Born in 1902, Verger turned to photography in 1932 after being taught by Pierre Boucher. After the death of his mother, he realized his wanderlust and for the next 14 years he traveled the world making a living as a photographer.
In the late 1940’s, Verger studied African religions and became so immersed in the subject that the French Institute for Black Africa requested details his accounts during his travels for their own studies. This association with anthropological study would unintentionally become his life’s passion. He was the author of many books and his photographs have been used to illustrate well over 100 titles. He died in February of 1996.
On a different note however, the production of the book has its own curiosities. Mainly that in the credits, Walker Evans is acknowledged as assisting in the preparation of the book. It isn’t said that he designed the book or specifically what assistance he gave, only that he assisted in its production. This is a curious fact, because if you compare Indians of Peru to Evans’ American Photographs, they are the exact same trim size. The fonts of the title are the same as the fonts used for American Photographs and the layouts of the text are similar although American Photographs uses blocks of text broken into two columns to a page.
The main difference comes in the way of the page layouts for the photographs. American Photographs, as we know, has one image to a page. In the Verger title, the layout is a much more energetic, with page spreads harnessing several images at a time. There are even several images bled to the page edge. This, on first glance, may seem like too much of a departure from Evans’ design style unless you consider the following. Since the book was made around 1950, one might make the connection that Walker Evans had been working at Fortune magazine for several years where he was experimenting with page layouts and the handling of several images in arrangement as was necessary for a magazine format.
One very interesting similarity is, when Walker Evans designed American Photographs it is believed that he, in a way, paid homage to Atget in his choice of the first image in the book by using the “Photo Studio building” image with its doorway and hand painting pointing towards the entrance. Atget had used a similar image as the introductory image in his Weyhe book from 1930. Walker had reviewed that book for a publication and was very familiar with Atget, even citing him as an influence. Both images offer the image of a doorway as if serving the metaphoric invitation of the viewer to “enter the photographer’s world.” Much like these two predecessors, in the Verger’s Indians of Peru, the first image is of a stone portal that begins the journey into the book.
I may be reading too much into comparisons with this next statement but the second picture in American Photographs is the photo studio window image that features all of the tiny portraits of Americans and the second image in the Indians of Peru is of a stone wall. Both images were made with the camera square to the subject and both segment up the image into essentially 12 parts. Both of these images work in the same way but arrive at obviously different meanings. Unless of course you take into consideration that the wall Verger is pointing us to would have taken a multitude of people to construct.
The last similarity is a simple one, both American Photographs and Indians of Peru contain the exact same amount of photographs. 87.
”The book is nicely designed and is letterpress printed. The reproductions have a nice quality but aren’t particularly rich. The paper stock is nice and heavy making the whole book feel nice and substantial. This title, like many other early Verger titles, is very inexpensive and relatively easy to find. Be sure to do your research though as he has images in over 100 titles and some have only a few images. There is a great bibliography of Verger at http://www.pierreverger.org/ .
Giving credit where it is due, the fine photographer Edward Grazda is the person who brought most of the similarities between these two books to my attention. We should all gratefully acknowledge his scholarly insight into this fascinating connect-the-dots approach to widening the understanding and history of this medium. 5B4