The invention of photography, Daniel Boorstin wrote in "The Americans," was "the first giant step toward democratizing the repeatable experience. This it did by transcending language and literature so that anybody, without even needing to be literate, could preserve at will the moments of experience for future repetition."
Edward S. Curtis: The Life and Times of a Shadow Catcher by Barbara A. David (Chronicle: $40 until Dec. 31; $45 thereafter; 246 pp.) tells the story of a photographer who dedicated himself to the mission of recording moments in Native Americans' lives before they were lost forever. "The passing of every old man or woman," Edward S. Curtis wrote, "means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge or sacred rite possessed by no other."
Beginning at the turn of the century, Curtis produced 20 photo-illustrated volumes of text and 20 portfolios of photographs, a vast undertaking that destroyed his family, ruined his health and impoverished him. He planned to photograph all the tribes that still practiced their traditional customs. To accomplish this goal, he traveled long distances burdened with heavy, primitive equipment.
Curtis treated his subjects with respect, but because he sometimes dressed them in costumes to evoke an earlier period, his integrity was challenged. In an essay at the beginning of the book, photography historian Beaumont Newhall responds to this criticism. Newhall believes Curtis' historical inaccuracies are "far outweighed by the strengths of his multifaceted achievement."
Although museums and collectors value Curtis' photographs highly, his monumental work is mostly unknown by the general public. Barbara David's incisive biography has uncovered much valuable new information about Curtis' life. He took more than 40,000 photographs, including studio work, landscapes and movie stills. More than 200 are beautifully reproduced in this fine volume with a portrait of Geronimo, the great Apache leader, on the cover.
John Running: Honor Dance; foreword by William Albert Allard (University of Nevada: $40, 155 pp.) pays homage to "Native Americans in particular and mankind in general." Not an easy goal to aim for, but photographer John Running succeeds with intimate, poignant portraits that show us who these people are better than any hype on the dust jacket.
It is a superbly produced volume. Ninety color and 70 duo-tone images introduce the viewer to Native Americans as they live today. There is truth, understanding and dignity in Running's images, a sign of the trust his subjects felt for him. In the transcendent Southwest light, Running shows us dance and ceremonies; he gives us transport to another culture and makes us feel at home.
Lucien Clergue: Eros and Thanatos; essay by Marianne Fulton, introduction by Michel Tournier (New York Graphic Society/Little Brown: $45; 152 pp; 8 color, 10 duotone and 1 halftone photos), surveys for the first time the life's work of this internationally known French photographer. The insightful accompanying essay explains how Lucien Clergue's images of the destruction after World War II and the ritual of the bullfight are metaphors for death.
Yet, Clergue also sees a positive force in life. His beautifully articulated nudes, as sensuous as the waves and sea foam from which they emerge, affirm what Clergue calls "a triumph against death."
The Lives of Lee Miller by Antony Penrose (Holt, Rinehart & Winston: $26.95; 216 pp.; 171 duotone photos) is the biography of an original, multi-talented woman by her son. He writes, "The Lee I discovered was very different from the one I had been embattled with for so many years, and I am left with profound regret that I did not know her better."
The metamorphosis of Lee Miller from beautiful Vogue model to respected portrait photographer makes fascinating reading. The illustrations range from portraits of a glamorous Miller by Steichen, Genthe and Man Ray to her own compelling photographs of many renowned artists of the day including Picasso, Braque, Max Ernst and a young, soulful Isamu Noguchi.
The chapter headings in this book include "Movers & Shakers," "The Royal Family," "Arabian Horses," "The Beautiful People" and "An Empire of Art." This has to be The World of Armand Hammer, text and photographs by John Bryson (Abrams: $35; 256 pp.). Veteran photojournalist John Bryson traveled more than a million miles to record the lavish life style of the 87-year-old business tycoon and philanthropist. The impressive color photographs double-truck across the page like a Life magazine story documenting Hammer in Lenin's office, stretched out on the bed in his private plane, even in China signing an agreement for the world's largest open-pit coal mine. It all makes for an expensive personal scrapbook, but the real man behind the smiling poses remains elusive.