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A Closer Look -- Photographic Memory

Photographic Memory -- Edited by Verna Posever Curtis
New from Aperture, Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography, edited by Verna Posever Curtis, is a look into the art of the photo album. Culled from the vast collection of albums in the archives of the Library of Congress, Photographic Memory organizes the 24 featured albums into five categories, Souvenirs & Mementos, Presentations, Documents, Memoirs, Creative Process. The book opens with an essay on the history of the photo album and includes texts on the status of the album in the digital age, the preservation of these precious objects, notes and an index. Each album presentation opens with a photograph of the closed book facing the story of the album and its compiler and how it came to be in the collection of the Library of Congress. The types of albums contained within run the gamut: political mementos from US campaigns, Nazi propaganda, precursors to landmarks in the history of photobooks like Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and notebooks complied from the photographs of Dorothea Lange, documents of expeditions, the personal war album of General Patton, family albums and even a collection of photographs of beautiful, sleek and eerie looking airships.
from Photographic Memory
 The cohesion of this collection is found in the wonderful manner in which the albums are presented. Photographing the books as a whole, the images show full page spreads, allowing the albums to lay open as they would if viewed on a table. Page layouts vary -- some featuring a grid of images while others align the seam of the album with the gutter of the book, making them feel even more alive. This technique has also been employed with much success by the Books on Books series, and is the ideal way to communicate the object beyond the images. Photographic Memory celebrates some of the most resonate qualities of these constructions -- the hand of the maker in the album and the shear physicality of the object. Shown in this manner, the albums appear more tactile and personal, full of handwritten captions, notes and illustrations, discoloration and foxing, photocorners, paper clips and a variety of bindings in an array of conditions.

from Photographic Memory
Some of my personal favorites -- the handwritten narration and illustrations accompanying George F. Nelson's Alaska; the gorgeous detail work and ornamentation in Jean Anthony Varicle's Sketches of the Northland, including the handmade caribou skin cover, complete with magnificent hand lettered titles and bark and real gold embellishments; the stunning and personal family album of Danny Lyons, innovative in its design and reproduced here with the handwritten captions just large enough to be readable; the beautiful images from the private album of Max Waldman called Color Town; the tiny contact prints that make up the almost haphazardly arrangement of images in Alan Lomax's Spanish Photo Notebooks, his first real effort to visually document his historic field-recording trips. Though Photographic Memory only shows a few pages from each of these fascinating volumes, it is a book that encourages return viewings. I would imagine that a number of the albums in this book could do well as full reproductions, and makes the case for the album to be considered a unique genre of book art. -- Sarah Bradley

Purchase a copy of Photographic Memory.