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Book Review : Camera in Love


Book Review Camera in Love By Ed van der Elsken Reviewed by Arista Slater-Sandoval Constructed like Russian nesting dolls, Camera in Love contains books within a book, broken down in a chapter-like formats. The authors examine and discuss the previously published books, and include nostalgic anecdotes. Contact sheets and images of original layouts punctuate the chosen images to represent the highlighted book.
Camera in Love  
Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Prestel, 2017. 
 
Camera in Love
Reviewed by Arista Slater-Sandoval.

Camera in Love.
Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Text by David Campany and Hripsimé Visser.
Prestel, Lakewood, USA, 2017. 240 pp., 50 color and 150 black-and-white illustrations, 9½x11½".

Street photography functions as a time capsule. The camera documents, capturing a moment in time, before it passes us by. The photographer picks the final image and places it in line among others sharing common characteristics; together, the selection of images creates a unique cross-section of place curated by the photographer at work. Nozems (Dutch Teddy Boys), or youth culture of the 1950s from the Netherlands, revolution and unrest in Amsterdam during the 1960s, and Africa from the mid-1950s, all possess a distinctive place on the world timeline, with varying aesthetics specific to their time. The photographer chooses what is worth documenting and when. One second before or after that single image does not exist save for in the memory of those present.

Camera in Love  Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Prestel, 2017.

With photography as a vehicle, Ed van der Elsken narrates stories of time and place, creating glimpses into the past. Camera in Love, published by Prestel is a companion book to the exhibition titled the same and presented by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Jeu de Paume in Paris. The exhibition is the most comprehensive retrospective of Elsken’s work in twenty-five years. A long and detailed chronological timeline of the artist’s life and career hints at the importance of van der Elsken in the history of photographers and photojournalists. Supporting essays by Hripsimé Visser, Nan Goldin, David Campany, Valérie Jouve, Susan Aasman, Pauline Oltheten, and Colin van Heezik, support the importance of Ed van der Elsken as a previously underrepresented photographer. Constructed like Russian nesting dolls, Camera in Love contains books within a book, broken down in a chapter-like formats. The authors examine and discuss the previously published books, and include nostalgic anecdotes. Contact sheets and images of original layouts punctuate the chosen images to represent the highlighted book.

Camera in Love  Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Prestel, 2017.

Van der Elsken was compelled by the human condition and the document as a witness to events that created both international and personal histories. The thoroughness of his approach went beyond human-interest subjects to narrate generation and lifestyle stories. Each of van der Elken’s photography books is its own tale, unfolding a focused directive toward place and people. In Love on the Left Bank, one of van der Elsken’s more celebrated books, the viewer beholds a revolutionary, bohemian era of nightclubs and cafés. Blending the autobiographical with fictionalized narratives of love and dramatized scenes, young van der Elsken broke the norms of post-WWII humanitarian documentary photography. In this early book, he proved himself to be an alternative for established norms in photography books; but he also presented a model for what it means to be a photojournalist. From depicting an unshackled and indulgent Parisian lifestyle to his travels in Africa or around the world, van der Elsken captured Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.”

Camera in Love  Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Prestel, 2017.

Dynamic in its treatment of subject matter and the art of the print, Jazz, first published in 1959, is a striking book that merits further study. The 1950s were the jazz heyday in the Netherlands, with wild night concerts taking place all over Amsterdam. For the book, van der Elsken chose concerts attended between 1955 and 1959, and designed the layout himself. Mirroring the spontaneity of jazz and the overwhelming experience of the concert, the layout is fluid, with full-page spreads blending together. The minimal lighting, combined with the sharp focus on the performers and their instruments, created blurred energy, which contributes to the increasing visual volume of the pages. Sometimes abstracted faces peer out from the shadows with sweat and extreme emotions while others are beautifully lit with brass instruments aglow. The visible grain of the images creates a sense of melancholy — as film’s texture affects our perception of faded, bygone days.

Camera in Love  Photographs by Ed van der Elsken. Prestel, 2017.

Camera in Love is a beautiful tribute to van der Elsken’s work. Although van der Elsken worked on assignment, he also worked for himself, blurring the lines of street photography, journalism, and autobiographical work to his own experimental ends. As a filmmaker and book designer, Ed van der Elsken used an avant-garde approach to stretch the definition of photojournalism beyond expectations. Dense with imagery, Camera in Love provides plenty of opportunities to study van der Elsken’s narrative street photography, and his skillful artistry in traditional black-and-white printing. — Arista Slater-Sandoval

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ARISTA SLATER-SANDOVAL  was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan. She moved in 2007 to washington D.C. to pursue a BFA in photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. After completing her BFA, Arista moved to Cambridge MA, and attended the College of Art and Design at Lesley University where she completed her MFA in Fine Art Photography in 2013. While in grad school she focused in gum bichromate, and large scale image transfers. Currently Arista lives and works in New Mexico with her husband while traveling and working on her various mediums of choice.

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