The early histories of photography tend to focus on the almost mythical actions of a few heroic individuals—Daguerre, Niepce, Fox Talbot, Bayard. These men—huddled secretively around their chemical processes, jealously guarding their discoveries—have an air of genius, but also of privacy. Thus, it can be easy to overlook how even in these very early years, the idea of "exhibition" was central to photography. 

Yet a history of photography narrated through these medium-defining exhibitions has received little attention. For anyone with an interest in this kind of history, there are certain other names which ring with their own sense of mythology: The Family of Man exhibition; Alfred Stieglitz and his 291 gallery; John Szwarkowski and his indelible mark on photo-curating. But for many, these names are just that—important names which lack context or specificity.

Thanks to the editorial efforts of Alessandro Mauro, we now have Photoshow, a newly published book which fills this gap admirably. From the public unveiling of Daguerre's work to the conceptual revolutions of today, this impressively researched (but highly accessible) volume manages to condense the sweep of almost 200 years of exhibitions into 11 smartly written chapters and two insightful interviews at the start and finish.

The photography neophyte will be delighted to learn so much, with such economy. But even the well-versed reader will likely discover some new corner of history: the seminal photography exhibitions in 1850s London; the key role of the 1891 Vienna International Exhibition; the importance of Germany’s Form und Foto; the list goes on.

Faced by the ever-growing onslaught of images, photography curation promises to grow increasingly important in the coming years. But it’s essential that we understand the activity’s past before plunging forward into the future. It’s hard to imagine a better book to help us in this process of understanding. Highly recommended.

—Alexander Strecker

Photoshow
Alessandra Mauro
Publisher: Contrasto
Hardcover: 272 pages