Fascinating Photobooks | Photography Roundup

These photography books illuminate the downtown NYC art scene of the ’70s, an innovator in color photography, peripatetic contemporary street photographers, and Black American studio photographers from the 1850s to the present.

Aiken, Stephen. Artists in Residence: Downtown New York in the 1970s. Letter16 Pr. Jul. 2023. 96p. ed. by Brett Sokol. ISBN 9781953995032. $44.95. PHOTOG

A slim volume offering a rare full-color, 35mm glimpse of the ’70s downtown art scene from someone who was there. Stephen Aiken moved to New York’s SoHo in 1973 as a newcomer to the city, fresh out of art school. There he photographed the live/work spaces that artists had carved out of neglected 19th-century cast-iron loft buildings and the mean streets of the East Village, the Bowery, and Little Italy, showing the urban decay of this tough time in the city’s history. But it was also an era when vibrant new art movements flourished. Here are shots of poetry readings by John Giorno, Patti Smith, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, as well as images of artists Joseph Beuys, Hannah Wilke, and Saul Ostrow, and musicians Leonard Cohen and John Cale. The book includes extended captions by Aiken that offer personal observations about the scenes he photographed. A foreword by artist/critic Walter Robinson and an introduction by journalist Brett Sokol provide biographical information and historical context. VERDICT Recommended for its immediacy, this personal reminiscence tells readers what 1970s New York was like.

Freestone, Clare & others (text) & Yevonde Philone Middleton (photos). Yevonde: Life and Colour. National Portrait Gallery. Aug. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9781855145634. $49.95. PHOTOG

Accompanying an exhibition organized by the National Portrait Gallery, UK, this beautifully and extensively illustrated catalogue explores and celebrates the life, work, and influence of British photographer Yevonde Middleton (1893–1975), an innovator in color photography whose long career spanned the pre-WWI era through the 1970s. Her motto was “Be original or die,” and she practiced portraiture, fashion, advertising, and self-portraiture. Chapters showcase Yevonde’s 1930s work for witty and urbane illustrated magazines such as Sketch and the Tatler, and for British Vogue; her groundbreaking use of the lush Vivex color process, a technically demanding method that allowed for creative color manipulation; her portraits of royalty; and one of her best-known bodies of work, the goddesses series, which both reflected and subverted trends in photography and society and continues to influence. Included are a chronology of Yevonde’s life, endnotes, and a bibliography listing titles by Yevonde as well as books on color technique, women in photography, and fashion. VERDICT With color photography the norm today, it’s fascinating to learn about the work and life of an artist who helped launch color photography.

McLaren, Stephen & Matt Stuart. Reclaim the Street: Street Photography’s Moment. Thames & Hudson. May 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780500545379. $70. PHOTOG

This survey of contemporary street photographers is refreshing for its global perspective. Many books on these peripatetic practitioners have focused on photographers in Paris, London, and New York. What makes this title exciting is that it introduces readers to over 100 photographers active in, among other places, Thailand, India, Australia, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Turkey. Authors McLaren (Street Photography Now) and Stuart (Think Like a Street Photographer) observe that the global expansion of the genre has been aided by technical advances in (and the lower cost of) digital photography and because street photography is a medium that is open to all and offers endless opportunities to observe the human parade. Sections on each of the photographers include informative interviews that explore the creative aspects of their work as well as the emotional and psychological pull this genre exerts. VERDICT Those who thought they’d seen everything in street photography will find new themes and insights; newcomers will be introduced to photography that is thrilling for its inventiveness, creativity, and humanism.

Piper, Brian & others. Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers. New Orleans Museum of Art. May 2023. 228p. ISBN 9780300267389. $50. PHOTOG

A scholarly, accessible catalogue accompanying an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) informs about Black American studio photographers’ contributions to the medium, and in particular their impact on African American culture. Spanning the 1850s to present and including over 150 photographs, many never before exhibited, this title enriches readers’ understanding of the history of photography in the United States in two ways: by considering, as curator Piper writes, “how professional portrait photographers provided an essential means of representation and discovery for Black Americans,” and by introducing readers to the artistry, business acumen, and daily hard work these photographers brought to their practices. Work by over three dozen photographers is featured, including James Van Der Zee and Addison Scurlock. The exhibition draws from both NOMA’s institutional holdings and from significant public and private collections, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. VERDICT Enhances understanding of an aspect of American photography not well enough understood until now.

Michael Dashkin has a master’s in studio art from NYU and a master’s in library science from Queens College, CUNY. He has reviewed art and photography books for LJ since 2001.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing