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Book Review: Photoshow


Book Review Photoshow Edit by Alessandra Mauro Reviewed by Colin Pantall Since the publication of Fotografia Publica in 2000, there have been a mass of books about photobooks. The Parr and Badger series are the most notable but there have been individual books on the Dutch, German, Swiss, South American and Spanish photobooks to name but a few. But what about the exhibition?

Photoshow. Edited by Alessandra Mauro.
Constrasto, 2014.
Photoshow
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Photoshow
Edited by Alessandra Mauro
Contrasto, 2014. 272 pp., illustrated, 8x10½".


Since the publication of Fotografia Publica in 2000, there have been a mass of books about photobooks. The Parr and Badger series are the most notable but there have been individual books on the Dutch, German, Swiss, South American and Spanish photobooks to name but a few.

But what about the exhibition? You can find little snippets here and there on the best known exhibitions of the photographic age, but there seems to be no publication dedicated solely to the fabrication and exhibiting of photography.

That’s the gap that Photoshow (edited by Alessandra Mauro) is seeking to fill. In the introduction, Mauro sets the book up; it features 11 chapters, most of which take place in key institutions, and all of which involve some kind of battle for photographic representation.

Photoshow. Edited by Alessandra Mauro. Constrasto, 2014.

The book is a series of essays that run in chronological order. It starts with the first ever exhibition of photographs; the showing of Fox Talbot’s ‘photogenic drawings’ at the Royal Institution in London. This exhibition was evidential in nature; it was more of a demonstration of Talbot’s technique (as opposed to his French rival Daguerre) and as such was a claim on photography, which provided ‘evidence of Talbot’s results before any exhibition of the daguerreotype or other such inventions took place.’

The book moves onto the organized chaos of photography exhibitions in the 19th century with a focus paid to an exhibition of Roger Fenton pictures (the first exhibition of war photography) and further explorations of the ways in which photography began to serve industry, science and art.

Photoshow. Edited by Alessandra Mauro. Constrasto, 2014.

Photoshow is another history of photography then, but one which focuses on the formal exhibition of images in Europe and the United States. Alfred Stieglitz and his gallery, 291, gets a chapter to himself, photography is connected to broader artistic and social change and then we move into the exhibiting big guns with the 1929 Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart. Here we see the international layout of the exhibition with images detailing both individual posters and photographs and the Russian display cases which showed prime examples of books of photomontage.

The social purpose of photography is highlighted in the chapter on MOMA and its Road to Victory exhibition. Curated by Edward Steichen this showed the United States in all its heroic glory, all the better to join, albeit a tad late on the scene, the battle against Japan and the Nazis. So we see a picture of a noble farmer set at right angles to a giant print of an explosion in Pearl Harbour, beneath which sit two fiendishly laughing Japanese diplomats.

Photoshow. Edited by Alessandra Mauro. Constrasto, 2014.

The use of multiple perspectives to view work are demonstrated in a diagram that shows the 360 degree photographic experience the viewer will be subjected to. A maquette shows the layout of the exhibition and the path the viewer will take. More maquettes come in the Family of Man exhibition with a picture that shows Steichen moving a cardboard figure around a model of the exhibition in miniature.

It’s a book about spectacle, layout, storytelling, sequencing and scale, but it’s also about cultural transformations in how photography is made and shown. So we see the very modest scale of Diane Arbus and Gary Winogrand prints in Szarkowski’s New Documents exhibition, their size no indicator of the impact they would have on photographic culture. Conceptualist photography is examined but there’s also a rejigging of the past; a chapter looks at the curatorial work of Robert Delpire, with the blown up identity images of Alphonse Bertillon standing out in the clinical surroundings of the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris.

Photoshow. Edited by Alessandra Mauro. Constrasto, 2014.

Though there is the obligatory nod to Erik Kessels’ 2011 show, 24 Hrs in Photos, the book ends with the post-911 here is new york show, a harbinger of the instantaneous, sharing side of photography that was to come. Photoshow then is not the last word on the exhibiting of photography. It’s a book of text first and foremost with a sober western perspective. It’s not like the Photobook Histories where everything looks sexy and cool, but it doesn’t need to be. Because even though it’s sober, it is also informative, engaging and a foundation for others to build on upon. Photoshow is a starting point.—COLIN PANTALL

COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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