Book Review - New Documents (Arbus Friedlander Winogrand, 1967)

September 12, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Book Review: Arbus Friedlander Winogrand: New Documents, 1967 (MoMA 2017)

Fifty years ago, John Szarkowski, the then Director of the MoMA Department of Photography organised what was to become a seminal exhibition of 20th century photography and chart a new course for documentary photography.

However, no catalogue or exhibition publication was produced to accompany it.   This new book compiled by the current Director, Susan Hermanson Meister, along an essay by photographer Max Kozloff, addresses this gap.  The book not only provides the equivalent of the exhibition catalogue, with a page dedicated to each of the 94 monochrome images, but also provides some insights into the exhibition, its planning and how it was received. As such it represents an important documentary record of an important milestone in documentary photography.

As a collector of photobooks, this had to be in my collection. For anyone with an interest in the history of documentary photography and its development this is one of several books that are essential reading or viewing.

The book opens with John Szarkowski’s introductory wall text for the exhibition, itself an insight into the progression of documentary from showing what was wrong with the world, in an attempt to change it (for example the images of Lange and others in the FSA project) towards a more personal approach, not to ‘reform life’, but simply to ‘know it’. They display the ordinary, the exotic, elegant metaphors, and even vulgar depictions of human society.

The book contains examples of documents from the planning and installation stages, showing how the intent morphed into actuality: the loss of eleven colour transparencies of Gary Winogrand when a projector caught fire, the theft of one of Diane Arbus’ images from the gallery, the opening, the opening party and entertainment budget, through to the close and the return of images to the photographers. These documents alone provide an interesting insight into the challenges.

Just as interesting are the reviews. Chauncey Howell writing for Women’s Wear Daily in March 1967 described Friedlanders work as the least interesting, Winogrand as more interested in man as a lonely social animal, but that ‘a few of his pictures are memorable’, and Arbus as having an eye for the grotesque! More praise-worthy reviews came from the New York times (March 5, 1967) and the Newark News (March 5, 1967), but both appear to prefer the work of Arbus.

At just over £20 it is a bargain and worthy of inclusion in any documentary photographers library.




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