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Volkswagen: A Week at the Factory photographs by Peter...

April 04, 1993|Randy Leffingwell

Volkswagen: A Week at the Factory photographs by Peter Keetman. (Chronicle: $12.95.) Traditionally there are two types of car books. One tells the readers something new about a car, and in between its hardcovers it offers lovely color photographs calculated to make viewers swoon in materialistic lust. The other deals with that same object of lust--now ailing and parked in the garage. These paper-bound repair manuals explain how the car was built and should be repaired. The photos, undramatic, are black and white.

Now there is Peter Keetman's book. A German born in 1916, he was a founder of "fotoform," a photographers' collective. Interested in industrial photography, Keetman undertook a week-long shoot in the Volkswagenwerk in Wolfburg, Germany, in April, 1953 to promote more industrial-photo assignments. He didn't achieve that but he accomplished more. Keetman is a photographer with the disciplined eye for shape and texture of his contemporaries Edward Weston and Edward Steichen.

His 71 beautifully reproduced photographs show the industry of car-making. Keetman saw the works of Volkswagen as a beautiful thing. But it was not only forms that caught his eye. That these pieces made up a useful product captured his imagination as well. He studied the lovely, hypnotically reflective metal surfaces; his photographs rhapsodize fenders and floor frames, doors and engine crankshafts, vast assembly rooms and grinders showering small rooms with sparks. Workers appear in only eight photos, a fact which likely doomed their use for public relations. What is shown in all 71 images is the work of man aided by machine.

Supplemented with essays--on VW's factory after World War II, Beetle production, and on Keetman himself--this slender monograph introduces a new model to the car book lineup.

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