Two Books That Teach

Another in our series of inspirations and must-haves, this time with guest writer, Ellen Boughn.

Two photography book publishers looked to their archives for material to publish in 2014. I chose to review Thames and Hudson’s Magnum Contacts and National Geographic Covers because they are books that can reinforce the editing skills of photo researchers, publishers, art buyers and photo editors.

The criteria that resulted in selecting these publications were that they be books showcasing iconic images that have passed the test of time and that show  why a photograph is chosen for key placement or is the most important in a series.

The cover of Magnum Contact Sheets-Compact Edition, Edited by Kisten Lubben, Thames & Hudson. 2014
The cover of Magnum Contact Sheets-Compact Edition, Edited by Kisten Lubben, Thames & Hudson. 2014

Jim Cornfield, the book reviewer for Rangefinder Magazine, suggested I take a look at the 2014 edition of Magnum Contact Sheets-Compact Edition. The book shows a large print of the select along with a copy of the contact sheet from where it was selected. Each is accompanied by photographers comments of what occurred in front of and behind the camera during the shoot.

A review of the contacts…my eye itched for my long ago put away loupe…shows why one photo stands out. It’s a good game for a photo editor to play by asking what image would I have picked and why?

Rene Burre’s exclusive interview with Che Guevara captured the many moods of the Cuban revolutionary. In some he appears exhausted or playful. The final portrait of Che with a cigar captures the face of a man with the strength and arrogance of a rebel and eyes that appear to be slightly fearful or with a hint of doubt.

CHE
Havana. Ministry of Industry. Ernesto Guevara (CHE) (1961-1965) during an exclusive interview in his office © Rene Burre/Magnum Photos

On a lighter side is Philippe Halsman’s narrative of how he managed to get three cats air-born, while Salvador Dali jumped up and a bucket of water was tossed across the set all in one frame before Photoshop. (This image was regrettably not among those authorized by the Geographic for publication within a review.)

RAJASTAN
Once color became more popular, the light table edit replaced proof sheet. INDIA. Rajasthan. 1983. Dust storm © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos.

Thames & Hudson’s press release states, “This landmark photography book, published just as the shift to digital photography threatens to render the contact sheet obsolete, celebrates the sheet as artifact, as personal and historic record as invaluable editing tool and as a fascinating way of accompanying great photographers through the process of creating the most enduring images of our time.

What makes a great magazine cover? A new book, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC THE COVERS: Iconic Photographs, Unforgettable Stories, provides a survey of covers from the late 1950s-2014.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC THE COVERS: Iconic Photographs, Unforgettable Stories. The National Geographic Society. 2014
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC THE COVERS: Iconic Photographs, Unforgettable Stories. The National Geographic Society. 2014

The Geographic stayed close to its roots, documenting  world cultures and remote geography over time. As the world began to grow smaller in the 1980’s, cover photos of remote tribes began to be replaced with cover stories such as the November 1984 cover piece on chocolate or William Albert Allard’s article on a season in baseball’s minor leagues.

Two of my all time favorite Geographic covers are of Koko the Gorilla holding a camera (just like a pro) as she took a shot  for the October 1978 issue and that of a lioness and cub taken by Mitsuaki Iwago for May 1986.

A Lioness and her cub bask in the protection of the Serengeti, Africa’s premier wildlife haven. May 1986 | Photo by Mitsuaki Iwago/National Geographic
A Lioness and her cub bask in the protection of the Serengeti, Africa’s premier wildlife haven. May 1986 | Photo by Mitsuaki Iwago/National Geographic

I haven’t read that KoKo’s photo was the first published selfie taken by a non-human primate in the recent dustup over the shot by a black macaque monkey. (We didn’t hear from the copyright office on KoKo’s photo but they now have passed a regulation – as reported in the LA Times – that only human beings can own copyrights.) I taped KoKo’s cover photo on the door of my photo agency office when I was president. I think the humor was lost on most photographers passing through that doorway.

A newly minted National Geographic photographer makes her own self-portrait. October 1978 | Photo by Koko
A newly minted National Geographic photographer makes her own self-portrait. October 1978 | Photo by Koko

Although obvious to skilled photo editors and art buyers, most covers are very close up shots with simple graphics as proven in the six-page pullout showing all the cover photos.

  No copyright required
No copyright

A word about the several super large SUMO books out this year. We live in a time when the classic “coffee table” photography book has been replaced with photography books  AS coffee tables. What I think of when I see the latest of these books named after fat Japanese wrestlers is how does one wrestle the books home without causing a back injury? Vanity Fair entitled their discussion of the Annie Leibovitz SUMO published this last February as being “Bigger Than Your Apartment”. The special edition of Salgado’s 2014 book, GENESIS, weighs 120 pounds. Enough!

All photos used with permission (except for the monkey selfie).

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