What to buy in April 2010

April 5, 2010

Inge Morath: FIRST COLOR

It’ s been a while since I recommended a book. It’s a shame because I had made this a monthly habit and I was always proud of the quality of the books I had in my blog. However, I have become more and more bored with what’s in the market. Actually it might even be a certain frustration with photography in general. For me photography means images of people. I like to look at landscapes and architecture, too, but for my own work I am mostly focused on portraits. This is what I am most fascinated in: human characters, behavior, emotions etc. Once I read something like: “A good portrait is when you manage to get someone interested in the image of a person he/she does not know”. So that’s what I am after: real people, real characters, real emotions, real life!

Frustratingly (for me): Nowadays most photography is not about real people anymore but about certain prototypes, stereotypes, ideals of beauty, whatever. Sometimes I have the impression that fashion photography has taken over and it’s all about creating artificial arrangements, and the people photographed play a certain role, something which has very little or nothing to do what they really are. I am looking at hundreds of images every week. When you do this you start seeing patterns, trends, styles that start repeating themselves. So, after the 1000th half (or completely) naked girl standing at a window with a melancholic look on her face (or alternatively lying on a bed), you start getting really really bored! The same applies to certain photo shop techniques, over-saturation/desaturation, high contrast, whatever. In our world of fashion, advertising, and model culture, straight forward portrait photography that tries to actually ‘portrait’ the subject, showing the inner self, literally seems to be “out of fashion”.

So today when I was walking into my favorite photo art bookshop in Singapore, I was positively surprised to see a new edition of Inge Morath’s work, in color.

For people who don’t know: Inge Morath was one of the first members of MAGNUM photo agency and is mostly famous for her black and white portraits of actors and other celebrities in the 1950s and 1960s. She belongs to that ‘leica generation’ of photo journalists who shaped our view of that era. The fact that she was married to Arthur Miller makes her even more interesting. So while I used to know her mainly for her b/w portrait work, this volume is actually a collection of color photographs she took during travels to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America. The images are mostly documentary and show people in their daily life, on the street, during festivals etc.

What attracted me to this book was

1. The colors. This book is A DREAM IN KODACHROME! Beautiful colors in the subtle tones that made this film so popular and typical for the 1950s – 1970s.

2. There s nothing pretentious about these images. They show real people in their real life. It’s like a window into an era that we only know in black and white and from old Hollywood movies.

I was amazed about the quality of the photographs, their sharpness and truthfulness of the colors. MAGNUM obviously did a good job in storing the negatives. There is no yellow or red touch to the pictures. They look as if they were taken yesterday which makes the experience even more fascinating and a joy to look at. And there is nothing “old” about the imaging, even though they are +50 years old. I am also not saying that back then was the “real” photography and today everything is fake. But apart from mainly Eastern European (especially Russian) photographers I find much of the new digital stuff very pretentious, commercial, more like action art than photography, and too much fashion orientated. Many portraits show stereotypes but not real characters I can identify myself with. Translating this into movies, I am afraid I am not the “Avatar” type but rather into character drama. Maybe I am getting older, too 😉

As so many books I have recommended, this is on sales and be purchased here! The volume is beautifully published by MAGNUMSteidl and printed on paper that does the images the justice they deserve.

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