FOCUS by Beaumont Newhall


The Memoirs of a Life in Photography
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 A graceful, lively memoir by photography's first historian, with accounts of his friendships with many of the century's great photographers, from Alfred Stieglitz to Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Newhall (1908-93) wrote the now-standard History of Photography (1937) and founded the photo collection at the Museum of Modern Art; as much as anyone, he helped photography gain acceptance as art. This memoir, finished shortly before his death, includes an account of his boyhood in Lynn, Massachusetts; of his training in art history at Harvard; the important early exhibits he organized at the MOMA; and the contributions of his wife, Nancy, to both the field and his own accomplishments. A long section describing his work as a photoreconnaisance expert in Egypt and Italy during WW II, though not closely related to his career, is also highly interesting. In addition, Newhall offers detailed accounts of various important photographers' working methods, as well as of discussions carried on among them about their work. Unanticipated delights include a description of eccentric Chicago collector Alden Boyer; of Western travel with Ansel Adams; and of three days the author spent with Margaret Bourke-White. Less persuasive are an exchange of letters between Newhall and his wife describing machinations of MOMA trustees and Edward Steichen, Newhall's successor at the museum. While the changes that brought on Newhall's departure at MOMA seem unfair, the author's insistence that the museum show only the 'greatest' photographic art, along with his apparent conviction that only a select few can possibly know such greatness when they see it, arouses sympathy for Steichen's desire to lure museum-goers by exhibiting a wider variety of photographic work. Overall: a pleasurable, informative, and unique glimpse into the lives of many of photography's great figures. (Seventy-five b&w photographs, some by Newhall--not seen)

Pub Date: July 27th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8212-1904-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993