E-Photo
Issue #71  4/9/2004
 
New Photography Books

By Matt Damsker

NINETEENTH CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHIC CASES AND WALL FRAMES.

SECOND EDITION. By Paul K. Berg. Published by Paul K. Berg; 2003. Library of Congress Catalog Control No. 2002096025; ISBN No. 0-9659670-1-8. 584 pages. For pricing and purchase information, contact Paul K. Berg, P.O. Box 8895, Newport Beach, CA 92660 USA; email: paulkb@cox.net . Suggested Price: $85.

Ever since his retirement from the practice of radiology, California's Paul K. Berg has spent the better part of three decades researching and codifying previously hard-to-find information on 19th-century thermoplastic and non-thermoplastic photography cases and wall frames. Fortunately for collectors, the good doctor's singular pursuit paid off with the 1995 publication of this book's first edition.

Not surprisingly, the second edition is more than a superficial update; it qualifies as a major revision, not only via the addition of hundreds of new case illustrations, but also due to its enhanced features. Most notably, Berg has introduced a beautifully printed, glossy, eight-page full-color section. In it, he vividly reproduces examples that span the 19th century, providing a superb cross-section of cases and frames in all their deeply hued, finely filigreed and imaginatively graphic glory. Obviously, there's a huge difference to viewing an essentially gray-and-gray photograph of say a hand-painted, papier mache and mother-of-pearl case and being able to see its richness and texture in full color.

That enhancement alone would be worth the price of Berg's new edition, but there is much more. This time, Berg provides a helpful new flow chart that upgrades the collector's efficiency in locating cases and frames of specific materials, shapes, designs, and themes. He also delves into the history of the miniature case, the arcana of Union case hinges, and the derivations of thermoplastic case design. And where the first edition prefaced the main body of the book with not much more than a list of case manufacturers, the second edition offers detailed reference material about case sizes, along with summaries of the various case manufacturing companies, die sinkers and engravers, and patents related to miniature cases.

In addition, there is a revised price guide, which should prove invaluable to collectors venturing into this specialized realm. Berg's attention to the rarity factor and the pricing of the cases and frames he surveys is clearly a matter of great expertise. He also cautions collectors: "Rarity should not be directly equated on an equivalent basis with price. Price is based on supply vs. demand, condition, and rarity. Prices may vary by regions and obviously are adjusted by a dealer's buying price and expectations...The impact of computer bidding (Ebay in particular) has impacted prices considerably since 2000. Many cases now appear on this web site and prices of the more common cases have declined noticeably."

Indeed, Berg's case reference numbers are probably the most quoted by dealers and sellers on Ebay and elsewhere on the Internet, while many auction houses, such as Sotheby's, have relied on "Nineteenth Century Photographic Cases and Wall Frames" as a key reference. With the publication of this earnestly researched and impressively expanded second edition, Berg's stature as an important contributor to the art and science of photography collection seems assured.

HERE AND THERE AT ONCE: AN IMAGINATIVE JOURNEY

THROUGH LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE.

By Lee Conaway Addis. Published by Via Press; 2003. Library of Congress Control No. 2002117686; ISBN No. 1-885001-16-9. 120 pages; 98 black-and-white reproductions. Purchase information: Via Press, 3033 East Turney Ave., Phoenix AZ 85016; 1-800-284-2669; or Lee Conaway Addis, P.O. Box 1000, Cottonwood AZ 86326; 1-928-634-9670; www.leeaddis.com . Price: US $50.

Arizona-based photographer Lee Conaway Addis may be a bit of an eccentric, new-age mystic, but his images have all the old-fashioned, decisive-moment bite and balance of the best black-and-white documentarianism. Addis began taking pictures, credibly enough, back in 1956, as an 18-year-old Air Force recruit with a newly purchased Agfa Super Solinette 35mm folding rangefinder.

By 1991, he had moved up to a Leica M-4 rangefinder with a Summilux 1.4 fast lens. Now, his peripatetic lifestyle--which takes him all over the rural U.S., Mexico, India, Ireland, and eastern Europe--results in a portfolio of arresting gelatin-silver prints, all of them naturalistic and shot in available light with high-speed film. To appreciate his art, you do not have to embrace his philosophical point of view, which invokes the theory of quantum mechanics to suggest that two of anything "could mysteriously occur simultaneously in different places at once." (And it is hard to know how seriously he is when he affirms that he and all of his "found images" are due to be transported, "at many times the speed of light," from Earth to a planet 7,200 light-years away.)

"Here and There at Once", with its portentous subtitle about life, death and hope, is nonetheless a rather breezy, handsomely bound collection--its images crisply reproduced on fine paper stock. Addis often labors in the realm of the snapshot, but he knows precisely when to snap, resulting in images that crackle with the energy of life, as in a photo of passengers crammed onto a bus in Mexico. From the sleepy man with his eyes closed in one corner to the watchful toddlers on the other to the scowling teen in the center of the frame, an entire working-class culture seems on display.

By comparison, an image of an open, empty crypt with the photographer's shadow looming above it seems all too staged, yet the composition has a haunted edginess to it all the same. Images of beautiful, smiling, raggedly dressed children in Romania exude hope and Inner Light, while a toothless, emaciated old man in a hospital bed somewhere in the U.S. stares gamely at us, his deep, dark eyes far from death. With its background of folded white bed linen, it is a photo worthy of Richard Avedon.

Shot from directly above, a photo of a beggar curled on a cobblestone street in Mexico is rich with texture and information--the man's rumpled clothing, his torn hat, the church leaflet in his hand, the weathered details of the ground and an almost unnoticeable scrap of newspaper in the lower right corner. Through all this, the man's alert profile activates the image.

If Addis spends a bit too much of his film on static shots of graves, shrines and road signs, he more than makes up for it whenever he captures the human or animal form in its endless variety. Crying children are comical and poignant all at once; laughing donkeys and bony black dogs on the streets of Mexico are like cartoons come to startling life; a naked Hindu strolling past bicyclists and moped riders somewhere in India is a matter-of-fact echo of Adam in the Garden. Deeply compassionate and endlessly curious, Lee Conaway Addis has a great talent for making us see the world freshly through his eyes.

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.)