Most photobook collectors have different criteria for what constitutes a collectible book. I like the unpretentious photobooks from the sixties and early seventies. Most of these have somewhat conventional lay outs graphically, especially looking back some 50 years later. Usually, the intent of the photographer is very clear in these books. Either the photography is documentary in nature, or the photographer attempts to make a political statement expressed through his lens. Sometimes the lines are very blurred between all of these things. So here is one of the least pretentious books of that period.
The front cover pictured above and the back cover below, do not really give a hint of the not so conventional layout. The photographer knows how to use the white space and let his images do the talking.
The book was published by various publishers first in German by the Hanns Reich Publishing House in their Terra Magica Series and in a French edition in 1962 and in 1963 an English edition came to market. The original publishing house Hanns Reich was founded in 1948 in Germany and was the largest publishing house in Germany that had as a specialty the production of country or city photobooks with superb photography. In 1974 the publisher moved his company to Switzerland.
When you look at the book at first and the opening page below you could get the idea that the book is just about ornithology or birds. The foreword by Jean Cocteau, the French writer, playwright, poet, artist and bon vivant, soon make us realize that the book is about the juxtaposition of flight in nature and “man made flight“, i.e. the world of birds in flight and the miracle associated with it. The opening page spread here in reduced form gives us a hint along the bottom of the page where the birds’ movement is captured in a black and white graphic display.
Next, an explanation by the photographer about the equipment he used and the technical difficulties associated with the photography of moving objects, in this case the various birds. The opening page with the boy and his toy and the skier in flight gives us an indication of how he wants to go about presenting us the “miracle of flight”.
The entire book with 92 pages of photos evolves around the similarities in flight. After a brief essay explaining the early attempts by aviators and their forerunner Icarus we no longer need any words and in fact there are none except for a few lines of well chosen prose. Remember travel was in propeller planes, early commercial jets were just coming to market and we had not been on the moon yet when this book appeared. The pages that follow here underneath each other are in the book side by side. Some are double page spreads.
In my opinion, the photographer caught a lot of similarities and exceeded my initial expectations of how one can relay such a complex material from a scientific point into a “deceptively simple look through the eye and lens of the photographer”. This hardcover book was published with a clear overlay for protection. It was generally overlooked in many contemporary collections.
Our taste in photography and its subject matter covered now is no longer focused on any particular technical aspect of this art. It lies more in the expression of the need to record memories and a sensationalist caricature of human behavior.