October 31, 2006
By Edgar Allen Beem
With their second volume of The Photobook: A History (Phaidon 2006), Martin Parr and Gerry Badger (a critic, curator and photographer himself) have presented us with another fascinating, inquisitive, biased, and highly readable account of the published photography book. In the November issue of PDN, Parr and Badger discussed the new publication and the importance of the photobook - as opposed to the print – in the history of the medium.
"It’s a history of photography, yet it's a personal choice at the same time," says Badger, who wrote all of the text in the book except Parr’s preface. "It’s not definitive. No history is definitive.."
Volume II picks up roughly where Volume I left off, taking on American photobooks since the 1970s and European photobooks since the 1980s. It also adds chapters on photobooks from around the world, company books commissioned by corporations, artist’s photobooks, books assembled by picture editors, books by concerned photographers since World War II, the New Objective photobooks by Bernd and Hilla Becher and their Dusseldorf School followers, and a rather catch-all category Parr and Badger call "the photography of modern life."
Within the 336 pages are over 200 selections ranging from the obvious like Avedon's In The American West, to the completely obscure – such as two high school yearbooks from Texas and New Jersey.
"This is a revisionist history looking at the history of photography from the point of view of photographers," says Parr.
Presented here are ten selections, five each by Parr and Badger, highlighting some of their favorite moments from The Photobook: A History, Volume II.
Perhaps it’s not fair to ask Gerry Badger, who has written about more than 400 titles in the two volumes of The Photobook, to pick five personal favorites. But we did and Gerry Badger was happy to oblige.
American Photographs (1938) by Walker Evans – "The book that defines not only a vision of America in the 1930s and the photobook but also a complex view of photographic modernism."
The Pond (1985) by John Gossage – "Adams, Shore, Baltz – all the New Topographic photographers made great books, but none are better than The Pond."
Alphabet of Spiritual Emptiness (1946) by Zdenek Tmej – "Extraordinarily rough, lyrical book made clandestinely during the war by a 'guest worker' of the Nazis."
For a Language to Come (1964-1973) by Takuma Nakahira – "A dark, troubling book presenting one man's view of Japan – a visionary dream or a nightmare."
La Fille du docteur (1991) by Sophie Calle – "One of the best 'conceptual' books by an artist using photography. Calle’s La Fille du docteur is both serious and funny and also a masterpiece of the bookmaking craft."
Martin Parr selected five favorite photobooks, but counseled, "I write these today, but the list may be different next week."
Sashin Yo Sayonara (Bye Bye Photography, Dear) (1972) by Daido Moriyama – "If a book can ever explode when it opens, this is it. The dynamics and boldness are unique."
Checked Baggage (2004) by Christien Meindertsma – "This book has almost more resonance now than when it was originally published. A brilliant and simple idea that hits you directly between the eyes."
Fait: Koweit 1991 (1992) by Sophie Ristelhueber – "The design and the narrative took the idea of photography books on war into unknown waters.
It was so radical when it was originally published, most people just did not get it."
Industriia sotsializma (1935) by El Lissitsky – "The design and imagery are so bold that opening and viewing this takes your breath away."
William Eggleston's Guide (1976) by William Eggleston – "This book changed the way we thought about color photography. His images get inside our heads and we struggle to understand why, but his influence is always there."