Issue #256  3/2/2023
Book Reviews: A Tale of Two Collections

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector and Photo Review

By Phillip Prodger
Hardcover, 256 pages, 21,0 x 26,0 cm, 100 color illustrations, 100 b/w illustrations
ISBN: 978-3-7913-8782-6
Munich • London • New York: Prestel, 2022
$ 55.00 | £ 39.99

AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY is based on the Solander Collection, assembled by Phillip Prodger and Graham Howe to expand the diversity and inclusivity of what has been traditionally rendered in the history of photography. Rather than a compendium of greatest hits, this history embraces a wider and often overlooked stable of artists of many different nationalities and conceptual approaches, and includes numerous artists of color, women, and indigenous and LGBTQ+ artists who have been left out of most traditional histories.

Prodger acknowledges the contributions of some of the main progenitors of photographic history like Eder, Gernsheim, and Newhall (though not Robert Taft), while highlighting their shortcomings, especially their overconcentration on Europe and the United States and the work of white men, and, especially for Newhall, the creation of a pantheon of greatest images by what was included and celebrated in their books — an ongoing process perpetuated by the nexus of galleries, auction houses, and museums that act as gatekeepers of the important and rewarded.

As Prodger writes, "Photography…is an avalanche— thunderous, voluminous, and unpredictable —its twists and turns every bit as moving as its milestones…In its immensity, volatility, intimacy, and spread, photography is fundamentally different from any other art. Its trajectory was not determined in salons, galleries, and museums."

Here photographers from Eastern and Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia get their due. While those with a broad knowledge of the history of photography will recognize many of the lesser-known names, there will be many first-time discoveries, too, as well as relatively unknown pictures by more recognizable figures. And the pairing of images by better-known and relatively unknown makers makes us realize what we have been missing by the previous, more narrow focus of earlier histories.

"An Alternative History of Photography" implicitly reframes Newhall's—and others'—"The History of Photography", the latter a hubristic and falsely completist title that assumes a closed system, while acknowledging that the Solander Collection, is just one of numerous alternative universes. Indeed, the Collection ends in 1980 when globalization and then the rise of the internet and digital media changed the essential nature of communication and photographic image-making. Now, as Prodger concludes, "Chaotic and exciting, anarchic and attractive, photography is more inclusive than ever."

Ruy Souza e Silva Collection
Rio de Janiero: Capivara Editora Ltda., 2022
Hardcover, 304 pages, 237 illustrations, 12.125" x 10.125" x 1.25"
ISBN: 978-65-88610-04-6

REMARKABLE IMAGES OF BRAZILIAN PHOTOGRAPHY, 1840-1914 is a totally different take on collecting than the previous catalogue. This book focuses on a single area of the world in depth.

Ruy Souze e Silva has assembled the largest private collection of images by Latin American and especially Brazilian photographers made between 1840 and 1920, over 7,000 in total, of which 237 are reproduced in this book, more than half previously unpublished.

It begins with the first surviving daguerreotypes made in Brazil, two images by Louis Comte forming a panorama of Largo do Paço made on January 17, 1840, less than five months after Daguerre’s announcement of the details of his process.

Ranging chronologically from the beginnings of photography through 1914, the collection includes images of Brazil in every different available photographic medium of subjects as diverse as Rio de Janiero to the Amazon rain forest; from emperors, presidents, and nobles to enslaved and indigenous people; from images made in the studio to those made on the street; and from architecture—from churches, schools, and government buildings to humble abodes and thatched roof huts—to landscapes with lush vegetation and spectacular rock formations, to still lifes and photomontages.

There are images by well-known makers like Marc Ferrez, but many more by photographers little known even in Brazil let alone the wider world. The large format allows for large reproductions that give the viewer access to many small details in each image and to explore human figures and faces in crowds that would be lost in a smaller volume.

This first glimpse of the Souze e Silva Collection provides a sense of the rich history of photography in Brazil and reminds us once again how narrow the visions of earlier histories of photography have been in their focus on Europe and North America.

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 340 East Maple Ave., Suite 200, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org.