Photographer and author Arthur Ollman explores nine couples whose collaborations as photographer and wife have resulted in a series of pictures that speak volumes about marriage itself, the distinction between self and other, the observer and the observed. In another writer's hands the subject could have become merely a gimmick, an excuse for a book, but in Ollman's it has extraordinary depth. He is an engaging writer and a thoroughgoing scholar who studied the couples he portrays, and he writes with understanding, balance, and respect about mental illness, suicide, loss of love, loss of life, and the simple vagaries of daily, entwined responsibilities.
The photographers are Baron Adolph de Meyer, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Lee Friedlander, Masahisa Fukase, Seiichi Furuya, and Nicholas Nixon--three of whom still photograph the wives whose long-lost, limber years are included here. In a long introductory essay, Ollman touches on a dozen important themes: the definition of muse, the ambitions of the subject, the role of the photographer in "postmortem recording," the vulnerability of both artist and subject, the collaborative role of the wife, the difference in depictions of wives as opposed to mistresses (he scathingly deconstructs Andrew Wyeth's secret, near-predatory relationship with the silent, compliant Helga), and the mutuality that these nine relationships exude. "Only the most secure or brazen persist in the long-term portrayal of their spouse," he concludes. In the chapters that follow, Ollman writes brief histories of the photographers and marriages represented by carefully chosen series of pictures. This is a beautifully nuanced book on every level: visual, verbal, and imaginative. --Peggy Moorman
From Library Journal
As director of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, Ollman has organized an upcoming exhibition centered on male photographers' images of their wives. The nine couples presented in this accompanying catalog had long-term, intimate relationships wherein the wife was both collaborator and muse. The subjects span the 20th century and include such well-known figures as Adolph de Meyer, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Harry Callahan, as well as less familiar artists. Utilizing excerpts from interviews and letters, Ollman's introductory overview and lively essays that precede each artist's portfolio reveal a remarkable linkage among the photographers and highlight the complex effects of love and marriage on art. About 150 duotone and five color plates, beautifully displayed, capture a vulnerability, trust, and willingness to be photographed shared by the wives. In the majority of the photographs, the wife appears alone, often unabashedly nude, and a sublime tenderness becomes apparent. Recommended for public and academic collections.-Joan Levin, MLS, Chicago
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