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Title: Icons of Photography - The 20th Century
Editor: Peter Stepan, with Erika Billeter, A.D. Coleman, Klaus Honnef, Reinhold Misselbeck, Herbert Molderings, Ulrich Pohlmann and Anne W. Tucker listed as contributors
Publisher: Prestel Verlag
Relevance: Icons of Photography - The 20th Century is an excellent book containing 160 photographic samples taken by over 90 photographers. This overwhelmingly black and white collection spans the time from the birth of commercial photography from around 1900 to the year 2000.
Review: As every professional photographer knows, Prestel has been around cataloguing the important works of various artists for decades. One of the more interesting aspects of Icons of Photography - The 20th Century is its startling ability to capture the last century of joy and sorrow, peace and war, that have shaped the human condition during this time.
While only 200 pages in length, the book provides a phenomenal glimpse into the geo-political, historic and social aspects of Western Europe and North American development.
True, Icons of Photography - The 20th Century does not provide an entirely non-European bias to its selections. For instance, readers would be hard pressed to find more than a few photos dealing with subjects outside of Western influence. In particular, American readers might find many unknown photographers included in this book as "icons" and many famous photographers (at least, famous for them) omitted.
This said, the book provides an excellent mnemonic for beginning photographers and professionals alike. Each of the book's black and white photos is well annotated and provides a short biographical description of the photographer and, commonly, what he or she was doing at the time of the photograph being taken.
Many of the photographs are recognizable by photographers who have gone to school to learn their craft or those who have learned their trade by listening to angry photo editors screaming at them. Other pictures are less known; and some have resisted notoriety for decades. Yet, one of the compelling threads behind the photographs that editor Peter Stepan has chosen is that each tells an important piece of history within Western society.
We would have liked to see a larger format for this book since many of the photographs are worthy by themselves of greatness and further discussion in a formal classroom setting or as a guide for independent study. We recognize, though, that this would have increased the price of the book and made it less available to struggling photographers or those on a budget. We appreciated very much the acid-free paper and the binding making each photograph come through in excellent fidelity.
While famous photographers including Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange are featured in this book, lesser known ones - at least to the majority of the public - are also featured. Photographers such as Weegee (whose was born Arthur H. Fellig and who was the first photographer ever allowed to install a police radio in his car) and Umbo (born Otto Maximilian Umbehr, who among other things became an instrumental German photography instructor) also bring a non-North American look and feel to the book, something that is missing from many photography books we see today.
This is not to say that Icons of Photography - The 20th Century should be thought of as a "European" photography book, rather it spans a wide range of what we would call in the west industrialized while still paying small homage to the less industrialized regions of the world.
Overall: Editor Peter Stepan had a formidable task ahead of him trying to capture an entire century of events and happenings as seen through the photographer's lens. We think he has succeeded. Recommended.
End of Review
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