"In Camera" is one of the most interesting books on Francis Bacon, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, ever published for several reasons: First, it takes good advantage of the meanwhile fairly large array of books, catalogs and articles which have been published on Bacon. Second, Harrison had access to materials, mainly photographs that have not been published before. Third, he was able to interview several persons close to Bacon, notably John Edwards, Bacon's last companion. Fourth, and most importantly, the book has a clear thesis that the author is able to present convincingly. It is Harrison's position that Bacon used mainly photographs either taken by photographers by his request or from books and magazines to the effect that they: "triggered decisive turning points in his stylistic development" (from book jacket).
In five chapters Harrison explores different type of media and images and how these affected Bacon's painting: Motion pictures, Interior Design, different artists such as Picasso and Michelangelo, the photography of Eadweard Muybridge, and the photographers that he hired to take photographs for him such as Deakin and Edwards. From the thousands of objects found in Bacon's studio at his death many were photographs from the above mentioned sources, but also taken from magazines and torn from books. Of these many had paint splatters and finger smudges in paint proving that Bacon used these for his paintings. A cut out photo of George Dyer, Bacon's lover from the 60's until his suicide in 1971 was even used as a template for several paintings. For many paintings Harrison shows the painting and the image or photograph that it was based on side by side. For example the Triptych (1991) used a front cover of "The Correspondent Magazine", a Muybridge photograph of mane wrestling, and a photo of Bacon. The book has over 270 excellent illustrations, of which at least 100 I saw for the first time and I own an extensive collection of Bacon books and catalogs.
The fact that Bacon used other images for inspiration does not mean that he merely copied these. One look at Bacon's paintings will prove that this is not the case. It is well-known that Bacon did not use models for his paintings and the images acted as catalysts for Bacon triggering other images, emotions or memories which then manifested themselves in his extraordinary paintings. Bacon was always reluctant to discuss the meaning of his paintings, insisting that they had none. Harrison goes farther than any book since the Sylvester interviews in proving that this is not the case and that the paintings were highly personal. The following two quotes from the end of the book are in my opinion right on the mark:
"..it should be remembered that most of Bacon's paintings were explorations of selfhood". (p.228)
"He conveyed his inner life without compromise, but in code, in his paintings." (p.229)
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Bacon's art and Bacon the artist and man. The book is well presented, written and organized and the many images are fascinating. Though published by Thames & Hudson, it is printed and bound by Steidl an excellent German printer.
For more information on books about Francis Bacon, please see the listmania list I compiled. Readers are also welcome to email me for more information on Bacon books and web sites.
Review by Walter O. Koenig