Thursday, February 12, 2009


One of the nice things about libraries is that they buy books that you wouldn't necessarily purchase (but would love to look at). Coffee-table photography books are a great example of this. Who doesn't like paging through beautiful and interesting photos, but who wants to spend $50 to do so? Our four new entries in the field include glamour, history, and everyday life.
Edward Sheriff Curtis is a collection of historical images taken at the turn of the 20th century by photographer Curtis. The book begins with his work in Alaska with the Harriman Expedition and ends with his trip to Kotzebue and Nunivak in 1927. Along the way, the reader can see beautiful sepia-toned photos of Native Americans from tribes across the Southwest and the Plains. There has been some question about the authenticity of the tableaux, and how much staging was involved...but they're still wonderful images.
R.F.K: a photographer's journal is a recollection of the 1968 Presidential campaign by photographer Harry Benson (who is also known for his images of the Beatles' American tour). It starts out with a family rafting trip in 1966 - along with astronaut John Glenn - that shows Kennedy at his most relaxed and happy. The book then goes into the adoring crowds that came to his campaign stops and cheered for him in parades before laying out the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination. Benson was one of the few photographers present, and the images he took that night are part of America's history, as are his touching photos from the funeral train.
Vanity Fair's Hollywood is much lighter fare. The iconic photographs of Edward Steichen, Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz (among others) bring the beauty and glamour of Hollywood alive. From the ethereal Gish twins (1921) to a voluptuous Jennifer Lopez, you can see the styles in beauty and fashion evolve. My favorite photo is the sideways glance that Sophia Loren is giving to Jayne Mansfield's cleavage (which is extending down practically to the table top).
Who We Were: a snapshot history of America is a collection of photographs taken by ordinary people chronicling their life. Artsy double-exposures, honeymoon snaps, and family photos taken on the beach mingle with images from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Selma march and the Vietnam war. The book ends with a wonderful shot: a family photo lying in the surface of the moon, with the footprints of astronaut Charles Duke in the frame. That photo is still there.

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