by Gisele Freund ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 17, 1980
Loosely linked essays by a veteran photographer--active in France since the mid-1930s--that offer a crude Marxian interpretation of some strands of photographic history along with a few spot illuminations. More than a third of the book centers on 19th-century French portraiture--silhouette to physionotrace to daguerrotype; artist-photographer to maker of multiple cartes-de-visite--and its expression-of/subservience-to the aspirations of first the bourgeoisie, then the lower middle classes. All of this, however, is covered more fully, accurately, and discerningly in the standard histories of the Newhalls and the Gernsheims. Freund, extolling the portraits of Nadar and his contemporaries, writes with categorical finality (and no validity) that ""like all true works of art, they were not produced for commercial reasons."" As an adherent of art-as-a-social-force, she has, however, little interest in ""Photography as Art"" (a brief, late section devoted to the experimental works of Heartfield and Moholy-Nagy--which had their chief influence on advertising). The two areas on which she does expand fruitfully are those in which she's worked, photojournalism and photography as a means of art reproduction. As regards the latter, she recounts the career of Adolphe Braun, founder of Braun & Cie., and makes the point--which she helped establish for Malraux (information unfortunately relegated to a footnote)--that photographs distort works of art even as they expand our knowledge of them. As regards photojournalism, she writes most authoritatively on the German magazines of the Twenties (the capers of pioneer candid-cameraman Erich Salomon, the epochal photo-stories of ""Felix H. Mann""; their French offshoot, Vu; and the dispersal of the German trailblazers (like Stefan Lorant) at Hitler's coming. She also valuably spotlights the doings of Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler's official photographer and photographic censor. On the other hand. Americans will find her comments on the Luce magazines silly and stale. And on ""concerned photography"" she's both alert (in citing Heinrich Zille, the recently discovered Berlin counterpart of Atget) and misguided (in identifying Riis as ""the first to use photography as a tool of social criticism""). Discussion of some perennial photographer's problems (copyright protection, distortive captions, falsification through retouching and cropping) and the attendant issues fills out the spotty volume--which will be of chief interest to specialist historians.
Pub Date: July 17, 1980
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1980
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