This week's column by Ctein
Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity (second edition) by Michelle Bates. Focal Press, 2010.
Those of you with extraordinary memories will find this title familiar. I reviewed Plastic Cameras: Toying With Creativity nearly six years ago. Michelle recently informed me that the second edition is out (in fact, it came out three years ago) and this review picks up from the first one. So, if you would start with that one, please...(don't worry, I'll wait for you).
In a remarkable deviation from typical publisher practices, the second edition of this book is 48 pages longer than the first but priced exactly the same at $29.95 (though Amazon will, of course, sell it to you for less—$18.67 to be exact). Most of the additional pages are devoted to photographs; the chapter of portfolios is a dozen pages longer and all the chapters have many more photographs actually made with "plastic cameras" that show off artists' work as well as illustrate and exemplify the material in the text. The text itself is somewhat expanded, especially the addition of a chapter on alternative processes and presentations, but it's the additional artistic content that I think is the most valuable. I wished for more artwork in the book in my first review; that wish has been amply granted.
As always with second editions, the presentation is more polished and the content is updated. Those changes are modest. If you own the first edition of this book, you probably don't need the second. Unless, like me, you own the book primarily for the photographs, in which case you'll want the new edition.
If you don't own the first edition of the book, well then of course you'll want the second. If nothing else it will broaden your perspective on what talented photographers can do with seemingly limited equipment. I'm especially drawn to the in-camera panoramas.
That was the light book. Here comes the heavy one....
Sylvie Pénichon, a conservator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, teaching a workshop at the paper conservation lab at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. Photo courtesy of The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
Twentieth-Century Color Photographs: Identification and Care, by Sylvie Pénichon. Getty Conservation Institute, 2013.
Chance favored me. I would never have known of this book had not Sylvie contacted me. She needed a couple of samples of print types (not, by the way, dye transfer) to include as illustrations in this grand opus. In return, I received a copy of this book. And I'm so glad I did!
A minor bit of confusion—the same book has been issued by two publishers under two different titles. Sylvie assures me the content is the same. I have the Getty Conservation Institute edition ($60.98) that's available in the U.S. The British edition published by Thames & Hudson is much cheaper there (£24.77, about $40) and has a different cover. That edition is also available from the Book Depository with free shipping worldwide for $53.16.
Either way, the title of this book is slightly incorrect. It actually begins with the (possibly) first true color photograph in 1848 and includes the many color print processes that were developed before the turn of the last century. From there it moves forward through all of "analog" color photography, chapter by chapter, organized by process. For example, Chapter Two is on additive color screen photographs, Chapter Three on pigment photographs, and Chapter Four on dye inbibition. The latter, of course, being near and dear to my heart as it includes the dye transfer process.
This book is impressively encyclopedic. Each chapter starts off with a timeline that maps out the duration of each of the media included in that chapter. When I open to the chapter on dye inbibition, I discover that dye transfer is only one of no less than 16 different processes introduced starting in 1880. Cibachrome fans may be surprised to learn that there were more than a dozen dye-destruction print processes out there, beginning in 1899.
Every type of printing process is well-described and in almost every case accompanied by excellent, high-quality illustrations that do a really good job of showing what those prints actually looked like. Accompanying magnified photographs of each print make clearly visible the identifying characteristics of that particular medium. The chapter on additive screen photographs closes with a beautiful identification flowchart accompanied by excellent photomicrographs of each medium's screen pattern.
The book is well-written, exquisitely researched, and an invaluable reference volume. Or, it's simply good reading for someone like me who's fascinated by the history of photographic processes and loves looking at photographs of them. Either way, it's a must-buy for the photographic scholar, connoissieur, or just plain devotee.
Color devotee Ctein, who gets either light or heavy every week on Wednesdays, has written more than 300 columns for The Online Photographer.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
Kenneth Tanaka: "And I am proud to add that Sylvie Pénichon will soon be joining the Art Institute of Chicago as the photography department's conservator, replacing the recently retired Doug Severson. Purely coincidentally I happened to first glimpse Ms. Pénichon's book late last week. It looks terrific. (It's only about the size of a typical Photoshop how-to book.) I'd better study up. She might ask questions."
Nigel: "'The British edition...is much cheaper' I celebrated that unusual statement by ordering a copy. :-b "
Mike adds: Yes, it is unusual, and especially since you'd think the Getty, being one of the world's most heavily endowed art institutions, could subsidize its publications somewhat. I know it has done so in some cases in the past.