Photography: Flashes of inspiration

Charles Darwent peruses recent volumes dedicated to the work of serious artists and celebrity snappers

Given the 20-year decline in those traditional photographic genres of reportage and street photography, together with the commensurate rise of photography in the visual arts, the time was ripe for a book that explored the no-man's land between: ie, those artists who might as aptly call themselves photographers, and vice versa. Here, at last, is Photo Art: The new world of photography by Uta Grosenick and Thomas Seelig (Thames & Hudson £24.95). This handsome book contains, in alphabetical order, everything from the eldritch trees of Tacita Dean to Marco Poloni's boats on the water, the latter looking very much like shots from a holiday brochure. And why are they not? Grosenick and Seelig don't say, but they do provide us with a comprehensive body of evidence for answering that question ourselves.

If you still need help along the way, then The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford £19.99) is an excellent place to find it. Photo Art gets no entry in Robin Lenman's gazetteer, but everything else is there, from Abbe, Ernst to Zoo Photography. And I do mean everything. What do you know of Effluviography, Kaiserpanoramas and the Dufty Brothers? There you are, then. The OCtP is also cross-indexed thematically and by country, making it an invaluable aid to the puzzled layman.

Given its thoroughness, the OCtP's listing for Gerda Taro is tellingly short. Known, if at all, as the first female photojournalist killed in action (aged 26, at Brunete, in the Spanish Civil War), the German-Jewish Taro had a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Included in this habit was her relationship with Robert Capa, to whom the OCtP notes some of Taro's "photographs were probably credited". François Maspero's Out of the Shadows: A Life of Gerda Taro (Souvenir Press £12.99) sets this history straight, although Capa's listing in the OCtP is 10 times the length of Taro's even so.

This is largely to do with Capa's role in setting up Magnum, a photo-agency named, I see from the OCtP, after a champagne bottle. Thames & Hudson's Magnum Magnum, edited by Brigitte Lardinois (£35), is a scaled-down version of their 2007 sell-out first edition, and at a third of the price. Although known initially for its photo-reportage, Magnum has followed the trend in becoming ever more fine-art based. Thus, Robert Capa and his lesser-known brother, Cornell, share page space with the likes of the British photo-artist Martin Parr, a member of Magnum since 1994.

Not, however, with Richard Avedon, whose liking for the high life and subsequent personal celebrity probably sat badly with the Magnum taste for spontaneity, social realism and mud. Performance: Richard Avedon (Abrams £40) is as camp as Liberace's undies, from its cloth-bound double covers to its shots of Judy Garland and Rudolf Nureyev. Noticeably missing from the late American master's shots of actors, dancers and rock musicians is any true hint of showbiz vulgarity.

Like Avedon, Annie Leibovitz's celebrity means that she is beginning to resemble her own A-list subjects. Since these, notoriously, include HM The Queen, this is no mean feat. Annie Leibovitz: At Work (Cape £25) pulls back the curtains on the Queen of Photography's methods, among them the musty silk damask ones at Buckingham Palace. Thankfully, no one has told Leibovitz, pictured right, that royal conversations are Simply Not Reported, or perhaps, being American, she doesn't care. At any rate, you can't help feeling a lurch of pity for her as she relates setting up her shoot with Palace officials by phone: the silence that falls when Leibovitz says how much she liked Helen Mirren in The Queen; the disappointment when she is told that, no, Her Majesty will not be photographed mounting a horse. At the monarch's rejoinder to Leibovitz's suggestion that she remove her tiara so as to "look less dressy" ("I used the word 'crown', which was a faux pas," the photographer recalls, sadly) – you can only shut the book and move on.

Perhaps Leibowitz should have tried an easier subject – the war in Afghanistan, say. Robert Wilson seems to have met with nothing but kindness in making Helmand (Cape £30), his record of the British 52nd Infantry Brigade's six-month tour of duty there. An advertising photographer, Wilson used his Hasselblad to capture shots of the terrible beauty that unfolded in front of him: young men and women, British and Afghan, fighting a doubtful war across a lovely land.

A mere China away, Matthieu Ricard's Bhutan: The land of serenity (Thames & Hudson £29.95) shows what Afghanistan might have been like if only it had kept Westerners at bay. Ricard, the Dalai Lama's French interpreter, is a long-time visitor to Bhutan. His shots of the Dragon Kingdom's temples and rituals make you want to jump on a plane to Thimpu, although – Bhutanese visitor numbers being heavily restricted – you very probably can't.

You can always go to Korea instead, but would you want to? Korea: As seen by Magnum photographers (Norton £42) suggests that the answer to that may be yes. The Korea in question is, of course, South – North Korea takes the tourist-restriction thing a little too far – known to us mostly as an industrial powerhouse. But this book shows a land of gnarly trees and tile-roofed temples, apparently untouched by the legacy of war and industrialisation described by the historian, Bruce Cumings, in its intelligent introduction.

Christmas isn't Christmas without something weird under the tree, and my choice for the 2008 Oddball Present of the Year is Andrew Zuckerman's Wisdom (Abrams £30). For this, the US photographer took shots of 50 well-known folk over the age of 65 and got them to talk about what their long lives have taught them, in print and on an accompanying DVD. You can thus spend the bilious days between 25 and 31 December mulling over the wit and wisdom of the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Mary Quant, Nelson Mandela, Terence Conran, Teddy Kennedy and (eek) Henry Kissinger. Whether this will equip you to make better New Year's resolutions I cannot say, but Zuckerman's strange book does at least provide a number of conversational sallies for those long Yuletide moments when talk runs dry.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones