Issue #162  7/10/2009
Photography Books and Catalogues

By Matt Damsker



MODERN PRINTS, 1964-1966.

96 pages; 73 black-and-white and color plates. Information: http://www.angelawilliamsarchive.com .

Teeming with the glamour of '50s fashion and the charm of '60s celebrity, this new catalogue of vintage work on offer from Angela Williams combines the celebrated commercial images of the late, great Norman Parkinson with a number of fine portraits by Williams herself, but it is clearly Parkinson--as guiding spirit to Williams, and overall spirit of a bygone age--who stars in this series.

The catalogue features a decade of Parkinson's work for "Vogue" magazine, when he was among Alexander Liberman's elite, along with lovely images of British aristocrats at home, the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Ian Fleming, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and some rare prints of superb fashion shots taken in Tahiti for "Queen" magazine. Admirers of Parkinson--and how can one not admire his facile eye, the humor and affection he focuses on his subjects?--will recognize many of these wonderfully imaginative Vogue shots and advertising campaigns, in which the photographer, a la Avedon, found fresh, naturalistic contexts, razor-sharp lines and expressive geometries for his models. At the same time, his formal fashion portraits are timelessly elegant.

More timely, of course, are his romps through '60s iconography: The Beatles, their young round faces pressed together in a portrait that captures their mercurial personalities and unmistakable individuality, as few images of the Fab Four have ever done; the dangerous insouciance of the Rolling Stones clustered around a demure model in schoolgirl garb; or a cool Ian Fleming and Lady Anne Rothermere in dignified profile.

Angela Williams' portraits of the famous are certainly worthy of inclusion here, for they are strongly inspired by Parkinson's artistry, while her color work really stands out: a close-up Robert Kennedy in 1964, leaning into the camera with his "bloodhound eyes"; a buff Anthony Perkins in Central Park; or a bearded Paul Newman peering over his sunglasses somewhere in Los Angeles. All in all, this is great fun in the highest style.



By David Odo. Vol. 4, Rijksmuseum Studies in Photography, Manfred & Hanna Heiting Fund. 60 pages; approximately 24 color plates; ISBN No. 978 90 71450 19 8. Information: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl .



By Rakia Faber. Vol. 3, Rijksmuseum Studies in Photography, Manfred & Hanna Heiting Fund. 56 pages; approximately 24 color plates. ISBN No. 978 90 71450 18 1. Information: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl .

These recent additions to the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum's fine series of concise scholarly studies of its photography collection shine new light on various unexplored, or underexplored, avenues of art history. David Odo's examination of 19th-century Japanese photography takes issue with what he calls the "dualistic view" of these images that "limits the way entire collections are researched and exhibited." Odo argues that by dividing early Japanese work into a fixed category of either tourist or domestic images, we are overlooking "the interstitial spaces," by which he means primarily the photographic souvenirs, or "sojourner photography," of long-term visitors to Japan, mainly diplomats and businessmen.

Odo feels that these virtually unstudied collections can contribute much to our total understanding of early Japanese work. Thus, he explores such important Rijksmuseum troves as the anonymous "German set" of 104 individual photographs, including fine views of Mount Fuji, Nagoya Castle, formal portraits of man, women, Sumo wrestlers, and the like. Comparing the German set with better known "views and types" albums by Felix Beato, for example, Odo makes the case that it is considerably more than just another cache of tourist photographs. Adding evocatively to Odo's careful study are fine reproductions of important period masterworks such as Kusakabe Kimbei's hand-tinted albumen print of a village near the foot of Fuji, or Raimund von Stillfried hand-tinted shot of a geisha.

Then there is Rakia Faber's study of Louis Heldring's amateur Middle East photography, shot during the autumn of 1898 on a guided tour. Equipped with a small hand-held camera, Heldring was a Rotterdam-based clergyman who helped advance early travel photography, Faber argues, by recording not only the best-known tourist and pilgrimage sites of his journey but also lesser known communities and landscapes in the eastern Mediterranean. Writes Faber: "His small views, technically imperfect and inexpertly composed, are more spontaneous and less flat than the canonical, frozen moments recorded by studio photographers of the day with wet-plate collodion photography and albumen prints."

That said, Heldring's gelatin images on printing-out paper compare quite well with such classic Middle East photographs as Felix Bonfils' 1872 images of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or the necropolis of Douris, near Baalbek. Drawn not only to these monumental sites (including fine views of the Sphinx and the pyramid of Cheops) but also to the everyday, Heldring transcended mere amateurism with excellent exposures and sensitive compositions, such as his capacious view of the interior of a wealthy Jewish house in Damascus, or of the tribal inhabitants of the village of Umm Qais. This volume contains generous examples of Heldring's work as well as the comparative studies that provide important context.


Speaking of vintage Japanese photography, Charles Schwartz Ltd. of New York has a new catalogue of "JAPANESE AMBROTYPES - 1860 TO 1890", several of which Schwartz recently exhibited at the AIPAD show in Manhattan. The catalogue is a well-annotated and beautifully printed color representation of more than two dozen ambrotypes (a collodion wet-plate negative mounted in front of a dark background to create a positive image), each in lovely kiri wood frames. The subjects, all formally posed by either anonymous photographers or attributed to prominent Japanese studios, range from Samurai warriors to beautifully dressed families, all of it rich with the flavor of classical Japanese culture. Information: email cms@cs-photo.cm ; phone: +1-212-534-4496.

Jolting forward to a 21st-century Japanese sensibility, consider the dynamic photography of Shinichi Maruyama, on view recently at New York's Bruce Silverstein gallery. The accompanying "KUSHO" is a superbly printed catalogue that documents Maruyama's experimental energies. His Kusho series consists of 23 large-scale color photos that represent the interplay of black ink and water, colliding in midair and on white surfaces and photographed in that millisecond before they merge into gray. What might seem merely gimmicky is redeemed by the strong association with Japanese calligraphy, vibrant abstract expressionism, and even Alfred Stieglitz's famed "Equivalents" series of black-and-white cloud images. Obviously, Murayama brings a great awareness of tradition and tremendous technical skill to these artworks, and the result is bold and bracing, one of the best examples of how the utterly representational--liquid, after all, is unmistakably itself--can function as pure abstraction. Information: http://www.silversteinphotography.com .


JINDRICH MARCO AND JINDRICH STREIT is the catalogue of the recent Czech Photography VIII exhibition held at Manhattan's Leica Gallery (670 Broadway, New York, NY) in association with Czech Center New York. It's a solid, glossy documentation of the work of three first-rate Czech artists, beginning with the World War II photojournalism of Marco, who indelibly locates indefatigable humanity in the bombed-out ruins of Dresden, Berlin, and Warsaw. Then come the more recent images of Streit, whose Czechoslovakia, Germany and France of the early 1980s are filled with hopeful souls. Finally, there are Birgus's more experimental compositions--especially his sunlit color work of the 1990s-2000s--which place his lively Europeans against the stark urban and yearning seaside geometries of Russia, France, Spain and the Netherlands.

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.)