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Sunday, 20 July 2014


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Is it not natural for this portal of love to be so successful?

Yes, I knew this thing was a best seller but I didn't know the numbers. Wow. Being a fan of Erwitt's work I own a nice variety of his books. But when I looked at DogDogs I balked. Yes, there are some terrific moments on its pages. But there sure are a lot of rather more common snaps. I feel that the book really needed a good round of editing by someone with the BallsBalls to say no to Elliot. Holding it to 200 pages, or less, would have made it a much, much stronger work.

Interestingly, the same goes for Erwitt's other late-game books, such as Personal Best. As you yourself occasionally moan Less is More.

When the Family of Man opened at MOMA in January 1955, I was 9 years old and living in New York City. Sometime during that year, my mother took me to see the exhibition. Perhaps more importantly, she bought the book. I returned to that book many times over the subsequent years. It is almost certainly the source of my life-long interest in photography, and probably explains why I still prefer black and white images.

Phil Service

Thanks for the info. I now plan to title my next book of photographs, "The Family of Dogs"

I've had Elliot's book for about 10 years and will always browse through it. He's a good one for showing the life of a dog in single picture without words other than a date and location. I've always loved dogs.

Really, it's the subject matter that makes it a best seller, not the photography (although it looks excellent from my amatuer eyes). I never knew how little these photography books sold, that was an eye opener.

That's because it's a dog book, not a photo book.
Dog books are in a different universe.

Note to self:
Work on that self help book with pictures of dogs in old cars.

Interesting, but I think there must be many examples the world over of massive photobook sales numbers which the english speaking part of the world has never heard about. On top of my mind is Kayo Ume's "Ume-me"
from 2006 which sold past 100,000 in record breaking time or the 2011 Mirai-Chan by Kotori Kawashima
Both books are still in print and selling.
I'm not completely sure, but I'd imagine that if you combine the sales of the original and the following editions of Chikuho no Kodomotachi / Children of Chikuho by Ken Domon it would have sold past 300,000 over the years.
The vast majority of the above sales is in Japan, which makes me think that you could find even more spectacular examples in countries with larger populations such as India or China.

Just imagine if he has access to an iPhone 5, Instagram and cats, he may actually have some Likes and Followers :-)

Thought-provoking, how the various "how-to" books, often focusing primarily on the technical side of photography, appear to sell in far larger numbers.

P.S.: I've got that Erwitt book, too. I found it very dense to digest, since there are so many pictures, and they are all full-bleed (as I believe it's called). Visually massive, despite the small dimensions.

Wow all that reading material at the Bill Jay website. It will take me months just to discover what's there and even longer to get through it all.

I am one of 300,000, then!

I think the subject is a major factor in the sales volumes. If someone released "Cats Cats", or how about "Kids Kids", sales might be up there too.

I've never seen DogDogs. I have seen The Family of Man and passed on owning a copy. Your comment that you didn't find it very satisfying is kind. I found it altogether disappointing.

Thanks for the Bill Jay article on the Family of Man. My parents bought a copy shortly after it came out, and my family literally wore it out. The last time I remember seeing that copy, the spine had broken and the pages were falling out.

Jay doesn't mention (I don't think) that this exhibition was conceived only a few years after of the end of WWII (60 million killed) and right at the end of the Korean War, and during the Vietnamese rebellion against the French. In some sense, it was curative -- it argued that we're not a bunch of nations that should go about slaughtering each other, we're a family. It was also a time when the Civil Rights movements was rising in the U.S., and Steichen included all races in the family.

A lot of the photos would be considered fairly mediocre outside the context of the exhibition and catalog, I suppose, but there were some extremely good photos, too. I suspect a lot of the critics may have seen the exhibition as a threat to their livelihoods, which was interpreting "difficult" art to the public.

One more thing: I was amused by Jay's comment that the exhibition toured around the United States -- but it was not the same United States we know today. He says, "The Family of Man then toured the USA, with venues at Minneapolis (where per capita attendance was even greater than in New York), Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia,Baltimore and Pittsburgh." Except for two somewhat outlying cities, Minneapolis and Denver, all the cities were in the northeastern quadrant of the US. No Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, New Orleans or even St. Louis. No Detroit. Nothing in the western half of the US at all, nothing in the Old South. Things have changed...

As far as dogs are concerned, I prefer Pentti Sammallahti's Here, Far Away. My guess is that sales figures should be fairly respectable, too.

I have a book called 'Picturing an Exhibition - The Family of Man and 1950s American' by Eric J. Sandeen. One of just a few books I've failed to read to the end. Just too many flowery descriptions about the same thing is how I remember it. Does have some good pictures in it though of actual exhibits.

I'm not a big fan of the "Family of Man" either, and remember looking through the book in the 70's and being kind of puzzled at it's shadow across the industry. I will say, that I've learned over many years the following (in no particular order):

1. Not all photography or photography books are meant for me as their core market. In fact, the more knowledgeable you are in any specific field, the less likely that a book or exhibition meant for the general public (or to sell as many as possible) will have any impact on you at all. I can go into almost any bookstore with a huge selection of photo books, and not even care about looking at 90% of them, just based on subject or quality of the pics on a 'flip-through'.

2. Sometimes weaker photos (or art, for that matter), are needed to push a story along or sustain a feeling in an exhibition, magazine story, or book. Photos (or art) that might be weak on their own, and discarded on their own, might make a valuable contribution bridging sections between things that are more impactful, and add to the overall feeling.

3. Many pieces of art or photography are "of their era". The way people felt about them, or the impact they made on the community or world, may not even be felt today. The work may even look mundane or derivative; without an understanding of the cultural space it occupied in the era. I was admonished for thinking Manuel Alverez Bravo was lifeless and derivative, when reviewing his work in college, and had to sit through a lecture of his works importance for the place and era. On the other hand, people like Lotte Jacobi, and her German theater photos, look like they were shot of punks and new-agers in the 80's, so go figure...

4. The more the culture 'advances' (and I'm using that term loosely), the more things change about ever the way people absorb art, literature, or photography. Things that were published 50 years ago that might be 'contemplative', will just be boring to a new generation or even ourselves as we advance (I won't say mature) in how we digest culture. I used to be able to watch Terrance Malik movies, I loved 'Bad Lands', now I can't sit through it, it's like watching paint dry (damn you MTV!). How does golf stay on TV?

Elliot Erwitt: The best dog-centric street photographer ever.

The photo books that I usually end up buying are the ones that are about photography for its own sake. I don't usually care too much if its dogs or landscapes. What I care for is for the photographs themselves. I feel great pleasure watching good photographs of things I don't necessarily care too much about. Penti Samallati's Here Far Away is a great example of what I mean. I really enjoy the way he photographs and sees the world.

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