April in Photography : far away adventures and tragic lives

Our picks of the recent photography books this month include two travel books that will transport you through time and space with their collections of historical photographs that document two “polar opposite” (yet both very arid) regions of the world: Antartica (as we follow in Scott’s footsteps via his own, previously uncollected, photos of his fated expedition), and Saudi Arabia (with a collection of photographs taken between 1860 and 1950). We also reflect on the lives of three women whose common thread is their passion for photography: Diane Arbus, Clover Adams and Vivian Maier. And of course, the debate on the fate of analog photography continues…

syndetics-lcFilm is not dead : a digital photographer’s guide to shooting film / by Jonathan Canlas & Kristen Kalp ; photography by Jonathan Canlas.
To pick up on last month’s post, film is indeed NOT dead, as this book is intent on proving:
“With the popularity of digital photography growing by leaps and bounds over the last decade, some say film has been dying a slow death ever since –- or is already dead. The reality is that film has never gone away, and in recent years has experienced a surging, renewed popularity –- sometimes simply for its retro, analog status, but mostly for film’s ability to create a look and feel that many believe digital can still not achieve. If anyone can attest to this, it’s Utah photographer Jonathan Canlas, who exclusively shoots with film, and has both an extremely successful wedding photography business, as well as a series of popular workshops held numerous times per year around the world.” (summary from Amazon.com)

Incidentally, you may want to check out Jose Villa’s book, another wedding photographer who specialises exclusively in film (reviewed back in July 2011).

syndetics-lcSaudi Arabia by the first photographers / William Facey with Gillian Grant.
“The photographs in this book were taken between 1860 and 1950, at a crucial period just before the ancient way of life in the region was swept away. The selection draws on all the known photographic collections, from the earliest travel photographers, through to the 1950s. These remarkable images are accompanied by historian William Facey’s excellent text which places them in their historical context, plus detailed commentary on photographic techniques by photographic archivist Gillian Grant.” (Library Catalogue)

syndetics-lcThe lost photographs of Captain Scott : unseen photographs from the legendary Antarctic Expedition / David M. Wilson.
“The legend of Captain Robert Falcon Scott who perished with his fellow explorers on their return from the South Pole on March 29 1912 (100 years ago this year!), is an enduring one. Until now, the history of the ill-fated Terra-Nova expedition has been pieced together from Scott’s own diaries and those of his companions, the sketches of “Uncle Bill” Wilson, and the celebrated photographs of Herbert Ponting. Yet, for the final, fateful months of their journey, Scott also photographed this extraodinary scientific endeavour himself. Trained by Ponting, and faced with extreme climatic conditions and practical challenges at the dawn of photography, Scott achieved a series of images, remarkable for both their technical mastery and their poignancy. In this landmark book, the photographs are catalogues and published together for the first time, paying tribute to the last great expeditions of the Heroic Age of Artic Exploration.” (adapted from Publisher’s description)

syndetics-lcA good companion to this title would be the recently published An Empire of Ice. Pulitzer winner Edward Larson follows the triumphs and disasters of Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, David Livingston, Roald Amundsen, and numerous other intrepid explorers, who risked life and limb to be the first to leave footprints in uncharted territory.

A few fascinating biographies have recently been published on women photographers. Besides world reknown Diane Arbus’ biography and retrospective, Clover Adams and Vivian Maier — two relatively unknown women with a passion for photography — are the subject of, respectively, a compelling biography and a collection of photographs. Three somber lives to ponder.

syndetics-lcClover Adams : a gilded and heartbreaking life / Natalie Dykstra.
“Clover, an inquisitive, loving, fiercely intelligent Boston Brahmin, married at 28 the older and soon-to-be-eminent historian Henry Adams. She thrived in her role as an intimate to political insiders in Gilded Age Washington, where she was valued for her wit and taste by such artistic luminaries as Henry James and H. H. Richardson. Clover so clearly possessed, as one friend wrote, “all she wanted, all this world could give.” And yet there is a mystery: why did Clover, having embarked on an exhilarating self-taught course of photography in the spring of 1883, end her life less than three years later by drinking from a vial of a chemical she used in developing her own photographs? The answer is revealed through Natalie Dykstra’s original discoveries regarding the thirteen-year Adams marriage. Dykstra illuminates Clover’s enduring stature as a woman betrayed as she untangles the complex truth of her shining and impossible marriage.” (taken from Publisher’s description)

syndetics-lcAn emergency in slow motion : the inner life of Diane Arbus / William Todd Schultz.
“Schultz confesses that his subject, revered and controversial photographer Diane Arbus, remains a mystery after nearly seven years of inquiry. His struggle to understand Arbus and her indelible portraits o. freak. makes for a strikingly candid, indefatigably inquisitive, and poignantly unsettling psychobiography, a meticulous yet passionate attempt to decode her inner life. Born in 1923 to wealth and misery in a New York household of silence and secrets, including a sexual relationship between Diane and her brother, the future poet laureate Howard Nemerov, Diane married photographer Allan Arbus very young. The marriage didn’t last, and Schultz offers no insights into what sort of mother Arbus was to their two now accomplished daughters. Instead, he focuses on Arbus’ signature fascination with weirdos and grotesques and reveals her compulsive and risky sexual adventures, and argues that sex was her true artistic obsession, right up to her 1971 suicide. Exceptional prose, illuminating psychological theory, and the visceral memories of those who knew her add up to a haunting portrait of Arbus as a tenacious and quixotic artist whose outre photographs blaze on in all their strange romance, protest, and longing.” (Booklist)

In the light of this psychobiography, it is interesting to revisit some of Arbus’ most iconic photographs in the Aperture’s 25 Anniversary edition published last year:

syndetics-lcDiane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph was originally published in 1972, one year after the artist’s death, in conjunction with a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern Art. Edited and designed by Arbus’s daughter, Doon, and her friend and colleague, painter Marvin Israel, the monograph contains eighty of her most masterful photos. The images in this newly published edition, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the collection’s original publication, were printed from new three-hundred-line-screen duotone film, allowing for startlingly clear reproduction. The impact of the collection is heightened by the introduction, which contains excerpts of audio tapes in which Arbus discusses her experiences as a photographer and her feelings about the often bizarre nature of her subjects. Diane Arbus’s work has indelibly impacted modern visual sensibilities, evidenced by the intensely personal moments captured in this powerful group of photographs. (adapted from Library Catalogue)

syndetics-lcVivian Maier : street photographer / edited by John Maloof ; foreword by Geoff Dyer.
Were it not for the accidental find by historian John Maloof of 100,00 photographs hidden in a storage locker, no one would have discovered the amazing work of this nanny during the day, self-taught photographer in her leisure time, who scouted the streets of countless cities in her quest for human urban tableaux. An outsider and observer all her life, she remained invisible until fate decided otherwise. In this book her impressive body of work is presented in print form for the first time. Also highly recommended is the Vivian Maier website , a brilliant showcase of her photography and further facts about this intriguing photographer. And finally, watch out for the documentary film “Finding Vivian Maier” currently in production.

And for titles in the compendium style, we will focuse this month on the new addition to the Prestel 50 Series — 50 Photographers you should know

syndetics-lcThis series is growing at a regular pace and each new title is a welcome addition, guiding the novice and filling up the gaps in the enthusiast/student’s knowledge. This title is a concise and portable (not often the case with art books) collection of chronologically ordered greats of photography, from Nadar to Tillmans. The timeline for each photographere is a very useful element, placing the artist in historical, political and cultural context. A good reference with just enough photographs and facts to wet the appetite for further research.

Further titles we hold in the 50’s series are:

50 contemporary artists you should know

50 architects you should know

50 paintings you should know

50 women artists you should know

50 american artists you should know

50 fashion designers you should know

50 Bauhaus icons you should know

50 modern artists you should know

50 British artists you should know