Issue #156  2/6/2009
A Gorgeous Tome, Plus Some Serious Catalogues, Including Work By Brandt, Evans, and Hill & Adamson

By Matt Damsker



Photographs by Neil Folberg, text by Lin Arison. Abbeville Press, New York, NY. 283 pages; approximately 120 color plates. ISBN-13 No. 978-0-7892-0932-0; Information: http://www.abbeville.com .

The inexhaustible appeal of classic Impressionist painting is reason enough for this opulent pairing of Lin Arison's thoughtful prose--a mixture of European travelogue and art history--with Neil Folberg's inspired photography. The combination makes for a coffee-table tome of unusual richness and interest (it's a first-rate gift idea) if only for a cast of characters that includes the youthful descendents of painter Berthe Morisot (great-great-granddaughter Lucie is portrayed on the cover, evoking a Manet portrait of her great-great grandmother.).

Indeed, Arison and Folberg are ardent in discovering the connections between the great Impressionists and their lives, loves, landscapes, and legacies. Van Gogh is the titular artist, and Arison writes extensively of the tormented genius' days and nights in Auvers, France, where he sought to establish his "studio of the south" but only succumbed to his demons. Folberg's photographic set pieces are striking re-enactments of some great Van Goghs, such as the melancholy portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet, leaning head on hand or the vivid feminine form and wallpapered background of "L'Arlesienne". But these photos come off, inevitably, as rather stagey and with limited power beyond this book's context. And it's hard to view Folberg's careful re-creation of Renoir's great social canvas, "Luncheon of the Boating Party," as much more than a forced exercise.

Folberg shines, nonetheless, in his rigorous composition and lighting effects, especially in such difficult scenes as those emulating Degas' ballet dancers before the mirror, or his superb still life with apples and onions, or his deep-indigo study of a Provence forest (the latter two after Cezanne). And as pure travelogue, this book holds many pleasures. Arison well knows these picturesque locales and the artists who activated them so indelibly, and she has researched their history to add a great deal of resonance to her account of present-day discovery, as she travels to find the old chateaux and landscapes depicted in the great paintings. Encountering the grandchildren of Morisot, she and Folberg enjoy an extended idyll in the French countryside, resulting in a number of gracious portraits of children and parents whose remarkable good looks help us understand what so inspired the likes of Manet and the other Impressionists.

Catalogue Roundup

From Bernard Quartich Ltd., of London, Catalogue 1372 documents an important exhibition from earlier this year, "Bill Brandt: Photographs 1932-1957 and Books," in which the pre-eminent British photographer, whose career spanned photojournalism, fine art, fashion, and advertising, is represented by a collection of 18 photos and nine photo books mainly from the collection of Brandt's first wife, Eva Boros. These images span the range of Brandt's work and are offered as vintage prints made close to the dates of the negatives and on papers of the period.

Each photograph, in its own way, is a treasure. These range from powerful female nudes to the famed moonlit image of St. Paul's Cathedral foregrounded by wartime rubble, as well as a moody shot of Stonehenge, various portraits (including fine images of London statuary) and street photography. First editions of Brandt books such as "The English at Home," "A Night in London," "Perspectives of Nudes" and "Shadow of Light" are also featured, along with issues of "Lilliput" magazine from the 1940s, featuring Brandt's work. As always, Quartich provides extensive descriptive notes. Information: email: rarebooks@quartich.com ; or http://www.quartich.com ...

Sun Pictures Catalogue Eighteen from Hans P. Kraus, Jr., of New York chronicles Kraus's recent exhibit, "Frederick H. Evans: A Logical Perfection," and is the first Kraus catalogue devoted to a primarily 20th-century photographer. A master of architecture and landscape studies, Evans (1853-1943) is perhaps underappreciated nowadays, but Larry J. Schaaf's helpful text provides detailed information and historical context, while most of the more than two dozen silver and platinum prints presented here are presented in actual size with their paper mounts depicted as well.

Evans' cogent, superbly composed and sunlit images of cathedrals, castles, English and French landscapes are truly masterly in their delineation of visual elements that would come to define good photography--for example, the 1903 "Sea of Steps" leading into Wells Cathedral, carrying the eye from one architectural level to and toward an archway. This is the sort of photograph that hints at modernism and abstraction yet charts the physical world in intensely observed detail.

Also from Hans P. Kraus, Jr., and also with concise text from Larry J. Schaaf, is a catalogue representing "The Bicknell Album," a collection of 100 salt prints from calotype paper negatives by D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson, circa 1843-1847. Schaaf describes the album as "one of the most important repositories of early photography to be offered in recent times," noting that all other known major Hill & Adamson albums are already in permanent public collections.

Indeed, the brief partnership of Hill and Adamson was a great collaboration that yielded some 3,000 negatives on hand-coated paper, documenting the life, culture and landscape of Scotland. These important photographs offer haunting early images of everything from children fishing to women in their modest garb, to soldiers of the Gordon Highlanders of Edinburgh Castle, to fishermen and gravediggers. There's also a portrait of steam hammer inventor James Nasmyth. The catalogue depicts about a dozen full-size shots, and the rest are nicely printed in miniature on the two penultimate pages. For information: email: info@sunpictures.com ; or online at http://www.sunpictures.com .

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.)