Books on Books #1
Atget: Photographe de Paris
Essays by Pierre Mac Orlan, David Campany, and Jeffrey Ladd
Hardcover w/ Dustjacket
116 pp, 9.5 x 7 in.
110 4-color illustrations
$39.95 ($26.37 at Amazon)
Books on Books #2
Walker Evans: American Photographs
Essays by Lincoln Kirstein, John T. Hill, and Jeffrey Ladd
Hardcover w/ Dustjacket
112 pp, 9.5 x 7 in.
98 Duotone and 4-color illustrations
$39.95 ($26.37 at Amazon)
One of the common themes of photo book reviews has been how quickly even the best titles go out of print, making it a challenge to acquire books in your area of interest before they disappear. Even more difficult is trying to build a library of genuinely important photo books, those that have made a mark on photography as a whole. Some show up as reprints (John Szarkowski's Looking at Photographs comes to mind), only to disappear again before you hear about them. Wouldn't it be grand if someone started releasing reprints or facsimiles of the classics?
We now have an interesting source for such books. Errata Editions is a small publishing house formed in 2008 by Valerie Sonnenthal, Jeffrey Ladd and Ed Grazda. Sonnenthal is a photo editor/curator; Ladd and Grazda are photographer/educators. Jeffrey Ladd you may recognize as the eclectic mind behind 5B4, a photo book review website that seems to emphasize unique, offbeat and avant-garde titles. The initial announcement back in September 2008 was tantalizing, but I couldn't really visualize what they had in mind until I saw the resulting books. The first four titles are now available.
These are compact cloth-bound volumes with partial dust jacket, printed to a standard size. On the dust jacket, and repeated inside, is a color reproduction of the original cover. Following this is a complete page-for-page photo reproduction of the original, showing both text and photographs. Some spreads are reproduced two to a page, others full size. To be clear these are not reproductions of just the images, but photo reproductions of the actual book pages, as if you had it open on your desk. The result is a facsimile that demonstrates precisely what the original book looks like, conveying the photographers' and designers' intent. The downside is that both text and images are frequently reproduced too small to appreciate nuance and detail. Large multiple page stretches of text are abridged, showing the opening and concluding spreads.
Following the facsimile pages in each book are complete reprints of the original text, set in Adobe Garamond type at a readable size, followed by an essay placing the original in historical and artistic context. Next is a formal review of the original book's printing and typographical design. Finally each volume is closed with a thumbnail biography of the artist and a bibliography of their works.
Eugène Atget: Photographe de Paris is the first volume in the series. The four-color photo reproduction accurately shows the warm burgundy tones of the collotype original plates, though shadows go very murky. Following the facsimile pages is a translation of the original preface by Pierre Mac Orlan. Next is an insightful discussion of Atget's work, its rescue from oblivion by a young Berenice Abbott, and its place in the context of the art world circa 1930, by David Campany. Jeffrey Ladd then details the actual printing of the original book, including the collotype plates. (The curious reader may want to check out The Printed Picture, by Richard Benson, for more detail on the process).
Walker Evans: American Photographs is the second volume, reprising this hugely influential work. The facsimile pages accurately show the simple, unadorned design of the book. The quality of the duotone reproductions is quite good, particularly those shown full size. They are followed by the complete text of the essay by Lincoln Kirstein that accompanied the photographs. Next is a detailed account by John T. Hill of the creation of the original book. This was a collaboration between Evans, the very young Museum of Modern Art, and the famed printer and book designer Joseph Blumenthal, with patron Kirstein also serving an important rôle. Jeffrey Ladd then discusses the various editions and printings American Photographs has gone through over the years.
I find myself a bit conflicted regarding Errata Editions' worthy effort. This is clearly a labor of love, and the amount of work involved prodigious. The resulting volumes give readers the chance to own facsimiles of photography's seminal books. They accurately display the sequence of images as well as the intent of the original design. If you want to see what the fuss was about over American Photographs, this reproduction will show you. For a modest outlay you can start building a library of the most influential photo books ever printed, in facsimile form. If you understand that these are "meta-books"—that their subject is the photo book rather than the photographs per se—you may be delighted with them.
On the other hand, the relatively small size of these books, and the third generation facsimile photo reproduction, can't do justice to the original images. Readers who want a good idea of what Atget's photographs really look like should try to find a used copy of John Szarkowski's Atget monograph for its much larger, clearer reproductions. Walker Evans' photographs fare much better, but they're still a bit cramped by the format.