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Important and excellent book of photography
on October 17, 2012
When I saw a write-up on the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for which this book serves as catalog, I immediately ordered the book sight-unseen. Smart move. This is another in a long series of outstanding books on photographic history associated with Yale University Press (here, as distributor), as usual beautifully printed and bound using high-quality materials.
The text here is outstanding, laying out a history of photographic manipulations from the 1840s through the late twentieth century. Done for exaggeration, distortion, or to yield an image "more true than truth", with techniques including hand-coloring, drawing on negatives, compositing, chromolitho and half-tone printing and others, this is probably the most exhaustive study of the subject. There are other books on specific kinds of images -- exaggeration postcards. for example, and surrealist photography -- but I know no others that cover the full range so effectively. The text is also clear and accessible, and there's a section at the end that discusses each cataloged image in more detail. There's also a very good glossary at the end. Several images are shown with their component images, or detail showing negative alterations, or multiple images using a repeated component (like a cloudy sky composited into a scenic view) in order to help understand the processes.
The photographs are beautifully reproduced at good size. Relatively few are at full-page, but since many were originally produced as smaller images (e.g., CDVs, postcards) that doesn't feel inappropriate. The cover alone would make it suitable for a coffee table; the contents would enthrall anyone who casually picked it up from there.
My one quibble would be that there are insufficient examples drawn from parts of the world outside the US and Europe. There is a single Japanese image with hand coloring and added rain, and unsurprisingly there are several Russian and Soviet images -- the latter notorious for political editing -- and a scattered few others. To name just one example, Mexican journalistic photography is well known for its manipulations, and there are other global traditions both artistic and journalistic that could have been drawn on more fully.
As noted in the text, Newhall's History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day remains a widely read classic work in the history of photography, but is specifically slanted towards "straight" photography. This volume would make an excellent companion to that work, fleshing out the history significantly.