A recent conversation with a student about photographic history had me wondering. Why does theres seem to be a proliferation of those history books today?
The pinnacle of photography history were for a long time the two books written in or around the 1950s. One book written by Helmut Gersheim focuses primarily on the early years. It even goes as far back as Aristotle. In it he suggests humanity was grappling with the idea of an image formed by nature. And even making it permanent.
The other book is by Beaumont Newhall. It has a broader look at the history of the medium. It is generally focused on how the technology has driven ‘innovation’. I also shows the successes of a handful of select practitioners, he has decided are important.
These days there are many more histories of photography. Many written from a different perspective. Using timelines and various social and cultural markers to guide their choices. Some use copious amounts of text with a select number of images. Others choose key images and drill down into them. One or two don’t even use pictures.
Some of my current favourites are:-
Photography the whole story is a wonderful book full of pictures, many key images from photography’s history. Some images have added features drilling down to all sorts of details on each.
A World History of Photography by Naomi Rosenblaum a dense rich book with plenty of text and a much broader look at photographic history than both Gernsheim and Newhall.
Photography a cultural history by Mary Warner Marien her approach is far more inclusive too but has more pictures and some in-depth analysis on a picture by picture basis.
Many other books are out there, some focus on theory as broad cultural research others very focused ideas, Geoffrey Batchen’s work is a case in point. Thankfully some books try to put a new spin on photography’s history compared to Gernsheim and Newhall..
Since the barrier to making these books has lowered and the demand for more information has increased; we all win by getting more books to choose from. Creating a luxurious environment for this part of cultural history. A part of me also wants to think that with more cameras on the planet than ever before more people want to know more about of photography.