Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More photography books

My first choice was a little book of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron. A Victorian, she was amongst the leading exponents of photography as art, specialising in atmospheric portraits and dramatic scenes with her models dressed as biblical or literary characters. (It helped that she moved in artistic and literary circles). Her niece, also Julia, was the mother of Virginia Woolf, and there is a very beautiful photograph of her. You really can see her fine and lovely features (surprisingly, because often women described as great beauties of the day would not meet our expectations today). Speaking of modern standards, we would consider each and every one of the models photographed to be having a very bad hair day. No hair straighteners of Frizz-Ease for them! Yes, it's a shallow observation, but mine own ...

The next book was The Commissar Vanishes by David King. This was an eye-opening work about the revision of history under Stalin, specifically by altering photographs to exclude the one who had gone out of favour. King illustrates this dramatically by comparing the original photographs with the altered ones (sometimes they went through several incarnations). It is shocking to look at the people shown and to realise that at least 90% of them did not die a natural death. The photographs were altered by air brushing or cropping (as a scrapbooker I flinched at the evil use cropping was being put to here). Even more horribly, private citizens and schoolchildren were expected to carry out their own revision of books in their possession, blanking out the faces of the out of favour. These pages look particulary creepy and upsetting with just the face gone. Despite the horror of the situation, in some cases the altering of the photographs was carried out in rather an amateur manner and the author points this up with some humorous titles which serve to puncture the pomposity of Stalin and his minions. A very interesting read.

Day 201; Book 199