Books In Brief // Photography

December 23, 2007

THE ART OF THE AMERICAN SNAPSHOT -- Sarah Greenough Princeton University / 294 pages / $55

The impact of the humble American snapshot has been anything but humble. Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre. Since 1888, when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, the snapshot has not only changed everyday American life and memory; it has also changed the history of fine art photography. The distinctive subject matter and visual vocabulary of the American snapshot - its poses, facial expressions, viewpoints, framing and themes - influenced modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity, objectivity and new topics and perspectives. A richly illustrated chronicle of the first century of snapshot photography in America, The Art of the American Snapshot is the first book to examine the evolution of this most common form of American photography. The book shows that among the countless snapshots taken by American amateurs, some works, through intention or accident, continue to resonate long after their intimate context and original meaning have been lost. This book is the catalogue of a fall 2007 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It reproduces about 250 snapshots drawn from Robert Jackson's outstanding collection and from a recent gift Jackson made to the museum. Organized decade by decade, the book traces the evolution of American snapshot imagery and describes how technical, social and cultural factors affected the look of snapshots at different periods.


Mark Haworth-Booth Yale University / 234 pages / $60

Released in conjunction with an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, this striking selection of more than 150 photos presents the work of Lee Miller - model, photographer, surrealist, actor and war correspondent. Published on the centennial of her birth, the book features the largest published collection of Miller's output on both sides of the camera, as well as a comprehensive examination of her life and art. As a model for Vogue in the late 1920s, Miller posed for such giants as Edward Steichen and George Hoyningen-Heune. In 1929, she sought out Man Ray as a mentor in Paris and promptly became his apprentice and lover. She went on to distinguish herself across genres, shooting surrealist images, advertising, travel reportage and photojournalism as the only accredited female photo-reporter active in World War II combat areas. Nearly impossible to pigeonhole, Miller shot celebrity portraits with a surrealist sensibility - Charlie Chaplin balancing a chandelier on his head - and she composed surrealist images that demand an emotional connection - a severed breast served on a dinner plate. Fusing a compelling account of her storied life, a thorough analysis of her photographic accomplishments and a handsomely illustrated collection of her work, this book affirms Miller's status as one of the most dynamic figures in 20th-century photography.


Taryn Simon Steidl / 150 pages / $75

In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn Simon documents spaces that are integral to America's foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. She has photographed rarely seen sites from domains including science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and religion. Her targets range from CIA headquarters to an avian-quarantine facility to a fully armed nuclear sub. Doors open to rooms holding secrets we never expected to see: contraband seized by U.S. Customs agents; a pod holding cryonically preserved bodies; a federally funded crop of marijuana plants. Transforming that which is off-limits or under-the-radar into a visible and intelligible form, she confronts the divide between the privileged access of the few and the limited access of the public. Photographed with a large-format view camera (except when prohibited), Simon's 70 color plates form a seductive collection that reflects and reveals a national identity.


Ansel Adams and Andrea G. Stillman Little, Brown / 440 pages / $40

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