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Photo Icons I (1827-1926)Review - Photo Icons I (1827-1926)
The Story Behind the Pictures
by Hans-Michael Koetzle
Taschen, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 22nd 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 8)

Photo Icons Volume 1 features 20 important photographs from the start of the field in 1827 up to the work of Man Ray in 1926.  It explains the development of photography and the particular context of the works under scrutiny.  It is a nicely produced book, with the usual quality of Taschen, and since it is just 191 pages long, each chapter is quite short.  In the chapter on the photograph by Duchenne de Boulogne, entitled "Contraction musculaires," Koetzle discusses the circumstances of the taking of the picture s a doctor provokes a reaction in a patient by passing an electric current through the muscles in his head, causing a very startled and almost horrified look.  The chapter includes two other pictures from the same series, which are also quite well known.  Since these photographs were taken so long ago, it seems we have very little certain information about the original photographers or their motives.  Furthermore, at least in the nineteenth century, the medium of photography was so new that it was creating its own genres, and the distinctions between art, documentation and experimentation were not clearly drawn.  It it only in the twentieth century, with photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, August Sander and Man Ray started creating works that fell into the categories with which we are now quite familiar. 

Koetzle provides a useful introduction to the early history of photography, but does not provide much help to readers in the decoding of these important images.  Most of the information he gives is biographical and historical; even in his discussion of Maurice Guibert's "Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio," (1894), he does not say much about the relation of painting to photography.   So for readers looking for thorough analyses of these early works will want to look elsewhere for works on the history of photography, but Photo Icons Volume 1 is a pleasing introduction to the basics and it is a real pleasure to some of these striking images. 

 

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© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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