If you’ve been keeping your eye on the catalogue, you might have noticed that the new Photographic Books Collection is starting to grow. Most of this is due to the efforts of our summer intern, Krista Keller, who has been weeding through the main library stock and the rare book shelves for photobooks already in our collections. This has resulted in a growing, dynamic collection that spans from the earliest stages of the photobook medium to the most modern examples.
This past month we decided to make some new additions to this collection with some extra, end-of-the-year funds made available to us. We approached Harper’s Books in New York about some exciting items on their list, and have now added the following six books to our collection: Landislav Sutnar’s and Jaromír Funke’s Fotografie vidi povrch = La photographie reflete l’aspect des choses (Prague, 1935), W. Eugene Smith’s and Aileen Smith’s Minamata (New York, 1975), László Moholy-Nagy’s 60 Fotos = 60 Photos = 60 Photographies (Berlin, 1930), El Lissitzky’s Russland (Vienna, 1930), Keiichi Akimoto’s Roku-gatsu no Senpu or, “Battle Score in the Rainy Month” (Tokyo, 1980) and the first edition of Robert Frank’s Les américains (Paris, 1958).
This eclectic mix adds to some strengths already starting to show in our new collection and stretches the outlook of future collecting. Moholy-Nagy’s book is edited and assembled by Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold, who are also responsible for Foto-Auge (1929) which also features Lissitzky’s work; Robert Frank’s Les américains has the same design and feel as other works published by Robert Delpire and the gravures throughout have something in common with the first edition of Willy Ronis’s Belleville Ménilmontant. Sutnar & Funke’s collection of photographs and commentary add a new geographic perspective on the development of the photographic book, and the Smith’s book and the collection of Akimoto’s work takes our collection to the East.
My favourite from this group has to be Frank’s Les américains. As I was cataloguing this book, I was drawn in to the images, and spent some time (probably too long) leafing through each of his 83 photographs. Regarded as one of the most important photobooks of the 20th century, Frank’s images depict a range of emotions and societies that echo up from the 50s. My bread and butter is working with 15th-17th century hand-printed books, but this book resonated with me fiercely: some of the non-urban photographs in this book could easily have been a familiar scene to my mom and dad’s generation growing up, and Frank’s dark or slightly out-of-focus style truly takes the veneer off of the nostalgia and documents a more ‘real’ America on the road.
This collection is developing at an exciting pace, and it promises to be a wonderful resource for students and researchers alike. I am learning a great deal as I process and catalogue each of these books, and my excitement and appreciation continues to grow.