- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: ECW Press (October 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1550225324
- ISBN-13: 978-1550225327
- Product Dimensions: 10 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,478,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Monsters: Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas Eisenmann Paperback – October 1, 2002
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About the Author
Michael Mitchell is a writer and photographer who has researched Chas Eisenmann and the subject of his photos for 26 years. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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I applaud Mr. Mitchell and ECW Press for reviving this project, but I wish the book were better researched and included a fuller range of Eisenmann's work. The photographs are quite nicely reproduced and exceptionally clear. But I wonder why -- out of a collection numbering 500 images -- some of these photos made the cut and others did not. The author includes multiple images of some performers when a single example would have done just as well. Sometimes less is more, and deleting the extraneous shots would have allowed for inclusion of more interesting subjects.
I guess we'll have to wait for someone else to publish a definitive catalogue of Chas. Eisenmann's freak portraits. In the meantime, this book is worth owning, despite my reservations.
Yes, we're given an introduction to the time period, the phenomenon of "freak shows", the photographic methods of the time, Charles Eisenmann and of course, the performers themselves with their mysterious and intriguing photos. In that sense, Michael Mitchel's done an admirable job. But then again, that's what the whole book felt like...an introduction. The book is short and generally brief. There are apparently hundreds of photos that've survived but we only get a sampling here. And also, the most fascinating part is reading the stories about the performers themselves and Michell's analysis of what their medical conditions must have been - but in most cases, we only learn briefly about each one. I guess this is understandable since much of the info on these people - including their identities - has been lost to the ages.
I think the central problem here is what Mitchell left out and this came through loud and clear when I'd seen him discuss his book at a recent presentation. Mitchell explained that after his book was published recently, he was contacted by the great grandchildren of Eisemann and was able to learn much more about his quarry. Apparently after closing his businesses, Eisenmann ended up doing photography for ID tags at a DuPont plant and finally died of cancer in the 1920s. Also, Mitchell never knew what Eisenmann looked like - but Mitchell discovered he'd really known all along. Eisenmann was actually an unidentified short man who appeared in several of his photos to accentuate the height of some of his "giants".
So yes, Mitchell has done a ton of solid research here. But in his research he lost track of Eisenmann about 1904 - so the book only goes so far. (Many of Eisemann's descendents had been hard to track down because his children were girls so their names had changed in marriage.) As a result of this research gap, we don't get a clear sense of Eisenmann in certain respects. Admittedly, this isn't a biography of Charles Eisenmann...but it would've been fascinating if Mitchell could've included the new research, photos and insights he was able to gain from meeting the Eisenmann family. It would certainly give some added dimension to Eisenmann himself and thus his relationship with his customers pictured here.
So on the plus side, the book is beautifully laid out and illustrated, well-researched and certainly affordable when it could've turned into one of those expensive coffee table books. And if you're not expecting a hefty tome, you get a decent background to set up the pictures themselves. However, it would've been nice to have something more comprehensive in terms of Eisenmann the man, the performers, and the scope of the Eisenmann photos themselves.
If a new edition is on the horizon, I would definitely wait for that to hear the rest of Mitchell's story on Eisenmann. Since that's hard to predict - his original book came out back in the seventies - this attractive but sometimes lacking introduction will have to do for now.