Today I'm happy to be able to offer a fine deal on a great photography book, just for you. Keith F. Davis's An American Century of Photography: From Dry Plate to Digital is the best single-volume history of 20th-century American photography, in my opinion. It covers the century-plus from the mid-1880s (when American photography really came into its own) to the late 1990s.
It first came out in 1995 to widespread praise, and quickly sold out. Rather than just run off another batch, the 1999 Second Edition was revised extensively and increased in size more than 50%, with many illustrations added, and a larger press run was made. For a book of this type the production values are top notch in every way: a solid binding, very good paper, and excellent reproduction quality.
The original publication price was $95, more than fair for such a hefty slab of book with production values of such high standards. I've seen a lot less book sell for $100 and more over the years. As it's gotten further from its publication date, the book was discounted to $65, which is the lowest it has ever sold for until right this minute.
But after 17 years, well established as a success, the book is now ending its run. The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, is clearing out the remaining inventory, and has offered exclusively to TOP (that's where you are now, The Online Photographer) the opportunity to sell hardcover copies of An American Century of Photography for one month for half price, only $32.50. A small amount of the proceeds go to support TOP. The books are new and pristine and will be shipped from the Museum.
To cut to the chase, here's how to order: Go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum Bookstore page for the book, add it to your cart, and, on the left where it says "Promotional Code," enter 19333 to get 50% off.
The shipping cost of $15.95 then seems high proportionate to the cost of the book, but as you'll see, it's a great big book—588 pages on premium paper stock, almost two inches thick, and 7.8 pounds. Not cheap to ship.
That's why, unfortunately, we can only ship to the USA for now. We're going to work on international shipping and I'll update you if there's movement on that front.
There are enough books available that everyone who wants one should be able to get one. There might even be enough copies to last for the 30 days of the sale. However, the number of copies available is limited—and when they're gone, that's it.
About the book
The classic scholarly photography book was traditionally organized as a written essay of generous length, often with smaller illustrations interspersed, followed by a section of "plates," or full-sized illustrations. This was because, in earlier eras of printing, the printing of illustrations often required a different process and sometimes different paper. But it proved to be a robust and sensible organizing principle for photo books. An American Century is essentially four such books in one: "A Reluctant Modernism, 1885–1915," "Abstraction and Realism, 1915–1940," "From Public to Private Concerns, 1940–1965," and "The Image Transformed, 1965–Present." Each written section is followed by a generous selection of pictures, presented in oversize format, one to a page (no running over the gutter), each with an appropriate border of white space.
One result is that you can fully enjoy the book just as a picture book, even without reading a word. The Nelson-Atkins is the home of the Hallmark Photographic Collection, formerly one of the earliest and largest corporate photography collections in the world. Keith Davis is not only one of the finest authors in the U.S. writing about photography today—he's a gifted curator with a great eye. (You might remember that we featured his book The Photographs of Ray K. Metzker in 2012 (now out of print and selling for $195 and up), and more recently his Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath was our Book of the Year for 2015.) He told me that in selecting the illustrations for this book, he tried to leaven familiar masterworks with a generous assortment of lesser-known pictures that might be new to readers of the book. The effect is just right—you "land" every few pages on a familiar "friend," so to speak, but there's a rich lode of astutely chosen less familiar works as well, to add discovery and surprise to the mix.
You'll probably digest it as pictures-only at first, and it's pretty enjoyable that way.
'Tis a great whacking slab of a tome, big and heavy, 9.8 x 12.2 inches
But I hope you won't overlook the text. It took Keith six years of research and writing—and that's with the kind of help that a major museum curator can call upon. I'm finding the book physically somewhat demanding to read—the combination of the large, heavy size of the book and the small type is tough to handle—I have an antique book stand that's helping. But the text is fascinating, a fine panoramic overview with lots of thoughtful (and thought-provoking) touches. I'll give you a sample a few days from now.
A book stand is helping
Enough for now. I hope you'll like this—it's a work on its subject that is unlikely to be surpassed until the history of the past 21 years has settled a lot more. A core title for a the educational and reference shelves of your library, and a book that's rich enough and deep enough to repay whatever level of attention you care to give it. I think you will like.
Again, to order, go to the book page, add it to your cart, and enter 19333 in the "Promotional Code" box to get half off. This sale will go till March 15th or until the last of the books are gone.
A big thanks to Keith and all the fine people who are involved in this at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
UPDATE Mon. 1:30: The Museum Store is getting a large number of orders. They'd like me to announce that shipping won't begin until Thursday of this week (the books have to be retrieved), and "Orders will be processed in the order received." —M. the Ed.]
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Roberto Alonso Lago: "Very nice Mike. You've been teasing us about this until I'm chomping at the bit, only to casually mention today that only US orders can be fulfilled. Argh! If you suffer any back pains today, it's me and my voodoo doll. :-) "
Mike replies: LOL! Ouch.
They're going to work on it, really. It might not be till later in the week, but I will alert you as soon as possible.
Steve G: "My order was in by 8:20 am Pacific time. As a side note, that book stand looks nifty. Are they available or is that a one-off or a garage sale find, etc?"
Mike replies: That one's an antique—family heirloom—but here's something very similar, a little smaller but close in size, for not very much money. If that doesn't suit, search for "cookbook holder" or "Bible stand" to find alternatives. Quite useful actually.
Michel: "PHEW! Despite all your assurances to the contrary I was afraid the book would be gone in no time. I fully intended to come by TOP at or near 11 a.m. but I forgot. When I remembered I just scrolled until I saw the link, clicked and purchased. Now I can go back and read the post and find out what this book is about ;-) Thank you Mike."
hugh crawford: "I have not heard of the book but Charles Sheeler's photograph of the Ford plant on the cover is pretty canny. If you needed to pick a single photograph to illustrate the intersections (yeah, I know) of art and commerce, of painting and photography, of the precise inflection point of the transformation to an industrial culture, and a foreshadowing of Bernd and Hilla Becher and the whole Dusseldorf School, Charles Sheeler's River Rouge photo would be a pretty good choice. Or it could illustrate the obliteration of nature and its replacement by suburbs and the rise of the charcoal briquette. It's one of my favorite photographs."
Mark Sampson: "I just showed this post to my wife (the photo conservator/historian in our house) and she said 'let's get it!' So we have."
Mike replies: Sounds like a nice household.
Malcolm Leader: "I can't thank you enough. I saw this book in the '90s but was really too poor at the time to justify buying and I've regretted it ever since. I admit, I basically forgot about it until now. Can't wait to look through this at length. Thank you again."
Frank Greenagel: "I purchased the first edition when it came out in 1995 and your description is entirely accurate—excellent paper, printing and binding. I especially appreciated the many fresh images there, and hope/expect the new edition will have more."