Book Review: How You Look At It: Photographs of the 20th Century

How you look at it isn't always how you see it at first

The book's sub-deck makes rather a bold claim: Photographs of the twentieth century. I think it comes off because the 404 photos (104 in color) take a different perspective from the usual historical survey. Here the thirty-seven photographers are grouped according to theme chapters and each also includes an artist. Why Charles Sheeler, Franz Kline, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Karl Blossfeldt, Odilon and Ellsworth Kelly are all included in one theme is not immediately obvious but this is why the book is so thought provoking.

I'm not entirely convinced, though that the artist additions were really needed. The medium of photography, least looking through the photos here, is wide ranging enough without the added extra of painting and sculpture Thomas Weski, one of the book's editors makes an interesting point in his essay: 'Because pictures like those of Walker Evans do not function as attractive in the first instance, but require viewers to work at understanding them, they reverberate longer and effect enduring changes in our perception of the world'. The five essays (over the first 111pages) are the predictable mixed bag. I thought those by Weski and Gerry Badger the most informative. One by Peter Waterhouse: 'The roads' seemed rather out of place, more a stream-of-consciousness meander about personal transport with the first paragraph stretching over almost four pages.

It's the photos that count of course and I thought the selection particularly impressive. The photographers are well known, mostly American but several Germans as well because the book was based on an exhibition in Germany during 2000. Excellent production using a 200 screen on matt art paper. The back pages have biographies and an exhibition listing.

I've always thought this was an unusual book because of its fresh visual approach to photography.

How You Look At It: Photographs of the 20th Century is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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