Photography Visionaries By Mary Warner Marien (£24.95, Laurence King Publishing)
Review by Belinda Morris.
There’s nothing quite so indulgent (for me, anyway) as a big fat book on photography – and specifically (for me) it tends to lean towards fashion photography having worked in and around it for so much of my adult life. Every now and again though, I get to dip into the work of a photographer outside of the fashion world and I realise how much I have been missing by narrowing my perspective.
This book then has been just the eye-opener that I have needed. A Professor Emerita of fine arts, Mary Warner Marien has gathered together ‘the most influential photographers whose work came to define the medium, from its popular advent in the 19th century, to the present day’. And while I’m obviously drawn to those names of which I’m most familiar (Richard Avedon, George Hoyningen-Huene, Lee Miller, Annie Leibovitz and Cindy Sherman – thanks to their work for fashion and society magazines) I found myself engrossed in the life and work of others.
For a start even the photographers I thought I knew had more diverse lives and careers than I was aware of: Avedon’s art and documentary work for instance, Miller’s beginnings as a model and her relationship with May Ray leading her to surrealism. And, thinking of him as a surrealist artist, I had forgotten that Man ray himself made a living as a portrait and fashion photographer.
The author accompanies each of the 70-plus photographers with a short, insightful biographical essay and timeline – as well as a portrait of the subject and a snappy quote. “I used to think I couldn’t lose anyone if I photographed them enough” strikes me as a rather poignant comment by Nan Goldin, particularly when sitting alongside her images of her friends and their excesses during a period in the early to mid 1980s. Before cell phone cameras and selfies, ‘her work validated the use of photography as a dairy of daily life…”
It’s also been interesting to learn more about the name behind some of the medium’s most renowned images, such as ‘Migrant Mother’ by Dorothea Lange. She is renowned for her powerful depiction of the Great Depression, but the artist behind this haunting picture of a desolate woman with her children, started out as a successful society photographer. Her quote: “a camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera”.