150 Years of Photographic Visions
THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY 1839-1989 Edited by Mike Weaver, New Haven: Yale University Press, 472 pp., $50 ON THE ART OF FIXING A SHADOW: ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHYSkip to next paragraph
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Essays by Sarah Greenough, Joel Snyder, David Travis, and Colin Westerback, Chicago: The National Gallery of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, in association with Bulfinch Press, 510 pp., $75
DECADE BY DECADE: TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY
Edited by James Enyeart, Boston: Bulfinch Press in association with the Center for Creative Photography, 245 pp., $40, paper
THE DAGUERREOTYPE: A SESQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
Edited by John Wood, Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 228 pp., $50
O SAY CAN YOU SEE: AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHS, 1839-1939 ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE GEORGE R. RINHART COLLECTION
Text by Thomas Weston Fels, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 143 pp., $50
THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF INVENTION: AMERICAN PICTURES OF THE 1980s
Text by Joshua P. Smith, Introduction by Merry A. Foresta,
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 227 pp. $39.95
AT 3 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 19, 1839, in a muggy meeting room in Paris, the French nation gave photography to the world. The inventor, Louis Jacques Mand'e Daguerre, was scheduled to make the presentation but pleaded illness. In his stead, Fran,cois Arago, the leading scientist and statesman who had engineered French sponsorship of photography, stepped forward to demonstrate how photographs were made and conjecture about future applications.
Within an hour of Arago's demonstration, chemists' shops were thick with would-be photographers, eager to obtain the means to make sun-pictures. ``Daguerreotypomania'' had struck. Photography even became the subject of popular song. In a London music hall, one could hear the lines: Men's heads will be done by a
``stroke of the sun'' And I fear by these facts you'll
be stagger'd, But it's truth on my word, that
without steel or sword By copper and silver you're
For the most part, Arago's predictions of photography's scientific applications have been realized during the last 150 years. But photography's future importance to the arts lay beyond his ken. Arago viewed photography as a servant to the arts, not as an art medium in its own right.
Several books commemorating the 150th birthday of photography have chosen to record the evolution of photography as a medium of expression. Indeed, The Art of Photography, 1839-1989, edited by Mike Weaver, expands the notion of art to include photojournalistic concern with communication and description.
Weaver has concocted an inventive collaboration of texts. Short essays by contemporary scholars are illustrated with images and excerpts from historical writings on photography. Appropriately, the lead essay is by venerable historian Beaumont Newhall, whose history of photography remains the standard in the field.
``The Art of Photography'' is a whale of a book, charged with integrating 30 essays, 400 black-and-white illustrations, and 100 color plates. Yet for all its literal and intellectual weight, the book manages to be an exultation of photography. Credit for much of the book's vivacity goes to Daniel Wolf, the New York collector, whose savvy sequencing of the 500 images is intelligent, even witty.