Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yesteryear Versions of Today's Magazines - Part 2

In my last post, I recommended a recently published book that collects some early articles and portfolios that appeared in Aperture Magazine while under the editorship of Minor White. All the articles appearing in the new book were first published between the years 1952 and 1976, and - as explained in the previous post - are very different in subject and content from what typically appears between the covers in the current incarnation of the magazine.  

I promised to introduce the second of two anthologies I've recently enjoyed of this type, to which we turn to now. The difference this time is that both the reprinted articles and the book itself are "old," the articles dating back to its inception through 1977 and the first (only, so far as I know) edition of book itself to 1979! The magazine is Popular Photography, and has been around since 1937. The anthology I'm recommending is called The Best of Popular Photography, edited by Harvey V. Fondiller, and available from Amazon in used form (which is the form I bought mine in) for as little as $0.85; new ones starting at $9. Barnes and Noble also lists "new" versions, but they seem needlessly expensive (running from $24 up to $130.00).

To say it has been a long time since I've done much else than inattentively flip through the heavily-laden-with-advertisements modern variant of this once-wonderful magazine at Barnes & Noble is an understatement. Rarely offering more than a few paragraphs that contain general musings (if you can find them in the thicket of adds!) - about how "one should not forget to take a tripod on a trip," or "here is yet another lens you absolutely need (that reads like the review of last month's lens-of-the-month, which reads like..," to "you too can become an Ansel Adams with a few easy steps " - the magazine IMHO contains effectively nothing of use to anyone even remotely interested in the art of photography.

But, alas, this was not always the case, as in the early decades of this once fine magazine some very memorable prose, reviews, insights - and even art! - found their way into its pages. The anthology contains 392 thick semi-gloss pages - which is good because a thick stock generally ensures that used copies will likely have stood the test of time and use (mine is old, but in very good condition) - is broken into 8 sections (that range from retrospectives, to personalities, to techniques (most of which are just as applicable to today's digital world as they are to the analog world they were spawned in), to photojournalism, to careers, to history. There are also short but interesting color and black&white portfolios.

There are articles by Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith (on Dorothea Lange), and Beaumont Newhall; essays on Andre Kertesz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Robert Capa, Arnold Newman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Weegee (among a host of others); retrospectives on the early years of photojournalism; early "debates" on the differences between snapshots and "real" images, and speculations on "what makes a good photograph?" (that are typically deeper and more probing than many of today's sound-bit bits of "wisdom"); and essays on emerging technologies like holography (one article had the prescient audacity to ask, by its title, "Holography - Is It Art? ;-). To give you an idea of the loving detail most essays provide (in stark contrast to the "we'll give you all you need to know in a moment or less of your time" approach followed by most of today's glossy-magazine editors), an essay on Arnold Newman (first published in November 1973) runs 8 pages and contains 6 images (including a wonderful full-page reproduction of his famous portrait of Picasso); the essays on Alfreed Stieglitz (published in September 1946) and Cartier-Bresson (published in May 1967) run 8 pages each and contain 7 and 3 reproductions, respectively; and the one on Paul Strand that appeared in April 1972 runs a full 12 pages (with small type!) and contains 7 reproductions. A mini-course on portrait lighting - again, just as relevant today as in 1973 when first published - runs 11 pages and contains more useful information that most of today's magazines seem to publish collectively over the course of year.

An added bonus in this anthology is a sprinkling of pages in which yesteryear products and advertisements appear. You can read about what the Polaroid Land Camera cost in 1949 ($87.75), the "new Leningrad" SLR from Russia in 1958,  and the Polaroid SX-70 (introduced in 1972). The book concludes with a useful index of all authors and pages on which discussions about a particular photographer appear. Pages 91-103 contain the results of a 1958 international poll  (of 243 critics, teachers, editors, art directors, consultants, and photographers) on the world's "10 greatest photographers." I'd give away the results of this poll, but that would be spoil the fun;-)

This anthology is highly recommended, for reference, for consultation, or simple joy of reading with a warm drink in hand in your favorite easy chair on a cozy rainy Sunday afternoon.

1 comment:

Fay Henexson said...

Thank you so much for your recent book / anthology reviews. You've given me even *more* good things to add to my reading list. I enjoy your blog.