Edited by Beaumont Newhall / ON PHOTOGRAPHY
Century House, Watkins Glen, N. Y. 1956 $10.00, 192 pages, about 40 illustrations
Typical of editor Beaumont Newhall to put photography to work in a book on photography—the pages are facsimile reproductions of the pages of the original publications. And what charm the old fashioned type faces evoke—quaint, curious they bespeak their times that nothing short of a period movie could match. But unlike the movie these pages are authentic. With facsimile reproduction by cameras there is no chance of mistakes committed by typesetters to go unnoticed by editors. There is not the slightest suggestion that a contemporary editor has sought to improve a writer's grammar, or touch up his ideas.
The original articles by the progenitors of photography and their offspring are scattered in many libraries here and abroad. Perhaps the wealthy scholar looking for an excuse to travel to such wonderful places as London, New York, or Paris may not be entirely happy to have all this material in the covers of one book. But even such as he may thank Mr. Newhall for making the trip to Rochester unnecessary, that model of prosaic cities, where some of the originals are locked away in a vault. The usual short-of-cash student will, of course, think differently.
According to Mr. Newhall, ON PHOTOGRAPHY is an autobiography because it is written entirely by photography’s inventors, scientists, photographers and critics. The book, of course, is limited to such of these as were articulate enough to get themselves in print. ON PHOTOGRAPHY is also a biography of photography: Mr. Newhall's elegant selection makes it so. That is, his selection coupled to the terse and pointed paragraphs that introduce each writer and so orient the reader to time, place, and where necessary, significance. These are a pleasure to read.
Anyone who has read the Newhall HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY knows how well the sense of history is recreated in that book; the present one does it better. Maybe the sense of history comes from the various key inventors in photography reprinted such as Daguerre, Fox, Talbot, Maddox, Eastman, Land. Or maybe it comes from those who attempted to understand what the picture making side of the new medium meant such as Lady Eastlake, Charles Baudelaire, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Bernard Shaw. But just how, we will leave the reader to find out for himself.
For those who are interested in how to photograph, ON PHOTOGRAPHY contains several "credos” of the men who are either responsible for picture making philosophies, or some articulate member of a tradition. So writings are included by Stieglitz, Strand, Weston who all place transcendence of both subject and material high in their aims; Adams who favors the "creative” regardless of branch of photography; Cartier-Bresson, the "Caught on the Run” man who explores the realism, surrealism, and eternity of the moment; Moholy-Nagy who inspired hundreds to take an expansive and exploratory attitude towards materials. They are all here; while not always as lucidly explained as might be expected of the expert in lucidity, their words compensate by their conviction.
For those searching for the kind of traditions, of which Lewis Hine is an example will consider the omission of Hine little short of tragic. Unfortunately it seems that Hine never wrote down his philosophy of picture making, or if he did, and it was published, it has escaped the eagle eye of Mr. Newhall.
When asked about such omissions in ON PHOTOGRAPHY, Mr. Newhall expressed the hope that if the book is successful a sequel will follow. Considering the stack of material that he showed us, most of a second book is already collected. And he showed us an article by a writer, long before Hine, that stated the Hine philosophy exactly. In a second book we could also expect the writings of such a leader in today’s photography as Dr. Otto Steinert on Subjective Fotographie. This last seems to mark an attitude towards photography that is peculiar to our period.
ON PHOTOGRAPHY is a book that any photographer who considers himself an aspiring photographer or a student of the field can not afford to be without.
It is suggested that purchase be made through Morgan & Morgan, 101 Park Ave., New York City 17, since the edition is limited and therefore not likely to be found in book stores.