Thursday, 12 July 2018

A remarkable look back

A superb reprint of a classic 1976 book with 274 FSA photos. Two things made the original unique -- firstly, the photos were selected by the photographers as their best work for the agency and secondly, it reproduced the photos as their original size in the Library of Congress files (mostly 11 inches wide) making it the only book to have such large photos of FSA  work, this new book has the same 274 images but they are a bit smaller (9.25 inches, so it's the second largest book).

Hank O'Neal came across FSA files in the early seventies and was surprised that there was really only one published photobook (
In this proud land, 1974). Convinced that the work needed a wider audience he selected eleven photographers who had contributed ninety-nine percent of the files: Arthur Rothstein; Theo Jung; Ben Shahn; Walker Evans; Dorothea Lange; Carl Mydans; Russell Lee; Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, John Vachon; John Collier. Contacting them after so many years was initially difficult but nine were still alive and were happy to help with the project, Shahn and Lange had died so Shahn's wife Bernarda and Lange's husband Paul Taylor selected their photos.

O'Neal chose forty to sixty of each photographers work and they picked what they considered worthy of including in the book. When it was published in 1976 this was the first time in years that most of the photos had been seen, now, of course, so many of them have appeared in dozens of FSA photobooks. Arthur Rothstein's Cimarron County dust storm is here, Bud Field and Mogantown by Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott chose Woodstock in the snow, Dorothea Lange didn't select her famous 'Migrant mother' but two other shots of Florence Thompson with her children sheltering in a tent.

This edition has a slightly changed format. Both books present the 274 photos historically from 1935 to 1943 but the original had essays about the photographers dropped in at various places throughout the pages, this book has the eleven essays after the photo section, I think this a much better solution. The only extra in the book is O'Neal's essay about how the original publication was received and interest in it over the years until Steidl decided on this wonderful re-issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment