PHILLIPS AUCTION OF '100 YEARS OF FINE PHOTOGRAPHY' WILL SERVE AS BENCHMARK OF EUROPEAN AND EARLY AND EXPERIMENTAL AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY; APHS TABLE-TOP SHOW ON SUNDAY, APRIL 4 IN NYC; SPECIAL SPRING CLEARANCE SALE CONTINUES ON I PHOTO CENTRAL; NEW PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS; SPECIAL EXHIBIT 'FACE TIME' ADDED TO I PHOTO CENTRAL.
PHILLIPS AUCTION OF '100 YEARS OF FINE PHOTOGRAPHY'
WILL SERVE AS BENCHMARK OF EUROPEAN AND EARLY
AND EXPERIMENTAL AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY
(Note: because of my direct involvement in this sale and in the interest of journalistic balance, I have asked Stephen Perloff, editor of the Photograph Collector Newsletter, for the use of his preview of this auction sale.)
By Stephen Perloff
"A Century of Fine Photographs: 1840s-1940s," an exceptional selection of historic material consigned for sale by Alex Novak from his personal collection and from the inventory of his trading company Vintage Works at Phillips, de Pury & Company on April 22 and 23, is the most important single-owner collection to come to auction since the André Jammes sale. The material selected for this auction focuses principally on the earliest decades of photographic activity and on the flowering of avant-garde ideas within the photography of the first 40 years of the 20th century.
According to Novak, "Personal events in the last year--including my father's death--caused me to rethink where I am at this time in my life. I want to reduce the complexity and stress of my life. It has nothing to do with the photography market. In some ways, this is not an ideal time to be selling." While maintaining his status as an active dealer, Novak plans on reducing the inventory of Vintage Works from 3,500 images to 400 to 500. He also will be selling a personal collection of tintypes, which will likely go to a smaller auction venue.
Novak became interested in photography in his college days, making his first acquisitions in the mid-1960s. He started to buy more seriously in the 1970s. "It is hard for me to let some of these pictures go. The picture I have owned the longest that is in the auction I acquired in 1982," says Novak. "We often set the low estimate even below what it cost me. In many cases I have actually lowered the estimates that Philippe Garner set."
"The thing that distinguishes this sale from other single-owner sales," Novak reports, "is the universal quality of the images. Even at the Jammes sale a few of the images were not truly great. Here the condition and quality are strong throughout. And every print in the sale is a vintage print."
Two things Novak is keeping: Julia M. Cameron's "Holy Family" --"the first major photograph I bought in the early 1980s"--and an oversize "Running Stream", by Paul Caponigro. This latter print was the last one acquired from photo dealer Joe Folberg, a close friend who passed away, so it has personal significance. Novak is also keeping one small image collection on wine and some paper negatives for which he would like to do a book and exhibit.
Novak plans to put more effort into the I Photo Central website and the sale will provide funding to do this. "I'm excited about changes to the website, which will make major contributions to photography collecting," he says. He plans to add a photography bookstore and an auction function. "This will be somewhat like what Sotheby's had been doing, but simpler. For instance, dealers on the site will be able to easily move work from inventory to auction."
At the moment Charles Schwartz, Ltd., Lee Gallery, Galerie Hypnos, Martin Gordon Gallery, Christopher Cardozo Fine Art, and Northern Light are represented on the site along with Novak's Vintage Works, Ltd. Up to 12 other dealer are also in various planning stages. (Fees are a relatively moderate $500 to join and $250 per month.) Within perhaps two years, Novak hopes to have 20 dealers and 25,000-50,000 images and books represented on the site.
First and foremost in Novak's collection is perhaps the richest photogenic by William Henry Fox Talbot that you are likely to see--"Veronica in Bloom", c. 1840 ($200,000-$300,000 and likely to set a world record for Talbot). This print is hypo fixed, so unlike most of Talbot's photogenics, it can actually be exhibited. Also from Talbot is "Articles of China", c. 1845 ($30,000-$50,000), an image reproduced in "Pencil of Nature". This print did not come from that publication and is richer than the prints from it. Here one can also claim Talbot as the progenitor of Gursky!
Among the daguerreotypes, two by Southworth and Hawes stand out --"Young Sisters" ($80,000-$120,000) and "Two Sisters" ($40,000-$60,000). A full-plate daguerreotype, "In the Company of Philadelphia Publishers", 1856-57 ($25,000-$35,000), most likely depicts a group of power brokers meeting to support the presidential candidacy of General Fremont.
Two early salt prints of American cities are extraordinary historical documents and are among the first photographs of those cities. "Nashville", c. 1856 ($15,000-$20,000), shows the bustle of the street captured by the god-like eye of photographer from above. "Lexington", c. 1855 ($15,000-$20,000), with its jumble of awnings and signs, provides an engaging commercial and architectural history of the town.
Henry Hunt Snelling's "Union Square, New York City", c. 1857 ($30,000-$40,000) captures the formality and grace of Washington's gesture as a group of diverse figures are arrayed in the foreground in front of the statue. A rare full-length portrait of Sam Houston, 1856-7 ($20,000-$30,000), came from the John Johnston album (Johnston was a colorist and painter for the Whitehurst studio and possibly opened a studio for Jessie Whitehurst.).
Two anonymous images show the range of Novak's collection and provide amusement at lower prices. A sixth-plate ruby ambrotype, "Photographer with Camera on Tripod", c. 1850s-60s ($3,000-$5,000), is a sturdy representation of the artist with ample sideburns bedecked in a frock coat and cravat, the decorative columns of his trade beside him. A larger than full-plate tintype, "Student with Top-Hatted Skeleton Buddy", c. 1870 ($4,000-$6,000), shows the two bon vivants puttin' on the Ritz.
Among the early European work, Gustave Le Gray and Oliver Mistral collaborated on "Le Cloitre de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame, le Puy en Auvergne", c. 1851 ($40,000-$60,000), for the Mission Héliographique. Prints of this quality have sold privately for as much as $125,000 in Paris.
An anonymous "Nubian Study of an Odalisque", c. 1850s ($20,000-$30,000), is a large, beautiful salt print, possibly by Roger Fenton. Ludwig Belitski produced three starkly modern, dark, exquisite salt prints of "Glassware" in 1855 ($15,000-$20,000), using lighting techniques not commonly seen until the mid-20th-century.
Charles Negre's "Laundry Room, Vincennes, Imperial Asylum", c. 1858 ($20,000-$30,000), depicts a wonderfully surreal, vignetted scene from the new hospital. It s a rare untrimmed print that came from André Jammes, although not from the Jammes Sale. Charles Clifford's "Sevilla, Alcazar Real, Arch, Details of the Principal Patio", 1858 ($40,000-$60,000), is another print likely to set a world auction record.
Novak says his print by Gustave Le Gray, "Navires de la Flotte Français en Rade de Cherbourg", 1858 ($60,000-$90,000, and likely well under-estimated), "is the single finest Le Gray marine I have seen in the marketplace." Only two other prints are known of this image.
Louis De Clerq's "Héliopolis (Baalbeck) (The Temple of the Sun, Syria)", 1859 ($25,000-$35,000) is a stunning waxed paper negative. Another fascinating negative is Étienne Jules Marey's "Chronograph of Man Jumping over Hurdle, July 18,1886" ($20,000-$30,000). "Nude in Mirror", c. 1860 ($25,000-$35,000), by Étienne Carjat, is a unique positive print. Only three glass plate negatives of Carjat nudes are known to exist (no positives)--all in French institutions, including the negative for this print, which is in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Mangel de Mesnil's "Pifferari with Repast", c. 1865 ($30,000-$40,000), is a rare Worthlytype print. It depicts the incongruous picnic of three hombres having a meal in an elegantly appointed room. The only other known print of this image is in the Bibliothèque Nationale--and it has the background removed, destroying the preciously odd environment of the image.
From later in the century, Thomas Annan's, "Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow", 1868-77, with 40 carbon prints ($70,000-$100,000), is especially fine. While there is some minor foxing to some of the mounts, the prints are rich and one can see how Annan presages the work of Jacob Riis some 30 years later.
Peter Henry Emerson's classic platinum print, "Gathering Water Lilies", 1885 ($12,000-$18,000), is a model of delicacy, of the woman's touch of the flower, of the oar's touch of the water, and of the elegant tones of the print.
From the beginning of the last century, Lewis Hine's "Carolina Cotton Mill", 1908 ($50,000-$70,000), is the classic early documentary picture. This print, which is slightly oversized, came from Hine's personal collection and had been loaned to Beaumont Newhall for a New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition of modern American photography in Paris.
The work offered here is especially strong in material from between the World Wars. Brassaï's "Self-portrait in Darkroom", 1932 ($15,000-$20,000), shows the portrayer of Paris's demimonde casually standing with a cigarette with his decidedly low-tech equipment. Another Brassaï, a cliché verre, "Young Girl Dreaming", 1934-35 ($20,000-$30,000), could also eclipse its estimates and set a world record.
Jacques Henri Lartigue's "Coca, a la Chasse aux Papillons, Antibes", 1936 ($10,000-$15,000), depicts the joie de vivre of youth, as Coca leaps with her arm extended for a ball in a manicured allee of conical and spherical trees--presaging the Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 New York World's Fair.
The Polish photographer Janusz Maria Brzeski is represented by a fabulous photocollage with ink, "From the Collection: Sex, 'Progress,'" 1930 ($18,000-$22,000), combining a three-wheeled car, a single-engine airplane, and an ocean liner. "Le Combat de Penthésilée (Battle of the Amazons)", 1937 ($50,000-$70,000), a wild montage by Raoul Ubac, is perhaps the finest print to come from the estate. Another great Ubac sold for $125,000 at the Breton sale last year. Maurice Tabard's "Surimpression in Solarization", 1947 ($12,000-$18,000) is a unique print.
Among 20th-century American work, an exotic Edward Weston print, "Nude Study", c. 1919 ($60,000-$90,000), represents his striking early pictorial work. Edward Steichen's "Isadora Duncan, the Parthenon", 1921 ($60,000-$90,000), is a gorgeous over-sized print of the modern dance pioneer. His "The Maypole (Empire State Building, New York)", 1932 ($50,000-$70,000) is another highlight. A very distressed copy of The Maypole sold at Sotheby's in April 2003 for $10,800, but a "Maypole" in similar condition was reportedly sold privately for $125,000.
While it is usually difficult to predict how the state of the economy and the week's following sales--and dealer "partnerships"--will affect the outcome, given normal conditions, this sale should see numerous world auction records.
In the fall, Novak will sell a second selection of 350 to 400 items at Phillips of strong but affordable material at no reserve. That sale will total in the $1,000,000 range with most images estimated at $2,000-$5,000. Half of the proceeds of that sale will be donated to a charity for victims of domestic abuse.
The previews and receptions for this auction have finally been set:
--London at the Phillips office, 25-26 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HX, phone +44 (0) 207 318 4014, March 29-30, Monday-Tuesday from 9am-5 pm with the reception on March 29, Monday from 6-8pm.
--Paris at ArtCurial, 7 Rond-Point des Champs-Elysees, Paris 8e, phone +33 (0) 679 80 97 79, April 1-2, Thursday-Friday from 10am-6pm with the reception on April 1, Thursday from 6-8pm.
--Berlin at the Phillips office, Auguststrasse 19, Berlin-Mitte, phone +49 (0) 30 880 018 42, April 4, Sunday reception 11am-3pm and April 5, Monday 9am-6pm.
--New York at Phillips headquarters, 450 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011, phone for the photography department 1-212-940-1245, April 15-21 Thursday-Wednesday 10am-5pm, with the reception April 14 Wednesday 6-8pm.
To order catalogues and leave bids, you should call the photography department at 1-212-940-1245.
The online version of this sale will go up on the Phillips de Pury website by the end of this week. You will be able to go to that site by clicking on the banner ads for this auction on the iphotocentral website. Currently those banners only go to the page with the New York information on the sale, but the new URL address will be added once the sale is online.
(Copyright ©2004 by The Photo Review. My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95 (overseas airmail is $169.95). You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047.)
APHS TABLE-TOP SHOW ON SUNDAY, APRIL 4 IN NYC
On Sunday, April 4, the American Photographic Historical Society will host its one-day photography show from 10 am-3 pm at the Holiday Inn/Martinique, 32nd & Broadway, New York, NY. Besides US dealers from around the country, several European photo dealers have told me that they will be exhibiting at this tabletop show. There will be a wide variety of photographic images including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, stereo views and photo albums, as well as important 19th and 20th-century paper photographs. There will also be a good selection of new and used books, ephemera and other collectable photographica. Free appraisals will be offered.
The ticket price is normally $6, but newsletter readers will get a $1 off by showing this page at the ticket table. Early entry is available from 8:30 am for $45.
Vintage Works will again be exhibiting. Please let us know if you would like to see something special.
SPECIAL SPRING CLEARANCE SALE CONTINUES ON I PHOTO CENTRAL
You can now see a Special Spring Clearance sale on I Photo Central brought to you by our photography dealers. These items are available at special sale prices (from 20 to over 60% off the regular list price) for only a limited time, from now until only June 21st. Many of the items regular list prices were reduced earlier by over 20%, so the actual net reductions may be well over 40% to 80% in many instances. These are all final prices, so no other discounts apply. Shipping/insurance may also be added. After June 21st prices will revert on these items to the original list price.
There are some great deals, so check them out soon at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/sale/sale.php
If you want to do further sorts on the sale list, you can go to the Search Images page at http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/search.php
and put SpringClearanceSale2 into the key word field. Then you can also use the other search fields, such as price range, country, etc. When you have all your choices made, simply hit the Search button (not the Show All Images button). When you put in the key word, you must have the capital letters in properly and no space between the words or the number "1". Also make sure you do not have any extra space after the key word. This way if you are bargain hunting, you can put in a range from $1 to $500, or if you want to focus on the top end, just put in a range from $1,000 (or $2,500 or $5,000) to No Limit.
NEW SPECIAL 'FACE TIME' EXHIBIT ON I PHOTO CENTRAL
You will find a new Special Exhibit up on I Photo Central, added to the other 21 exhibits that were already on display. We have also continued to change images and add to our essays for all our Special Exhibits, so they are all worth another peek, especially if you have not looked lately.
"Face Time: A Survey of Photographic Portraits from 1844 to 1965" is an exhibit by I Photo Central member Lee Gallery. One of the very first uses of photography was to make portraits. With the invention of photography a more truthful and accurate portrait was available to a majority of the public. Over the years both formal and informal portrait photography have remained popular. This exhibit takes a look at portraits made from photography's beginnings through the first half of the 20th century.
Face Time will be on display from March 1-April 30, 2004 at the Lee Gallery, Nine Mount Vernon Street, Winchester, MA. The gallery hours are Monday through Friday 10am-5:30pm and by appointment. For more information please call 1-781-729-7445.
The show may also be viewed on the Web at http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_view.php/48/7/0
You can see this fine exhibit, along with 20 others at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase.php
. We are constantly changing and updating these exhibits as we get in new items, so if you have not looked at them in the last few days, you probably have not seen a lot of the material on display even in the older Special Exhibits.
NEW PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS
By Matt Damsker
SACRED LEGACY: EDWARD S. CURTIS AND THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN.
Photographs by Edward S. Curtis. Edited by Christopher Cardozo. Published by Simon & Schuster; 2000. ISBN #0-7432-0374-7. Developed and produced by Verve Editions, Burlington, VT; c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
. Information on the Edward S. Curtis Foundation can be found at www.curtismuseum.org ; for information on the photographs, contact the Christopher Cardozo Gallery, at http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/64/8/0
, or 1-888-328-7847. 192 pages. Price: US $60; CAN $88.50.
This is a monumental and definitive collection, rich with some 200 reproductions of Edward S. Curtis's peerless photography of the North American Indian. Superlatives come easily enough, but they won't do justice to the experience afforded by this book, an absolute labor of love and respect created for posterity and for an international exhibition by the leading Curtis authority and collector, Christopher Cardozo.
Cardozo has developed "Sacred Legacy" according to the organizing principles of Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) himself. The great photographer's 30-year project to depict and document the Native tribes of North America resulted in a 20-volume, handmade magnum opus, "The North American Indian," with some 4,000 pages of text and 2,200 images representing more than 80 Native nations. Cardozo follows Curtis's bibliographic path, with geographic regions presented separately and individual tribes within each region vividly described.
These classic photogravures, silver, albumen, and platinum prints, along with a few moody blue cyanotypes, are more than images, of course. Taken together, they amount to nothing less than our collective consciousness of the ravaged history of Native American life. There is no way to calculate how pervasively these photographs have confronted us, directly and indirectly, in print, in film, and on television over the years, but it is easy to see how profoundly they have influenced other photographers. The somber, uncluttered frontality of Curtis's views of Apache chiefs, Zuni women, Hopi braves, or Navaho medicine men are the formal and spiritual archetypes for such postmodern photographic triumphs as Richard Avedon's "In the American West," just as they are the less obvious soul of Diane Arbus's portraiture.
Not surprisingly, though, the ultimate power and godliness of these photos lies not so much in their mythic stature as in their details--the granite-like facial plains and deeply etched, desert-sanded lines of a Klamath woman's proud visage; the beadwork and war paint; the tight mesh of Mohave basketry and painted clay of Hopi pottery; the feathered headdress and horned ceremonial garb. These reproductions have been lovingly rendered from Cardozo's unmatched source material, so it is fair to say that this is as good as it gets on paper stock. Even the most difficult images are crisp--for example, the enshrouding sky background of "Night Scout," the deep perspective and shadow of the Cahuilla tribe's Palm Canon oasis, or the riot of textures evident in an unforgettable photo of an Assiniboin brave cradling a slain eagle to his breast.
A book this powerfully produced deserves potent wordsmithing as well, and Cardozo has not fallen short on that front. The most deeply felt essay is by Joseph D. Horse Capture, a descendent of the A'ani tribe of central Montana and now assistant curator of the department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Curtis photographed his great-great-grandfather, Horse Capture, a tribal leader and holy man, and the image--a deeply shadowed profile of dignity and resolve, with the barrel of a rifle strengthening the vertical plane from the lower left--is nothing less than a masterpiece.
"Few images have had such an impact on my life as Edward Curtis's 1908 photograph of my great-great-grandfather," writes Horse Capture. "Because my father, George Horse Capture, discovered Curtis's portrait of our ancestor, the members of our family have been fortunate to have prints of this photograph in all of our households. Horse Capture is with us in all of our homes; his presence helps choose the directions we take in life. Seeing his face not only reminds us of our relatives but also reinforces our commitment, as Indian people, to teach our people the ways of our ancestors."
In addition, there are essays by Cardozo, who provides detailed context from Curtis's written descriptions, and by the likes of independent filmmaker Anne Makepeace, whose 2000 documentary, "Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians", is already a classic of its kind. And Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist N. Scott Momaday (House Made of Dawn) offers a foreword that evokes the Big Picture as much as the Great Spirit of Curtis's art.
"These photographs comprehend more than an aboriginal culture, more than a prehistoric past--more, even, than a venture into a world of incomparable beauty and nobility," Momaday writes. "Curtis's photographs comprehend indispensable images of every human being at every time in every place. In the focus upon the landscape of the continent and its indigenous people, a Curtis photograph becomes universal."
NIEPCE, DAGUERRE OR TALBOT? THE QUEST OF JOSEPH HAMEL TO FIND
THE REAL INVENTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY. By Serge Plantureux; English translation by Suzy Firth. Published by Accademia dei Venti ISBN #2-84940-003-3; EAN #9782849400036. Information: www.accademiadeiventi.org , or CEROS, 4, Galerie Vivienne, 75002 Paris. Tel.: +33-153-29-92-00. 50 pages. Price: $5. Available in French or English.
History is slippery in the best of circumstances, but in looking backward to the watershed year of 1839, when photography emerged amidst the smoke and steam of the Industrial Revolution, the view is hazy at best. Who invented the medium? The great names attached to the beginnings of photography are familiar enough--mainly Louis-Jacques-Mandy Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot--but this short investigative essay by Serge Plantureux adds the story of Joseph Hamel to the historic mix. It describes how Hamel sought the truth in the course of seeking advantage for Mother Russia, and came to view the French "heliographer" Joseph Nicephore Niepce as the medium's true inventor
Indeed, this pleasing curiosity of a book was first published last year in French, but it comes to us now in an English translation. Firth's task could not have been easy, for Plantureux's verbal style seems sprawling and informal, and some further proofing would have caught several typographical errors, but the information is compelling. If nothing else, it limns a portrait of a man who may well have been the world's first industrial spy, sent to the West in the early 1800s by Russian Tsar Nicholas I to keep the Motherland abreast of the surging technological developments of France and Great Britain.
As the Tsar's man, Hamel--who was born of German colonists along the river Volga--was a distinguished presence, well-schooled in the sciences and an earnest observer of everything from new educational systems to the emergence of the telegraph and new methods of electrolysis. While his European hosts happily opened their cultures to him, he kept the Tsar up to date on various breakthroughs, so that by 1839 he was nicely positioned to play a role in bringing photography to Russia.
At this point in the narrative, Plantureux gets a little overwhelmed by the tide of historical cross-currents that place the likes of Talbot, Daguerre, and Niepce at the generative heart of the medium. While the verifiable truth seems a bit murky, it becomes clear to us that the invention of photography, like most technological breakthroughs, was more a shared achievement than a Promethean bestowal of fire by any one man. Daguerre, for example, is depicted as the great showman and entrepreneur who knew the value of contracting with Niepce, whose "heliographs" were important early steps in developing the process. Talbot, of course, was refining techniques in his own way.
Hamel, viewing Niepce as the true inventor of the medium, grew close with the Niepce family and was able to collect important early examples, which made their way to Russia. By then, the fledgling era of the photography collector was upon the art world, and Hamel's seminal gathering of images by Niepce is an achievement in itself. This 50-page book is enhanced by a dozen or so black-and-white plates, including a classic 1844 portrait of Daguerre, that are themselves worth the book's $5 price. So is the amusing epilogue, in which Hamel persuades the Tsar to let him journey to America. Tsar Nicholas shared the view of many Europeans that the Americas were rife with cannibals, and feared that his faithful Hamel would develop a taste for human flesh, if not be devoured himself. Thus, he made Hamel sign a pledge that on his visit to the U.S., "I shall not eat human meat."
TIME STANDS STILL: MUYBRIDGE AND INSTANTANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHY MOVEMENT.
By Phillip Prodger. Published by The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University in Association with Oxford University Press. ISBN #0-19-514963-7 (cloth); 0-19-514964-5 (paper). www.oup.com . 310 pages. Price: $38 (paper).
While Talbot and Daguerre were trumpeting photography's invention in 1839, Eadweard Muybridge was barely 10 years old, a native of Kingston-on-Thames, England. In only a few decades though, Muybridge would add his name to the then short list of photography's legends via his images of horses and other animals in motion. Muybridge was not only the first photographer to successfully capture rapid action for analysis; he was also a superb composer of imagery. His legacy, which leads directly to the invention of the motion picture, contains more than the scientific studies for which he is most famous; it also includes wonderful views of sea and city inspired by his immigration to San Francisco in 1855.
The breadth of Muybridge's life and achievements is superbly documented in this catalogue, which accompanies an essential Muybridge exhibition that began at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University and continues through May 16, 2004, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. As chronicled by author Phillip Prodger, assistant print, drawing and photograph curator at the Saint Louis Art Museum, it was under the patronage of Stanford University's founders, Jane and Leland Stanford, that Muybridge devised a method for photographing episodic physical action using a series of cameras.
Arguably, the Stanfords rescued Muybridge from a strict focus on the landscape photography through which he might never have become rich or famous. In fact, nothing in Muybridge's resume suggested he was the man to photograph horses in motion when Leland Stanford asked him to do so in 1872. The rest, of course, is history, as Muybridge's immortal horse series proved that at a particular moment in the gait of a galloping horse all four hooves leave the ground simultaneously. Proctor cannot prove or disprove the popular notion that Stanford had bet thousands of dollars on the outcome of Muybridge's experiment, but he delves entertainingly into the whole affair.
More to the point, the catalogue and exhibition combine Muybridge's breakthroughs with the range of early attempts at photographing moving subjects. Charles Darwin, for example, commissioned instantaneous photographs, seeking to compare the complex expression of emotions in man and animal. Countless other examples explore the transience of motion, such as George Washington Wilson's stereo albumen prints of a ship's cannon firing a broadside, smoke billowing and dissipating. The visually complicated breaking of waves on beaches, clouds passing below sun or moon, or the blur of a moving crowd are also favorite subjects for more than a few early lensers.
And more famously, there are Thomas Eakins' great nude studies of men walking, running, and coming to a halt that break down the physicality of simple human locomotion in a way that complements Muybridge's breakthroughs. Etienne-Jules Marey's studies of birds in flight are even more precisely configured to graph the geometries of gravity-defying movement, while Ottomar Anchutz's 1887 study of horses jumping hurdles freezes the ineffable moment when a heavy animal form escapes the earth's force field.
Muybridge's plates from his seminal "Animal Locomotion" series remain the prize specimens, though, especially such subtle visual deconstructions as "Movement of the Hand, Lifting a Ball," in which the simple stages of a human grasp become a study in sublime mechanics. Even such grotesquerie as Muybridge's sequence of a grossly obese nude arising from the ground, or of nude men flipping and leap-frogging, seems revelatory in its blend of formal fascination and scientific rigor.
"Time Stands Still" is itself wonderfully rigorous, generous in its descriptions and examples of Muybridge's mechanical innovations, sequential techniques and his zoopraxiscope discs by which animal movement could be viewed as a motion picture. And a thoughtful essay by Tom Gunning explores the myths and realities of Muybridge's reputation as the father of the movies. Nor is the purely personal side of the great man ignored, thanks to a final footnoting essay about "The Larkyns Affair,' in which Muybridge survived the role of a jealousy-maddened husband who shot and killed his wife's lover after learning that he had fathered Muybridge's only child. Acquitted on the grounds of "justifiable homicide," Muybridge stands as a symbol of Wild West justice almost as much as he towers among photography's trailblazers.
INTO THE LIGHT: A JOURNEY THROUGH BUDDHIST ASIA. By Sharon Collins. 2003.Published by W.W. Norton & Co., New York, London. ISBN #0-39305736-4. 164 pages. 74 color photographs. Information: http://www.wwnorton.com/
. US $29.95. CAN $45.
Arresting compositions, rich color tonalities, all the mystic texture of Buddhist Asia--Sharon Collins's photographs are evocative and admirable on just about any level. When one considers that she took up the camera as a full-time pursuit in 1993, after 13 years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., this pleasing and beautifully printed book is all the more impressive.
Still, the distance between photography as entertainment and photography as pure art is measured on nearly every page of "Into the Light," which pairs its 74 crisply reproduced images with spiritual homilies from such sources as the Upanishads, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and The Buddha. Collins has an earnest, sensitive, loving eye for the varied locales, shrines, mountain passes and Buddhist people she photographed during a year-long retreat in the remote corners of Asia. But this book is more a coffee-table tome than a serious work, while Collins's images are too often tourist-like and tamely picturesque. They lack the subversive spark, or at least some penetrating sociological vision, that might transform them into classic photography.
Thus, the richly dimensional perspectives of sky, clouds, and Tibetan mountains are the stuff of high-end postcards, while the solitary Asians seen at prayer, or at work in the fields, remind us mainly of other, stronger photographs we've seen before. Collins is, understandably, at a disadvantage, given the rich history of Far East photography and such masters of deeply felt, politically charged, postmodern imagery as Shirin Neshat or Raghubir Singh. By comparison, Collins's delicate and elegant studies are not often much more than pretty.
That said, there's no denying the sheer visual pleasure of her best work. An old Vietnamese woman, seen through barbed wire and against the gunmetal liquid undulations of a river, proves memorable. The abstract waving of fabrics hung up to dry against distant hills and looming clouds is almost Mondrian-like. A little boy floating in muddy water, his head the only visible part of him, is a deceptively simple study in everyday joy. And the sight of elephants journeying through early morning mist is subtly dreamlike.
Yes, Collins at her best is collectible. Then again, collectors may be put off by this book's less than rigorous approach to presenting her work. The titles and locales of the photos do not accompany them on their respective pages but are instead listed on two pages in the back of the book. Technical notes would also make a welcome difference, but at the end of the day, Collins's technique and her potential are at least worth our trouble.
(Matt Damsker is an old friend who used to work for me as Editor-in-Chief on a magazine for which I was publisher. He has had extensive writing experience, including high-profile stints at the L.A. Times and Hartford Courant newspapers, during which he wrote extensively on the visual arts and on photography.)
(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.)