Smart talk about photography--what-it-is, what it does, what difference it's made--from Fox Talbot to Susan Sontag. The news...


PHOTOGRAPHY IN PRINT: Writings from 1816 to the Present

Smart talk about photography--what-it-is, what it does, what difference it's made--from Fox Talbot to Susan Sontag. The news of this particular anthology, indeed, is how unexpectedly much good writing there is. But that's not all that Vicki Goldberg has accomplished. Her introductory remarks are light, keen, enlivening--no pedantry, no obscurantism. Her running headnotes constitute a minihistory of the medium. And that's possible because the selections are fitted together in historical sequence--not so simple a matter as it may seem. Consider, among the problems, the exceptionally long working lives of the great photographers, and the several lives of many. Stieglitz makes his bow here in 1897, as a proponent of the lowly, adaptable hand camera; he reappears in 1922, talking about his cloud-photograph series--designed to elicit from composer Ernest Bloch an astounded ""Music! Music! Man, why that is music!"" (And it did.) There follows a striking in-the-wake of Stieglitz sequence: Charles Sheeler on ""the difference in operation between the lens and the eye""; Paul Strand, analogously, on photography as a medium of expression; Strand on his own work of the period; Steichen--first met, in 1903, as an introspective painter-photographer--on his post-WW I-aerial-reconnaissance technical experiments; Steichen blasting soft-focus artiness--from a New York Times news story. And then, something on news photography. . . . So: a knowing, suggestive interweave of writings about photographers and statements by them. The landmark documents--Baudelaire to Waiter Benjamin. Witty, offside comments--by O. W. Holmes, GBS, Thurber. The experiences of John Thomson in China (1873), of William Henry Jackson in the Rockies (1874). Major retrospective appraisals--after Jackson, Barbara Novak on landscape photography and landscape painting. Selective excerpting--from Cartier-Bresson's introduction to The Decisive Moment (sometimes reprinted, pointlessly, in full), the decisive passages: ""Perhaps someone suddenly walks into your range of view. . . ."" Plus, the grand finale: ten critical pieces, written since 1975, which display the current vitality of photographic criticism and include Goldberg's own review of Helmut Newton's elegant, vicious White Women--a piece with the moral zap of Pauline Kael. Just-about a documentary history of the medium, very much a showcase of strong assertions and reactions.

Pub Date: May 1, 1981

ISBN: 0826310915

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981