Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Photography books

First up was Vietnam by Larry Burrows. Burrows was a photographer for Life magazine and covered the war in Vietnam from 1962 until his death in a helicopter crash there in 1971. His photographs have an immediacy which draw you right in. Some of them have a huge emotional impact, the kind which hits you with a shock of feeling giving you a lurch in the stomach. The first of these is the frontispiece which has no text but speaks for itself. Three soldiers are pictured but what is horrifying is that they look like young teenagers. One still has his baby-faced features, even though presumably he must be at least 18. This photograph brings home the youth of the soldiers more than any statistics about average age. Many of them weren't men, they were boys. Another photograph had a particular impact for me. It was a shot of the marines landing at Da Nang to defend the airport, early in the war. I had a jolt of recognition as I realised that these were "my" marines, the ones I had just been reading about in Philip Caputo's Rumor of War.

Of a completely different nature was Diary of a Century by Jacques Henri Lartigue. This is a charming book, illustrated by photographs taken by Lartigue right from the time when he was given a camera as a small boy about 1900. When you think of photographs from around this time you normally think of them as being stiff and posed, but Lartigue took action photographs of his mischievous brothers and cousins as they leapt down steps, plunged into pools and raced carts. Lartigue was fortunate to come from a wealthy family with a country house outside Paris, as well as having supportive (and brave!) parents who encouraged the boys in their various pursuits such as building and trying to fly gliders. However as the later photographs show no one is immune to tragedy in their life. The photographs continue right through 2 world wars to the end of Lartigue's life.

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