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The Logan Collection Highlights & Shadows: Books on Photography from the Reva and David Logan Collection

Early Milestones

The Logan Collection features a number of early milestones in the history of photography. There are dozens of early technical histories, treatises, and how-to manuals. These are important to understanding the ways technical knowledge was transmitted among photographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and how early practitioners attempted to create a coherent theory and history of the medium. One particularly fine example that combines a ‘how-to’ with art appreciation is Charles Holme’s Colour Photography (1908), which reproduced early color experiments and assessed their aesthetic value as compared to black and white photography.

Early photographically-illustrated books were sometimes illustrated with actual albumen photographs that were tipped-in, such that the printing of the text and the making of the images were two separate endeavors. The high costs associated with making multiple copies of actual photographs meant that copies were limited. Two small gems are Macauley’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1851), an illustrated book of poems, and Paul Delaroche’s Album of photographic copies of his paintings (c. 1855). While these books did not reach a mass readership, they are prized for their rarity and charm.

Other books, illustrated with photo-mechanically printed photogravures, had a more far-reaching influence. Thomas Annan’s Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow (1900), first published in 1878, is considered one of the earliest forerunners of documentary photography as he recorded the streets and alleyways of Glasgow’s worst slums. Despite the bleak subject matter, the images were respectful of their subjects, and were beautifully composed and printed. Peter Henry Emerson’s The Compleat Angler (1888) presented his delicate photogravures of lakes, rivers, and forests in rural England. These complemented the centuries-old treatise on fishing it illustrated, while reinforcing the distinctly modern notion that photographs could be artworks in their own right (a point he made explicit in his influential book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art in 1889.

The photogravure process reached its zenith in the early 20th century, thanks in part to its extensive use in Camera Work (1903– 1917). Alvin Langdon Coburn, a Stieglitz protégé, issued several books of his own hand-printed photogravures, including New York (1910). Most photobooks after 1880 were printed using the comparatively inexpensive halftone process. While not as rich as actual photographs or even photogravures, they were less expensive to produce and therefore reached a still wider audience. Scientific photography is represented in Eadweard Muybridge’s Animals in Motion (1902) and Horse in Motion (1882); groundbreaking in their ingenuity, they prefigured modern cinema. Julia Margaret Cameron was comparatively little known in her time, but this would change with the publication of Victorian Photographs of Famous Men & Fair Women (1926), which included an introduction by her great-niece Virginia Woolf. The book served as an important way to introduce her atmospheric portraits and theatrical allegories to 20th century readers. Eugene Atget was also ‘discovered’ in the 20th century by another photographer, Berenice Abbott, who purchased his commercial images of French streets, shop signs, architecture, and interiors; it was published as Atget: Photographe de Paris (1930). Each of these books would influence generations of photographers in the fields of scientific inquiry, portraiture, and modernist/documentary photography.