Sunday, 27 March 2016

Mostly forgotten

Maybe if Horace Bristol hadn't given up being a photojournalist in the early sixties, when he moved to Mexico to design and build houses, he would probably be remembered more than a footnote in the history of photography.

This book, published in 1996, is an excellent overview of work with one hundred and twenty photos. The five chapters: Early years; Magazine work; The Grapes of Wrath; World War II; Japan and Southeast Asia, each sub-divided into smaller portfolios and you'll see that here was a dedicated, creative and caring photographer. The Grapes of Wrath chapter has thirteen photos worthy of Stryker's FSA output. Bristol was interested in working with John Steinbeck to work on a project similar to You have seen their faces by Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell. They traveled to the Central Valley during the winter of 1937-38 but after Bristol said he had enough photos for the book, Steinbeck withdraw from the project and wrote his book instead. Some of the photos did appear in Life magazine in 1939 and 1940.

The Japan and Southeast Asia chapter, with thirty-seven photos, reflect Bristol's two decades of living in Japan. He was Time/Life's photographer covering the aftermath of war but he eventually started his own news photo agency. Because of the part of Asia covered he was often on assignments and away from his wife, Virgina, who felt increasingly isolated and took an overdose in 1956. Bristol was devastated by her death and blaming himself he burned all his prints and negatives. His photographic career more or less ceased, though his last Life assignment was in 1964. He left Japan in 1967 and died in 1997, aged eighty-eight.

I like this book and having had it for some years it's always a pleasure to look through it again. Nicely designed and printed with one photo a page and short essays to introduce each chapter. Horace Bristol wasn't one of most well known photographers but these pages reveal a good, solid professionalism.

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