Rather cheekily, I thought, Gilles Mora kicks off his fascinating study of sixties and seventies photography with a reference to a 1958 Popular Photography magazine poll, by 234 critics, to nominate the world's ten greatest living photographers. The chosen ten, naturally famous but annoyingly for Mora did not include Walker Evans or Robert Frank (or Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Paul Strand either). The reason it seems was that American photography was stuck in either providing illustrative or informational work and its last gasp was the 1955 MoMA Family of Man exhibition.
The 1958 publication of Robert Frank's 'The Americans' is generally considered to be the event that kick-started a generation of photographers to explore, in very individual ways, the American social and man-made landscape. It is twenty-nine of these who form the basis of Mora's book. Mostly they are well-known now having had exhibitions and books published and been around long enough to have created photographic genres: like New Topographics or American Lumanists.
I thought the editorial flow of the book rather impressive. The five chapters are sub-divided into sections where Mora explores a theme followed by a selection of relevant photographers (and their work) with each getting some copy about their life and creative output. Related areas include the rise of the photo gallery, photo publishing and running through most of the pages (rightly I thought) the extraordinary influence and drive of MoMA's photo-curator John Szarkowski.
The book's production is as impressive as the contents. The two hundred photos are printed on quality matt paper with plenty of large images in 250+ screen. Photos have captions on the same page (thank goodness, so no flipping to back pages to check out a caption, which seems to be the annoying style of so many photo books these days). Strangely there is no index or bibliography, maybe Mora thought this was too personal a photo journey to bother with such things? I'll add two that I've enjoyed: American Images: Photography 1945-1980 a good reference to eighty-five photographers with 350 photos and American Photography more a straight history.
'The Last Photographic Heroes' delivers a lively look at American imagery and Mora's efforts might make it the standard book on the subject.
***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.