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This handsome volume stands well apart from most coffee-table photography
books, since its focus is not so much the subject of well-known
photographers but the photographers themselves. Co-author Pritchard,
Director-General of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, UK, and Reel Art
Press editor Nourmand have done an excellent job assembling and
contexualizing this generous collection of vibrant images that pay homage to
the makers of photography in all its forms, from low to high. Pritchard
doesn't overstate the obvious; his concise introduction gives an
authoritative sense of how the medium has changed, and how the
photographer's role and image have evolved at the same time. He notes how
the innovations of smaller cameras and snap-shooting expanded the notion of
who could claim to be a photographer, along with the expansion of world
markets for photography, the rise of cinema, celebrity, mass culture and
media.

In short, photography is, to restate the obvious, the most democratically
accessible form of image- and art-making, but its greatest practitioners
remain relatively, and ironically, unknown and largely unseen. Thus, Bert
Hardy's crisp 1953 image of actress Ingrid Bergman, in profile, aiming a
camera during a break from filming, sharply comments on the nature of
photographic fame, as do the innumerable shots of anonymous photographers
gathered, flashbulbs popping, at major events. So it's nice to see fine
self-portraits of photographers we love, such as Robert Doisneau, an
intense, detective-like presence behind his Rolleiflex; or Alfred Eisenstadt
in 1933, dour, balding and cerebral, as if his thought processes were too
busy to maintain a hairline; or Gordon Parks in 1948, his darkly leonine
looks more familiar to us thanks to the publicity he won as one of America's
premier black artists.

If anything, the crafty, technically preoccupied--shall we say
nerdy--photographer is rarely a subject for the camera. If they come as
picaresquely unkempt and vaguely sinister as, say, Weegee, they don't exude
much glamor; and so it goes when they are buttoned-up and businesslike,
which is much of the time. But more than a few of them had high style:
Cecil Beaton, posing Andy Warhol and a couple of Warhol's Factory denizens,
is as colorful and dashing, in his eccentric formality, as any of his
subjects. And Margaret Bourke-White, her blonde hair whipping in the wind
as she stands, Fairchild K-20 aerial camera in hand, before a US Flying
Fortress bomber during a World War II assignment in Tunis, is the very image of the intrepid romantic.

But there are just as many images of photographers taking pictures as there
are self-portraits of the artists. And these you-are-there tableaux bring
us into the realm of the photographic mystique and the obsessional nature of
freezing a moment in time. The mirror image of Ed Feingersh snapping away
as a voluptuous Marilyn Monroe is fitted for a showgirl costume in 1955 is a
study in the rhythm and chance of getting the shot. Feingersh shoots as a
second camera hangs from his wrist, his concentration all but walling him
off from the moment itself, as Monroe preens, impossibly beautiful, and her
handlers hover. There he is: the photographer, nearly invisible as he
delivers this rare glimpse of greatness to the world that will never know
him.

iPhotoCentral

01 May, 2014

Matt Damsker