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Photobook, The: A History - Volume I
by Gerry Badger, Martin Parr
Publisher: Phaidon Press
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Edition: Hardcover
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Editorial Reviews:
From Street Life in London to Hiroshima, from The Royal Mummies to Perspective of Nudes and The Sweet Flypaper of Life, photobooks encompass a tremendous diversity of subjects and styles. While some of these illustrated volumes are famous (Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion, Robert Frank's The Americans), many others are known only to specialists. The Photobook: A History offers an engrossing survey of this art form, beginning with early experiments in photography in mid-19yh-century England and ending with raucous Japanese photo-diaries of the 1990s. The scope of this handsomely designed book—the first of two volumes—is so broad that only a few pages of each photobook could be illustrated, and some of the 750 color and black-and-white reproductions are quite small. But the incisive commentary by British photographer Martin Parr and photo critic Gerry Badger opens up new worlds of visual information. The authors provide essential grounding, not only in the history of photography, but also in the artistic and social movements that influenced the look and content of photobooks.

In the 19th century, the object was to collect and to classify, whether the subject was a foreign landscape, a war, the surface of the moon or the manufacture of bread. Conversely, 20th-century photobooks are often frankly subjective, drawing on movements ranging from surrealism to the Beats. Yet a quasi-scientific approach could result in poignant imagery (as in Facies Dolorosa, a study of the faces of seriously ill people), and artistic subjectivity could yield bitter truths (Helen Levitt's A Way of Seeing, images of poor children in New York). Describing photobooks of the polemical 1930s as "the great persuaders," Parr and Badger remark that the best documentary work demonstrates an awareness of the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the medium. Although we tend to think of propaganda solely as the product of totalitarian regimes (see "Long Live the Bright Instruction," a Chinese tract featuring unnervingly happy workers), the authors remind us that photobooks celebrating the American way of life often naively ignored the complex socio-political forces that underlie a sentimental or cheerful scene. The final chapter, devoted to postwar Japanese photobooks, vividly illuminates the cocktail of hedonism, rage and despair that makes these volumes extraordinary visual documents. --Cathy Curtis

Product Details
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press; edition (Dec 1, 2022)
  • ISBN: 0714842850
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 Based on 2 reviews.
  • Sales Rank: 30679

Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

5Through the lens with print, Feb 18, 2023

This book (and the next volume) will surely become the standard reference for anyone wanting to know about photobooks and in creating a new word for photographs in a book perhaps this will create a new publishing genre too. The author's rightly point out that photography is a printed-page medium and the four hundred and fifty titles examined, with just over two hundred in this first book, probably represent the best (or most interesting) titles ever published.

The nine chapters give a lucid in depth review of photobooks to the 1970s with Anna Atkins 1843 'Photographs of British Algae' taking the first photobook prize. I particularly enjoyed chapter six, Medium and Message: the photobook as propaganda, basically dealing with Soviet books in the Thirties and the examples shown are quite extraordinary in their use of images and design. Reproducing the pages from these books would easily make a separate title. The other fascinating chapter was nine, dealing with postwar Japanese books, again the reproduced jackets and spreads show amazing creativity and vision, not only in the choice of photos but also in the use of printing and binding techniques.

Stunning though this book is I thought there was one particular weakness, in so many of the books there are not enough pages shown. Many of them have two pages, for instance 'An American Exodus' by Lange and Taylor, there are fifteen spreads so it is possible to follow the flow of images or Avery Brodovitch's 'Ballet' with eighteen spreads to capture the feel of the subject. Most of the titles though are two or three to a spread allowing mostly a cover plus four or six pages from inside the book but annoyingly there is easily room for more pages had there been a slight adjustment to the book detail text that accompanies each photobook. The excess white space really should have been put to better use. Despite this the paper and printing of the book is first class, the images are reproduced in a fine screen as cut-outs with a drop shadow and run of varnish to really make them sparkle.

Parr and Badger have almost created a unique book but Andrew Roth's 'The book of 101 books: Seminal photographic books of the twentieth century' (ISBN 0967077443) published in 2001 must be regarded as the first attempt to capture the essence of photobooks and in both titles the editorial concept is the same, reproduce the covers and pages rather than show individual photographs. As a designer this makes both books come alive for me but I prefer 'The Photobook' for its exhilarating coverage in both words and images.

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful:

5Not as Beautiful as "Book of 101 Books," But Has More Info, Feb 11, 2023
I bought this book after reviews in the January 2005 New York Times and the December 2004 Guardian Unlimited. It defines a photobook as "a specific 'event'... in which a group of photographs is brought together between covers, each image placed so as to resonate with its fellows as the pages are turned, making the collective meaning more important than the images' individual meanings." The authors exclude books such as Edward Weston's 1947 "Fifty Photographs" which are "simply anthologies."

After a Preface and Introduction ("The Photobook: Between the Novel and Film"), the book has nine chapters. Each chapter has an introduction of 5-7 pages, followed by 14-40 pages with discussions and photographs of books relevant to the chapter's theme. The chapter titles are: (1) "Topography and Travel: The First Photobooks"; (2) "Facing Facts: The Nineteenth-Century Photobook as Record"; (3) "Photography as Art: The Pictorial Photobook"; (4) "Photo Eye: The Modernist Photobook"; (5) "A Day in the Life: The Documentary Photobook in the 1930s"; (6) "Medium and Message: The Photobook as Propaganda"; (7) "Memory and Reconstruction: The Postwar European Photobook"; (8) "The Indecisive Moment: The Stream-of-Consciousness Photobook"; and (9) "Provocative Materials for Thought: The Postwar Japanese Photobook." The earliest books discussed date from the 1840s; the latest was published in 2001. The scholarship of the essays, the descriptions of the books, and the quality of the reproductions from the books are all excellent.

As the NY Times review points out, "Photobook I" (as I'll call this book) and "The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the 20th Century" by Andrew Roth (2001) "cover similar terrain." Here are some points of comparison and contrast. First, although the books are approximately the same size and weight, "Photobook I" summarizes about 40 books from the 19th century and about 160 from the 20th century, while "101 Books" concerns only the 20th century. (Apparently "Photobook II" coming in 2005 will concentrate on non-Japanese books from the 1970s onward, which are sparse in "Photobook I.") Second, "Photobook I" has less blank space, smaller reproductions of pages from the books, and tinier font describing the books than "101 Books," making "Photobook I" less alluring visually. Third, "Photobook I" is printed on white paper as opposed to the nicer cream-colored paper of "101 Books." You would keep "101 Books" on your coffee table for casual reading but not "Photobook I."

Fourth, the essays in "Photobook I" give more factual historical context than the essays in "101 Books" which are more reflective and subjective. Fifth, "Photobook I" has endnotes and a bibliography, unlike "101 Books." Sixth, over three-fifths of the works in "Photobook I" were published in languages other than English (especially Asian and Eastern European ones); in contrast, only about one-third of the "101 Books" are not in English. Seventh, I like the specification of dimensions in millimeters in "Photobook I" better than the "folio," "4to.," "octavo," etc. used in "101 Books." Eighth, "Photobook I" gives the number of pages and photographs in each book, but "101 Books" doesn't. Finally, the "Photobook I" index allows the reader to find works by author, but if you don't know the author for a particular title you have to scan the entire index; the "101 Books" index by both author and title is better.

If you are a fan of photographic books, buy this book and "101 Books" at!

BTW #1, shows a black circular figure as the cover art. In actuality, the dust jacket contains a montage of the covers of various works such as Metal by Krull and Pro Eto by Mayakovsky and Rodchenko.

BTW #2, I could not find on the Web a list of the books discussed. A complete list would exceed the word limit, but here are the books to which at least a full two-page spread is devoted, with the non-English titles translated to English: Anna Atkins (1843-1853) Photographs of British Algae...; Alexey Brodovitch (1945) Ballet; Ilya Ehrenburg (design by El Lissitzky, 1933) My Paris; Paul Eluard and Man Ray (1935) Facile; P.H. Emerson (1886) Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads; Walker Evans (1938) American Photographs; Leon-Paul Fargue and Roger Parry (1930) Banality; V M Gorfunkel (1938) Moscow Under Reconstruction; Lorinczy Gyorgy (1972) New York, New York; K (Keid) Helmer-Petersen (1948) 122 Colour Photographs; Gustavo Ortiz Hernán (photos by Augustin Jiménez et al., 1937) Chimneys; Eikoh Hosoe (1969) Kamaitachi; Eikoh Hosoe and Yukio Mishima (1963) Killed by Roses; Eikoh Hosoe and Yukio Mishima (1971) Ordeal by Roses Re-Edited; Yasuhiro Ishimoto (1958) Someday Somewhere; Kikuji Kawada (1965) The Map; Hans Killian (1934) The Face of Pain; Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor (1939) An American Exodus; Maurice M. Loewy and M. Pierre Puiseux (1896-1910) Photographic Atlas of the Moon; Erich Mendelsohn (1928) America: An Architect's Picturebook; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1925) Painting Photography Film; Daido Moriyama (1972): Bye, Bye Photography; Takuma Nakahira (1970) For a Language to Come; Victor Palla and Costa Martins (1959) Lisbon: Sad and Happy City; Giulia Pirelli and Carlo Orsi (1965) Milan; S B Reyzin (1937) First Cavalry; F E Rodionov (1934) Red Army of Workers and Peasants; B M Tal', ed. (design by El Lissitzky, 1935) Socialist Industry; L Tandit (1935) Fifteen Years of Kazakhstan ASSR; Zdenek Tmej (1946) Alphabet of Spiritual Emptiness; Shomei Tomatsu (1966) <11:02> Nagasaki; M Tursunkhodzhaev (1934) Ten Years of Uzbekistan; Ed Van der Elsken (1966-1968) Sweet Life; and Joan Van der Keuken (1963) Mortal Paris.

BTW #3, the dust jacket says that Volume II will cover "...The American Photobook since the 1970s," "...The European Photobook since the 1980s," "The Worldwide Photobook," "...The Artist's Photobook," "...The Company Book," "...The Picture Editor as Auteur," "...The 'Concerned' Photobook since World War II," "...The New 'New Objectivity,'" and "...The Photobook and Modern Life."


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