My brother Charlie likes to talk about "expert theory." The theory is pretty sensible: when you really want to know what's what about any subject, find someone to listen to who really knows what he or she is talking about.
Richard Benson knows printing inside and out. He's been the Dean of the Yale School of Art and he's a winner of the MacArthur "genius grant," but he's also been a working printer, to go-to guy for repro expertise for dozens of fine photography book projects, limited editions, reproductions, and so forth. He's an academic, but he's got ink on his hands.
The Printed Picture is an exhibition catalog from a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that is up now and will remain on view until June 1, 2009. Here's our review, written by Geoff Wittig, and here's Jeff Ladd's review from 5B4.
If TOP can be said to have a mission—well, beyond being diverting—it's to connect current practitioners to photography's culture—its history, past accomplishments, major figures, and intellectual traditions. The building of a personal library, or at least a small collection of favorite books, is one way to go about this. For such a purpose, The Printed Picture hits on all cylinders: it's readable, greatly informative, and chock full of superb (and enjoyable) illustrations (and not the ones everybody else uses or that you've seen twenty times before, for which I'm grateful). It will take its place at the core of my own book collection (and I'm going to be thinking about how I can get myself to New York before June). I can't imagine it being out of place on the shelves of anyone who really cares about looking at pictures. I hope it stays in print for a long time, but be sure you get it while you can. Highly recommended.
Illustration: Lee Friedlander, Richard Benson, Newport, Rhode Island, 1984
The Printed Picture:
Featured Comment by Tony McLean: "An excellent book that is superbly illustrated. Mr Benson's research into the various printing processes is very thorough. However, he certainly won't have won any friends amongst the gum-bichromate community (who tend to be very protective of their process). Mr Benson describes it as a 'poor process' twice in the same paragraph (page 136). Mr. Benson also states that the platinotype process was invented in 1877 by William Willis. I understand that William Willis's first patent of his process was granted in 1873, with improved patents granted in 1878, 1880 and 1887. Overall, this is an excellent book and a must for your book-shelf. Probably the best value for money of any book I've bought this year."