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Autrefois, Maison Privee Hardcover – June 1, 2004
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About the Author
Bill Burke was born in 1943 and received both his BFA and MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has exhibited in solo and gropu exhibitions around the world, and his workds are in the collections of the International Center of Photography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the smithsonian Institution of American Art, Washington, D.C.; the Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Center of Creative Photography, Tucson; among others. Burke has received numerous honors, including five National Endowment for the Arts grants, and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Burke lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts; Bernard Fall (Essay) was a French journalist and historian. He died in 1967; Prince Sirik Matak (Letter), Sihanouk's brother and Prime Minister of Cambodia from 1970-1975, was executed in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge. The letter published here was written to John Gunther Dea, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, who urged the Prince to leave his country as the U.S. was pulling out, leaving it to the Khmer Rouge, intent on "liberating" the capitol. The Prince declined, knowing he would be killed with his family by day's end.
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There's no mistaking this for anything but a Bill Burke book. The hand written captions on the photos, the unique design that serves to enhance the photos, not some designer's ego and the immediacy of the image that puts the reader right there when the photo was made, all of Burke's trademark elements are here. The stunning four color black and white reproductions were made from scans of the black and white enlargements Burke made from his black and white Polaroid negatives. The photos are reproduced in warm tones with creamy whites so that many of them resemble 19th Century albumen prints by Baldus or the Bonfils.
While no one but Burke could have made these photos, at times he seems to be channelling the spirits of Atget, Evans and Sander. The second photo in the book of the "man with pigs" took my breath away. If August Sander had left the Westerwald for Cambodia he might have made this photo of a farmer taking pigs to market on his bicycle in a basket that looks like something out of "How to Wrap Five Eggs". The pig farmer looks out at the photographer from under the brim of his hat with a stoicism that bespeaks his acceptence of a hard life in the hot sun of southeast Asia and his quiet pride in being chosen to have his portrait made (Burke often gives his subjects the orginal 3 x 4 inch Polaroid photo, keeping the negative to make larger prints when he returns home).
There are many other photographs in "Autrefois..." besides the portraits. The architectural photos often show clasic old buildings with a barnacle like covering of late 20th Century design elements and advertising, other bear the legend, "demolished" or are shown before and after style with a superficial changes like a coat of modern window walls. The "Hanoi Hilton" is shown in 1995 unchanged since its days as a POW camp and in 1998 with the modern Singapore Hotel rising inside the former prison walls.
I would recommend this book to lovers of fine photography, Viet Nam vets, architecture buffs and any library in a community with a southeast Asian population.
The book itself is a pleasure to hold, large, beautifully printed on heavy stock, sturdilly bound, even the panoramas aren't lost in the gutters between the pages. And it's a bargain at twice the price! Buy it today before it sells out.