Icons of Photography: The 20th Centuryby Peter Stepan
Ninety seminal images by the world's greatest artists provide a stunning tour of the twentieth-century's greatest photographs. From the first image, Heinrich Zille's "Nine Boys Practising Handstands" to the final, Nan Goldin's backstage portrait of transvestite performers, this generously illustrated volume explores photography's impact on the way we experience the… See more details below
Ninety seminal images by the world's greatest artists provide a stunning tour of the twentieth-century's greatest photographs. From the first image, Heinrich Zille's "Nine Boys Practising Handstands" to the final, Nan Goldin's backstage portrait of transvestite performers, this generously illustrated volume explores photography's impact on the way we experience the world. Every major photographer is represented in double-page spreads, which feature one full-page image, a brief essay on the artist, and additional images of note. Presented chronologically, photographs testify to the evolution of an art form that is continually reinventing itself. From portraiture, photojournalism, and abstraction, to landscape, fashion, and works that transcend genre labels, the selection of masterworks presented here demonstrates the beauty of photography in all its variety.
- Prestel Publishing
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Berenice Abbott learned her craft in Paris in the 1920s, apprenticing there to the surrealist Man Ray, befriending Eugène Atget (whose documentation of historic Paris -- a landmark in the evolution of photography -- she subsequently salvaged and preserved for posterity, almost single-handedly). She later claimed that she did not really consider New York a worthy subject for her imagery until she returned to it in 1929 with fresh eyes. By that time she had concluded that realism was her chosen medium's greatest strength. Seeing the city's rapid renovation, the new structures replacing the old, and inspired perhaps by Atget's archive, which captured the City of Light in its transition to modernity, she set out to depict in precise detail, and at great length, what one of her many books called "changing New York."
In the image Designer's Window, Bleecker Street, New York, she applies to New York several of the lessons she had learned from Atget and Man Ray: first, that documentation of shopwindow displays reveals a great deal about the cultural zeitgeist; second, that these mercantile constructions often contain wonderfully surreal juxtapositions; third, that the attentive photographer can make strategic use of the reflections omnipresent in the urban environment to indicate the visual density of the metropolitan milieu.
So, in the complacent Gotham of the post-World War II years, Abbott generated an image that functions at one and the same time as sociological evidence and child's tranquil, expectant "night before Christmas" dream. The column on the left, and the apartment building windows reflected in the storefront window's plate glass, place us immediately in the urban context; the reversed neon sign centered near the top of the image, "Village Bowling," allows anyone who knows the city to identify precisely the Greenwich Village spot; and there, in the midst of all that, floats one of Santa's reindeer, aglow, astride in midair, a magical vision in the midst of the mundane.
At the time she made this image Abbott was almost two decades into her project, which by then had turned into one of the most comprehensive one-person photographic interpretations of any major metropolis ever undertaken, and remains a distinctive interpretation of New York as well as a priceless document thereof.
--A. D. Coleman
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