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Flea Market Photobooks

A series of reviews in which we hunt down and peruse the worthy, sometimes quirky, oft-forgotten treasures of the second hand photobook market.

Flea Market Photobooks: 28 / Sep / 2022
‘Off-Beat Photography’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Many of the photographs in this publication, its author begins perversely, 'were taken for no reason at all'. They offer 'diverting evidence of what can be done on the lunatic fringe of orthodox photography'. As per the jazz reference of the title in its higgledy-piggledy font, the book takes an eclectic view of what might be described as an alternative photographic vision. Much is whimsy - demonstrated by the cover image of the author’s assistant, smirking as an axe protrudes from his forehead - but there are serious messages too, visualising risk, threat and tragedy. Maurice Rickards [1919-1998] was described as an artist, photographer, author and journalist in 1959. His work as a publicity designer had already secured him 'an international reputation for the unexpected'. Off-Beat Photography was Rickards’ first non-fiction book and he had yet to focus on the passion that would establish his later reputation as a major collector and a pioneer scholar of paper ephemera. In his many later writings on the subject, including 2000’s authoritative Encyclopaedia of Ephemera, published posthumously by the British Library as his life’s work, he makes no reference to his earlier photographic career. Nonetheless, it is highly distinctive.  . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Off-Beat Photographyby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 20 / Apr / 2022
‘Photographic Make-Up’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Portrait photographers at mid-century faced a new problem, according to Jack Emerald, one of their number. "In the good old days", soft focus lenses enabled sitters to look their “impossible best”. Other time-honoured techniques included retouching the negative with knife and pencil, "removing a wrinkle here, or a piece of the jaw-line there". Emerald complained that this work is tedious and costly, and that a discerning public increasingly recognises a retouched photograph when it sees it, much to the embarrassment of its sitter. His solution is photographic make-up, which he says is steadily becoming part of the working equipment of portraitists worldwide. In this approach, retouching takes place before the photograph is taken, and thus "the lily is gilded first". Emerald supplies fifteen exhausting pages of guidance on women’s make-up. Beginning with a base coat to cover all imperfections, multiple products are then used to draw improved features back in. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Photographic Make-Upby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 22 / Mar / 2022
‘How to Judge Character from the Face’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Illustrated with 133 photographs, mostly of facial features in isolation, Jacques Penry's system for personality analysis is, in the author's estimation, both a "comprehensive pictorial survey" and a "quick and easy guide". It serves dual purposes, as "fireside or party entertainment" and a study rooted in "medical-scientific foundations". Anyone wanting to know more of the latter is warned from the first page that "no attempt has been made to explain [them] in any detail". The reader, instead, "is asked to accept the assurance that these foundations exist". Physiognomy as a diagnostic science was already discredited by the mid-1950s but that didn't stop Penry from evoking a scholarly mood. With a confident writing style, he briskly delivers, first, a Question-and-Answer section to address uncertainties and then provides a complex structural formula that connotes rigour even as it obscures. Seven pictorial chapters, designated A to H, compartmentalise the face into Nose, Forehead, Eyes, Eyebrows, Mouth, Chin and Ears; a final section, on Lines-Wrinkles-Dimples, completes the set.  . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - How to Judge Character from the Faceby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 23 / Feb / 2022
‘Cats and My Camera’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

'Cats and My Camera' is a slight volume of 127 pages and 40 black-and-white cat portraits, mostly singular and in static poses, and mostly titled by the feline's name, from Bunty and Kittiwinks to Tarzan and Tony. Evelyn Glover [1873-1941] describes herself as a "very ordinary person" and a spinster; she also notes her grey hair. She lives in a flat with a female friend, who does not want to reveal her identity. Her friend, Glover warns, is "more devoted to cats than I am". That the author is an enthusiast is in no doubt but, from the start, she points out that she is no "cat connoiseusse". Equally, she emphasises, she is no expert in photography. If anyone declares, "Your cat photographs are wonderful!” she retorts, "You don't see my dustbin." Without training and expensive equipment, she is merely someone who "owes some of the pleasant moments in my life to cats and my camera", and who wishes to share this with anyone who has not, by this point, put the book down.  . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Cats and My Cameraby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 20 / Apr / 2021
‘Photographs of the Unknown’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

‘It is not easy to take photographs of things which are not supposed to exist’, the authors of 'Photographs of the Unknown' put it, with considerable understatement. ‘You don’t just go out and photograph “the impossible”.’ Paranormal photographs have particular perils in the making. Even when a camera is present at ‘erratic, anomalous, short-lived and unexpected events’, photographers can find their operations supernaturally jinxed or otherwise ‘bungled’ in the excitement of the moment. This, the authors observe, is ‘the main reason for the badly framed, out of focus and under or over exposed views of UFOs, sea serpents and ghosts familiar to us all’. 'Photographs of the Unknown', in its large-scale hardback format, claimed to present ‘the greatest single collection of photographs’ from this diverse area. Its 300 illustrations offer ‘an astonishing album of evidence’, with the camera as ‘witness to the frontiers of human experience’. With examples ranging from the historic to the recent, the result is certainly compelling, especially in lesser-known examples from the years leading up to the book’s release. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Photographs of the Unknownby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 29 / Mar / 2021
‘Wedding Photography’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

As per its straight-talking title, wedding photography is the principal concern of this pocket guide. Closer scrutiny, however, betrays that wartime nuptials are its particular focus. Uniforms are more common that tailcoats among the grooms depicted. Throughout the book, the social conditions of the period inflect the narrative. The photography for which tuition is given is aimed at the formal white wedding; no deviations are provided for register office settings or those outside of the Christian church. The opening words establish that wedding photography is not "a creative job in an artistic sense". Strategies for image-making are highly conventionalised, arranged around a given set of photographable ‘incidents’, from the arrival of the bridesmaids to the cutting of the cake. These are choreographed minute-by-minute through detailed spreadsheets and pictorial diagrams in the style of a military operation. The author, Gordon Catling, who at the time of writing was serving as a captain in the army, claims to have attended over 700 weddings as a professional photographer; he knows the drill. His comprehensive systems for success are shared, from how to secure a first paid job to templates of threatening letters for when clients do not cough up. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Wedding Photographyby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 15 / Mar / 2021
‘Photoanalysis’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

The nuclear family depicted on the cover of 'Photoanalysis' comprise a suited father, a fashionably-dressed mother and two blonde primary-school age children. Smiling and embracing, they are, at first glance, an idealised cereal packet image of domestic accord in the 1970s. At the hands of a book that claims "to read the hidden psychological clues in any photo", however, the sitters become specimens for critique. White circles highlight photographic details linked to probing questions. Of the mother’s hand on her son’s shoulder: "Is this real affection?" Of the father, whose face is turned away from the camera: "Is this man really happy?" 'Photoanalysis', first published in 1973, was the first book by New York shrink, Dr Robert U. Akeret. Swiss-born and trained under Erich Fromm, Akeret’s system was informed by more than 20 years of therapeutic practice. The opening pages provide accounts of his analysands and their complex psychological blocks; these were only resolved when Akeret’s suggested that each brought family photographs to the couch. In a method close to what visual sociologists now call photo-elicitation, photographs provided prompts for psychological revelation. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Photoanalysisby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 01 / Mar / 2021
‘Water Babies’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

The record sleeve for Nirvana’s 1991 album, 'Nevermind', of a baby swimming underwater after a dollar bank note, has achieved iconic status. Posed in a Californian pool, Kirk Weddle’s photograph was apparently inspired by a documentary that the band’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, had watched about water births. Images of infants swimming underwater unassisted have long captivated: the cover and end papers of the 1983 book, 'Water Babies', feature very similar photographs. 'Water Babies' is ostensibly a study of the philosophies of Igor Tjarkovsky, a Russian experimental midwife who, since the 1960s, has sought to develop "a new kind of people, the children of the Ocean". Tjarkovsky, a one-time boat-builder and athletics coach, holds mystical ideas about the importance of water for healing but, as the book’s blurb notes, he has "created a sensation around the world with his photographs of swimming and diving babies". These photographs, as the first line of the first chapter attests, inspired Swedish journalist Erik Sidenbladh to visit Tjarkovsky at his Moscow research lab in the All-Union Scientific Institute for Physical Culture and produce the book. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Water Babiesby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 15 / Feb / 2021
‘Amberstar’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Neville Scott, a 28-year-old ‘space jockey and freelance rocket man’ lives a Bohemian life, drifting from planet to planet in an unspecified future. Having spent his money on "wine, women and wine", he finds himself unable to pay his fines and has his spaceship, 'Amberstar', impounded by monks on the highly moral planet, Cylis 4. The book that carries the spaceship’s name follows Scott as he survives a series of intergalactic scrapes. Its space opera plot barely stands up to scrutiny but 'Amberstar’s' visual narrative is sublime. The book’s blurb claims that ‘through the miracle of the PHOTO-MULTIPLE® process comes science fiction’s greatest pictorial triumph’. Such a superlative ‘miracle’, in fact, required a lot of labour, involving three photographers, two special effects staff and a four further colourists. The ‘multiple’ seems to come as much from the ensemble effort - including six actors, several different planetary landscapes and a fleet of plastic spaceships and toy dinosaurs – as it does from the complex collage and overlay technique. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Amberstarby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 02 / Feb / 2021
‘The Uses of Air Photography’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

The popularity of photobooks based on aerial views is evident in titles such as 'Earth from Above' by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whose full-colour coffee table production, first produced in 1999, boasts more than three million sales across its various editions. 'The Uses of Air Photography' is a different beast. Although large-scale in format to showcase its mostly full-page black-and-white examples, the book is produced under the auspices of Cambridge University’s Committee for Aerial Photography and the emphasis is less on the photographs’ visual spectacle than on their research capacity. The volume is edited by the institution’s Director of Aerial Photography, who also produced all the photographs; the essays are mostly by committee members. Sadly, the grouping and academic position no longer exist, but its legacy, the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography, now numbers some 500,000 items. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - The Uses of Air Photographyby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 15 / Apr / 2020
‘Bluff your Way in Photography’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Aside from the generic tableaux of camera, case, guide and print on the cover, 'Bluff your Way in Photography' does not contain any photographs. This fits perfectly with its subject matter. The true bluffer, in John Courtis's estimation, ideally never takes a picture. He notes: "You don't have to be a photographer at all to achieve moral ascendancy". The object is to "sneer knowledgeably from the side lines"'. The ideal situation for the complete bluffer would be to not even have a camera, although s/he must be seen to have one as a baseline. Those with complete brass nerve are advised to buy an old camera case and stuff it with newspaper. As bluffers will not be able, or indeed want, the finest of photographic technology, the next best recommendation is to have a camera so bad that you stand out from the crowd. A non-operational one, out of use due to the dedicated pursuit of an obscure specialist part, carries particular kudos. If caught without a camera, the faux-photographer must claim to be "between systems". . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Bluff your Way in Photographyby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 01 / Apr / 2020
‘The Art of Home Cooking’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Produced "as a mark of celebration of the happy return of Stork Margarine to the kitchen", this slim volume was offered free, by mail order, for anyone who wished for a copy, as fourteen years of food rationing in Britain came to a close. With a cover faded and foxed by more than fifty years in a kitchen, the peas in their tureen have taken on a fugitive bluish tinge; the traffic light colours of the three jam tarts, floating disembodied alongside, have in one case tarnished to teal rather than lime. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - The Art of Home Cookingby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 19 / Mar / 2020
‘Masterpieces of Bird Photography’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

What constitutes a masterpiece of bird photography? Is it the rarity of the specimen, the style of its depiction, or the difficulty of achieving the image? The editors pose these questions but do not answer them explicitly in their text. The contents of their volume, however, suggest that what matters most is how hard it was to make the picture. 'Masterpieces of Bird Photography' is about triumph. In the first instance, British superiority in their field is asserted from the first line, perhaps due to the era in which the book was produced. The opening pages detail the 1890s origins of the genre, attributing the status of pioneers to the Kearton brothers. An extraordinary image - the only one in the book that is not of a bird - shows one brother stood on the shoulders of the other behind a large plate camera on the spindly legs of an extended tripod. They were as much acrobats as ornithologists (a story told recently at greater length in 'The Keartons: Inventing Nature Photography' by John Bevis). . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Masterpieces of Bird Photographyby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 05 / Mar / 2020
‘English Inns Illustrated’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

Effectively a national survey of pubs for those who like their boozing to be historically legitimated, 'English Inns Illustrated' was one of the 'Britain Illustrated' series of books produced by Odhams Press in the early 1950s. The illustrated aspect of the publication was centrally important, and is demonstrated from the dust jacket onwards, which features two "large-scale camera studies", front and back, on its almost festive wrappers of red ground and white script. The flyleaf boasts that the book's 128 pages contain 160 such "camera studies" - calling them photographs, it seems, would not do them justice - provided "by leading modern photographers". . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - English Inns Illustratedby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 20 / Feb / 2020
‘How it Works: The Camera’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

There's something delightfully ironic about a fully-illustrated book on photography where every single image is meticulously hand-painted. In 1970, some 130-plus years after Paul Delaroche is said to have pronounced that photography had killed off painting, this technical guide features fine brush work representations of each of its photographic images, including film negatives depicted in careful chiaroscuro. This might seem like a perverse enterprise if one didn't see 'The Camera' in wider context. As one of a set of Ladybird Books (series 654, to be precise), the illustrated guide's painted illustrations are just one of a number of characteristic qualities of the Wills & Hepworth's imprint. The palm-sized hardback cover, the ten-spot red Ladybird logo, and the formatting of simple text on the left hand page with full-page colour images on the right are tell-tale signs for any reader familiar with the heyday of the press in the 1960s and early 1970s, when it produced hundreds of enormously popular titles from fairy tale retellings to learning-to-read schemes, all priced at 2 shillings and 6. Another key characteristic of Ladybird books, however, is that they are most strongly associated with titles for children. 'Peter and Jane pick up a Camera' this is not. Its images belong to the pastel-coloured Ladybird universe, but its content is elsewhere. . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - How it Works: The Cameraby AnnebellaPollen

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Flea Market Photobooks: 04 / Feb / 2020
‘Marvellous World of Shells’
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen

The emergence of shell-bearing molluscs, the opening line of the book declares, was one of the first stages in the evolution of the animal world. Shells, then, go back to the very origins of life. 'Marvellous World of Shells', however, is a 1977 product through and through. The text introduces conchology as a serious site for scholarship as a sub-branch of zoology, but the book's scientific credentials are scanty. Technical information is given in abundance, but in print so small that it seems designed to be unread. Perhaps as a result of the text's translation into English, there are clunky turns of phrase from the title onwards, with its absent definite article (the book also exists as 'Le Monde Merveilleux des Coquillages' and 'Die Wunderbare Welt der Schnecken und Muscheln'). There are also some rather clumsy observations. "Shells are often colored", one short sentence bluntly notes. The real purpose of the book, as is evident from the illustrated pages, is visual pleasure. The introduction, for all its vocabulary of 'operculum' and 'dextrogyrus', betrays its aesthetic interests. In choosing examples, the author confesses, "we have been guided primarily by the beauty or originality of shapes, patterns and colors". . . [ Full Article ▸]

Flea Market Photobooks - Marvellous World of Shellsby AnnebellaPollen

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