In my experience, mini-books are usually cheap digests. They are potential thought provoking larger books stripped down to bare minimum so as to be easily digested. The meat of the content has usually been cut out; these books are usually insultingly introductory at best.
Therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for Photography: The 50 Most Influential Photographers of All Time (2009), a Barron’s “Icons of Culture” book by Chris Dickie. Actually, I was hesitant to borrow it from the library.
Because really, a book like this is the sort of thing that is marketed as a stocking stuffer or a I-don’t-know-what-to-buy-for-someone-but-hey-they-like-photography-who-doesn’t-like-photography easy purchase. A thoughtless purchase. This book is the sort of thing we buy because we feel we must spend money in some form or another to express that we care for someone. But that’s a topic for another day.
Surprisingly, and happily, it turns out that Dickie is an excellent writer.
Although he devotes only 2 pages (of a very small format book, remember) to one photographer at a time, he takes the most interesting facts about that photographer and fits it all in.
Beyond that, even, he makes it an engaging read. If he were an untalented or lazy writer, he could have just lined up all the important facts in a list: birth, death, dates of important photos and sent it to print. But rather than reading like an empty, soulless rush through time, Dickie makes 50 Most Influential Photographers interesting.
He even makes room to instigate controversy. When talking about documenting war, he says of the role photojournalism had on the Vietnam war,
The power of photography to undermine a government’s intent was proven – and it would never be allowed to happen again. (31)
From photography’s creators, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot (gotta love those 19th century names) through to snapshot inventor George Eastman, to woman of many firsts Margaret Bourke-White, to modern day success story Annie Leibovitz, this book is remarkably comprehensive. The photographers are well chosen, the layout and type (use of bold, light grey and regular type) are very agreeable to the eye, and the historical accomplishments are told succinctly. This is a shockingly delightful, exceptionally well crafted little book.
I’m happy I swallowed my pride when I borrowed this. I will hold my head high when I pass it back over the Return desk.