The Oxford Companion to the Photograph

Reviewed by Christopher Hirst
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The Independent Culture

This prodigious and generally exemplary guide illuminates the obscure (Linnaeus Tripe, 1822-1902, was official photographer with the Madras Native Infantry), while revealing the unexpected about obligatory inclusions. We learn that Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) disappeared so completely during the war that the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised a "posthumous exhibition" in 1945.

The beautifully reproduced illustrations, which tend to be formal and strikingly composed, are equally original. Colour prints from the 1900s have an astonishing modernity. The 13-page section on war photography includes an indelible but little-known image by Julien Bryan of a 12-year-old Polish girl grieving over the body of her elder sister in 1939. Though many entries are devoted to recondite technicalities (not a single sentence of the 1 pages on "Sensitometry" will be remotely comprehensible to the non-technical reader), humour is frequently evident in both text and images. The entry on the great Weegee includes his observation that "I work only for kicks and for money", while "Snapshot" is illustrated by a 1900 photo of James Murray, editor of the OED, on Borth beach with a sand castle in the shape of a smiling monster. Though the book contains 300images, more were needed. Any reader will feel deprived when such giants as Paul Strand and Sebastiao Salgado are described merely by words.