The photo books of Harvey Benge are always thought-provoking and enlightening, and his new book, “A Short History of Photography” is no exception.
The cover is like a visual poem, invoking the names of 40 of today’s most famous photographers, and promising “a short history of photography”. And sure enough, when you flip through the full-page photos, it is relatively easy to match each photo with one of those famous names, even though we’ve never seen any of these particular photos before, and even though they do not have captions to identify the photographers.
There’s good reason for that: Each photograph was made by Benge himself.
When I first saw this book, it gave me pause, and then I had to laugh, and then I had to think how truly difficult it must have been to make all of these photographs look so uniquely like the work of different famous photographers.
Here is an excerpt from Gerry Badger’s introductory text:
“While looking through his contact sheets, Harvey Benge noticed that one of his pictures reminded him of a ‘Friedlander’, another someone else. All photographers do this, and if the photograph in question apes another photographer too closely, it’s usually a cause for rejection. But Benge did the opposite. Picking out his ‘Friedlander’ and his ‘Parr’ and his ‘Baltz’ he decided to make an ‘anthology’ of contemporary photography featuring some of its biggest names. Yet they are all genuine, original Benges. They are also all good pictures, not mere pastiches of the ‘originals’ of which they gently but insistently remind one. This may be a game, but games can be very serious, and this fascinating book is both a serious and light-hearted exploration of photographic style.”
It brings to mind some questions we all face. Is this work original? Is it unconscious influence or something more intentional? Can you trademark a “style” in photography?
Look for it at your favorite photobook store.
A Short History of Photography
By Harvey Benge, with Gerry Badger
Published: 2007 by Dewi Lewis Publishing, England
Hardback, 88 pages, 280 x 228 mm