, or whether Diane Arbus's image of a girl in her circus costume is matched by an anonymous shot of a naval officer in his uniform, but you get the idea. Lehigh University's cache of the found and the famous is a rich resource worthy of exploration. For more information: http://www.luag.org .

The Manfred & Hanna Heiting Fund at the Rijksmuseum in New Amsterdam was founded to encourage young researchers from all over the world to study the history of photography, and a series of volumes published by the Fund and the museum are becoming available. Volume 1, "RICHARD TEPE: PHOTOGRAPHY OF NATURE IN THE NETHERLANDS," by Christiane Kuhlmann, rediscovers a forgotten photographer of birds and plants whose moody studies of Netherlandic nature are carefully explored by Kuhlmann. And Volume 2, "ETHNICS AND TRADE: PHOTOGRAPHY AND COLONIAL EXHIBITIONS IN AMSTERDAM, ANTWERP AND BRUSSELS," by Laetitia Dujardin, researches the Rijksmuseum's wealth of ethnographic photography, most of it from the Dutch East Indies and Surinam. As documents of European colonialism, these 19th-century portraits of village life and tribal culture are of high historical import, while Dujardin advances a key conclusion: the photographers of that distant day were nothing if not complicit in promoting colonial propaganda throughout the Netherlands. For more information, go to: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl , (look under "research" and "scholarships").

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.)