As expected, Taschen Publishing has done a wonderful job of filling in some of the many information gaps in the history of photography. Any serious collector of photography has heard of the most famous of the early American Photography Journals--"Camera Work" named after the photographers who were at that time usually referred to as "camera workers."
This nearly three pound, 552 page beautifully printed collection of photographs is a "must have" book for the true collector or student of photography, but I'm afraid much of the general public will look at the images and wonder what the big deal was with this almost legendary photography magazine. I've often heard "Camera Work" referred to but this is the first time I was able to see all the photographs that were included in the 50 issues and one special issue that were published over a 14 year period from 1903 to 1917.
By the time Stieglitz decided to cease publication, the magazine had morphed into more of an art journal featuring modern art with some issues not including any photographs. Never the less "Camera Work" made a very important contribution to the development of American Photography. While this book doesn't include any of the journal's articles or essays or reproductions of the artwork that filled it's last editions, it did introduce the world to American photographers of the "Pictorialist School" and the work of the "Photo-Secessionist Movement." It helped promote photography as an independent art form. However, the "Pictorialist School" of photography was so limited and stylized that during the fourteen years he edited, published and financed "Camera Work" even Stieglitz became bored with the style while he moved into Modernism. His personal collection of his photographer friend's work included many original prints by one of his chief competitors of the era, F. Holland Day, and after a fire in Day's Boston Studio, Stieglitz had the only prints of some of Day's best work. "In 1933, he gave his collection of over 600 photographs by members of the Photo-Secessionists and other pictorial photographers to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. By this time he had come to see little value in this style of photography, a style he had almost single-handedly nurtured in America, and now wanted to be rid of it."
The book includes an excellent introductory essay by Pam Roberts about Alfred Stieglitz and his two photography journals. His earlier magazine was "Camera Notes." The book contains 559 beautifully reproduced copies of Photogravure, Half tones and even a few of the earliest examples of Tricolor photographic images. Master photographer "Walker Evans could only remember one Paul Strand image from the 559 reproductions. Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter recalled Strand, Stieglitz and Steichen, but the mass of pictorial work seemed to them from another era, as indeed it was."
The book contains many "firsts" or near-firsts in photography history. There are lots of nudes, my favorites by far, powerful pictures of the Industrial Revolution, early action and sports subjects, and lots of portraits of groups and individuals. Some famous personages are shown, but there are also lots of average people who helped people like Clarence H. White by getting up before dawn in order to pose for him at exactly the moment the light and weather was perfect for White's desired image. They also had to devote time to making costumes and rehearsing the desired poses before the day of the actual shoot. I didn't care for all of the reproductions, but I could at least appreciate why they were there. Since art is in the eye of the beholder, there will be pleasing images for any viewer contained in this one-volume encyclopedia of early American photography. One of the few questions I had after reading the book was if this book is a smaller sized version of the original journal. The book is 7.7 inches by 5.6 inches, but that does not seem to be the same format ratio as the photographs of a couple of the actual publications pictured across from the book's table of contents. That's not enough to make me not appreciate the contribution Taschen has made to photography by republishing all the original pictures included in the pioneering work at a really inexpensive price.