Reviews

Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography by Todd Henson

 Cover of  Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

Cover of Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

The Aperture Foundation created their Masters of Photography series of books to showcase the works of photographers who have “shaped the medium,” those “whose achievements have accorded them vital importance in the history of the art form.” The fifth book in the series is about Dorothea Lange.

 Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Page 21: Child and Her Mother (1939)

Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) photographed throughout the Great Depression, working at one point for the California State Emergency Relief Administration. Most of her well known photographs were created while working for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 - 1942. Later she would photograph for Life magazine and teach at what became the San Francisco Art Institute.

 Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Page 51: Church on the Great Plains (1938)

Lange was known as a documentary photographer but disliked that label, even though she never found a better description. Edward Steichen once called her the greatest documentary photographer in the United States. She was not one to spend a lot of time processing images, but chose to portray the world as accurately and plainly as possible. She said she photographed “things as they are.”

“The important thing is not what’s photographed but how.” - Dorothea Lange

 Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

Page 39: Migrant Mother (1936)

She managed to join that select group of photographers who have created images that became iconic in their popularity, power, and importance. Perhaps her most famous photograph is ‘Migrant Mother,’ created in 1936, in the latter years of the Great Depression. Even without any history or context it is a powerfully moving photograph. But placing it in context brings a piece of history to life, helping students better understand how that period of time affected many of the people of this country.

 Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

Page 75: Drought Farmers (1936)

“At her most potent, Lange astounds with an ability to arouse deep feelings about our commonality with others.” - Christopher Cox

 Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Page 79: Dairy Co-op Officials (1935)

Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography is a small book. The copy I own measures about 8” x 8”. It is 96 pages in length, containing 42 of Lange’s photographs, an excellent essay by Christopher Cox that talks about her life and career, a list of details about each of the photographs, a small list of her exhibitions, a brief chronology, and a small selected bibliography. This is by no means a complete catalog of her work, but it is an excellent introduction to some of her best work and I’m very happy to own a copy.

 Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

Page 91: Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town (1938)

The edition I own is from 1987. Aperture republished the book in 2014.


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Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor by Todd Henson

 Front cover of  Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

Front cover of Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

If you grew up reading National Geographic, as I did, then you may be familiar with Steve McCurry, or at least have seen some of his photography. Many of his images have graced the cover over the years.

In his book Sanctuary we have the opportunity to view a collection of McCurry’s photographs of the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is likely the most famous of these temples, but the Angkor region is home to hundreds of temples, some of which may have been built from parts of previous temples.

 Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

The book begins with a great essay by John Guy titled The Temples of Angkor. Guy provides some history of the region, its people, politics, culture and architecture. It’s interesting how the cultures and religions of the region changed over time and how this affected the character of the temples. There is evidence of animism, ancestral spirit worship, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The majority of the temples are Hindu. Today the region is visited by both tourists and Buddhist pilgrims.

 Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

The photography covers a range of subjects. Many are of the temples, some showing the vastness of these structures, others showing people, often Buddhist monks, among the ruins. I’m really drawn to the color contrast of the orange Buddhist robes set against the grays and browns of the stonework.

Two sections of the book include detail shots of statues and carvings among the temples. These are printed on a textured cream toned paper, whereas the majority of the photographs are printed on a more standard white paper.

 Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

 Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Further into the book we see more photographs of people than of the structures. There are people worshiping, washing, resting, learning, and just going about their daily activities. These images provide a small window into some of the current culture of that region.

 Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

The version of the book I own is hardcover with 120 pages measuring approximately 7.5 x 10.5 inches. There is also a softcover edition. The book was published by Phaidon Press.

 Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

I love these photographs and would enjoy seeing them in a larger format. But larger format books, especially from good publishers, tend to be costly. So this smaller format keeps the book far more affordable. I like that the book is printed in a landscape format allowing the largest photographs to take up a single page. I’m always a little disappointed when a photograph spans pages, with the seam running through the length of the photograph. I’m pleased that’s not the case with this book.

The links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Go seek out a copy of Sanctuary if you enjoy Steve McCurry’s work or are interested in the people, culture and historical architecture of the Angkor region.


Photographs From The Edge by Art Wolfe with Rob Sheppard by Todd Henson

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Photographs from the Edge tells some of the stories behind many of the photographs Art Wolfe has created over the years. The subtitle of the book is A Master Photographer’s Insights On Capturing An Extraordinary World.

I love this book, and find it a perfect complement to Earth is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe. Earth is My Witness is focused primarily on the photographs. Photographs from the Edge focuses more on the stories behind the photographs.

The book is organized by decade, showing Art’s work from the early 1980’s to more recent work just prior to the book’s publication in 2016. It is a collection of stories about Art’s experiences. Each section has about one page of story, along with one or more photographs. Additionally, each contains a paragraph about the nature of the photograph, and another with a photo tip relevant to that photo or experience. This edition is a nice hardcover book measuring approximately 7.5 x 10.25 inches with 280 pages.

Below are some sample pages from the book.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 38-39, October 1990, Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 38-39, October 1990, Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Art says Polar Bears is a special image for him, depicting the bears coming together, communicating in a very gentle way, and with such a beautiful symmetry. This was the first time the image was used in a book.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 46-47, November 1992, Emperor Penguins, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 46-47, November 1992, Emperor Penguins, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

To create Emperor Penguins Art lay on his belly, letting him fill the frame with the penguins, eliminating anything distracting from the frame. He said one of the difficult things about shooting penguins was their curiosity. One minute he’s looking through the lens shooting a group of penguins and the next the entire frame goes white as a penguin comes right up to him, standing in front of the camera.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 60-61, August 1994, Simbu Dancers, Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 60-61, August 1994, Simbu Dancers, Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

For Simbu Dancers, Art tells how he approached these men who were preparing themselves for a celebration. He didn’t speak their language and was without an interpreter, but he boldly approached them and began arranging them into the abstract composition seen in the photo. He says it’s often best to be decisive. I suspect having the right kind of personality also helps.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 66-67, October 1995, Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc, Savoy Alps, France.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 66-67, October 1995, Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc, Savoy Alps, France.

Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc is such a beautiful photograph with a nice symmetry between the mountains and their reflections. Art describes the miserable weather they had to endure to be in the right place at the right time to create this image. He also talks of using a graduated neutral density filter to balance the exposure between the reflection and the mountains.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 82-83, January 2001, Spiritual Journey, Ganges River, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 82-83, January 2001, Spiritual Journey, Ganges River, Uttar Pradesh, India.

I love the feeling of Spiritual Journey, a lone figure in their white washed boat, paddling towards the sunrise. Art was able to visualize this shot the night before he created it. Then, the next morning, he had this person pose in the boat while they waited for sunrise. But they needed to pull the boat onto mud to keep it still. The shutter speed was far too slow to have captured this image if the boat were floating on the moving river.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 246-247, January 2014, Blue Courtyard, Jodphur, Rajasthan, India.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 246-247, January 2014, Blue Courtyard, Jodphur, Rajasthan, India.

With some of the previous photos Art was able to arrange subjects to create a composition he had visualized. With Blue Courtyard he took advantage of serendipity to create a beautiful image of a woman and child using a frame-within-a-frame effect. He’d been walking down a road in a rural community when he came upon this scene. He says he often has time when working on projects to get out and explore the local areas. Such was the case with this photograph.

You can see the range of subject matter from the sample images. Art has photographed wildlife of every form all over the world. He loves interacting with, learning from, and photographing people of all cultures, especially those still keeping traditions alive. And while in all these locations he seeks out and captures beautiful landscapes.

Photographs from the Edge is a perfect book for anyone who appreciates Art Wolfe’s work and is interested in the stories behind the photographs.