Thursday, September 03, 2009

Two for the Photo-Book Library - Benson and Eggleston

If you are an addicted photo-book collector, here are a couple of good sized tomes worth getting for the reference section:

First, The Printed Picture by Richard Benson. This is actually a quite beautiful book, most likely because Richard Benson cares to the Nth degree about the presentation and printing of pictures - especially photographs - in books. Benson, who teaches at Yale (and was Dean of the School of Art for a number of years), has also printed some of the most beautifully done photo-books out there such as the gorgeous four volume The Work of Atget as well as the incomparable Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company - probably the finest example of the combination of the photographer's and the printer's art . Among others, he has had a long standing partnership with Lee Friedlander, printing a number of Frieldander's books

The internet aside, I think it's true that we see the majority of the photographs we look at in the form of printed books or in magazines and this book is literally an overview of the printed picture going through the history of how pictures, mainly though not only photographic, have been reproduced, printed and presented. From woodblocks through to inkjets and digital technology with everything important in between. But the book is not overly wordy or academic and the pictures chosen as examples of the different techniques are frequently left to do a lot of the talking for themselves. Benson is both a photographer as well as a master of the printing press and it shows. The book is informative, intriguing and visually beautiful. And Benson is also able to describe these processes in a very straightforward yet complete manner. Definitely one for the bookcase and to thumb through again in the darkness of winter. (There was also a sort of precursor exhibition treading the ground of this book called The Physical Print: A Brief Survey of the Photographic Process, which was well reviewed on 5b4)

The second book is William Eggleston, Democratic Camera : photographs, and video, 1961-2008. This is the catalogue of the large Eggleston retrospective at the Whitney that ended earlier this year (I recently came across a very good review of the show here). It's a fairly heavy duty book and gives a pretty good overview of Eggleston's work along with a quiver full of essay's by Elizabeth Sussman, Thomas Weski, Stanley Booth et al. There's nothing earth shattering about the book or the essays, but if you haven't been able to gather together some of Eggleston's books such as Democratic Forest or Ancient & Modern or Los Alamos or Eggleston's Guide (grab the reprint while you still can...) - some of which are getting pricey these days - then it's a good way to view a fair chunk of his work.

One thing I did feel going through the book is how much better the majority of the photographs work in the context of their original book form rather than in a big retrospective book like this. I didn't get to see the exhibit, but have a feeling it wouldn't matter so much looking at a cross section of Eggleston's prints on the gallery wall - because many of them also stand on their own as well. But somehow, taken out of the overall context of say Eggleston's Guide or Democratic Forest and put together in one large compendium many of the pictures seemed at least a little diminished which makes me think of how important the grouping and sequencing of a set of photographs can be, where the whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts.

Either way, a good book for the shelf, although as I got this one out of the public library, I might be tempted by his new book on Paris instead (though I wasn't too keen on the Dunkerque book... it almost felt like he was a little lost in Basillico territory). Oh and if you come across a cheap copy of Election Eve, let me know!

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