Friday, October 17, 2008

Imitation, Influence... and Coincidence: online tour

  Welcome to the online tour of Imitation, Influence... and Coincidence, an exhibition developed by Covering Photography, currently on view at the Boston Public Library. The real world version is up through January 31st, 2009 in the BPL's Rare Books and Manuscripts exhibition space (the Boston Public Library is located at 700 Boylston St., Boston MA. Hours are Mon - Fri, 9 - 5)

  The purpose of this site is to take the viewer through the show, display by display, using photographs of the exhibition space and details of the books, covers, source images and accompanying text. The books are displayed in a total of 17 display cases (Note: The introductory text for this exhibit is a bit too long to place in this space, so I have linked it, for those interested, here).

  Although I have used a blogging application for this virtual tour of the show, it is not actually a blog; instead it exists to give an idea of the exhibit to those who are unable to see it 'live', so except for comments and responses - which are welcome - I won't be adding to it.

  As much as I've tried to reproduce the feel of the show here, there is truly no substitute for the real thing. In most cases, the small size and low resolution of the photographs virtually guarantees that important details will be vague at best, with the result that comparisons between cover illustrations and source photographs may be difficult to read. [click on any of the images to view them enlarged]

  Finally, the exhibition in its entirety takes up three separate pages on the blog; once you get to the bottom of each page, you must click on 'Older Posts' in order to see the remainder.

  So, to begin: a general view of the first group, cases 1 - 7 (right to left), in the Boston Public Library's Rare Books and Manuscripts exhibition space:

  Now on to the details of each case, and the covers themselves...

Display case 1 (Brandt)

  The two book covers above may be seen to symbolically define the parameters of this exhibition. Both cover illustrations, it may be argued, have a greater or lesser connection to photographs taken by the British photographer Bill Brandt. The cover drawing for George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier is clearly a stylized copy of Brandt's 1937 photo Coal Searcher Going Home to Jarrow, and serves as a fitting metaphor for Orwell's politically charged book about coal miners in England's industrial north.

Title: The Road To Wigan Pier

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Harvest/HBJ Books 1958

Designer / Illustrator: John Alcorn

  The inspirational source for the cover of Karen Robards' steamy thriller Bait is not as obvious. Seen next to Nude, London 1952, one of Brandt's most popular and widely-reproduced images, there does seem to be a similarity, but is it a case of influence or merely coincidence? Photographers do, after all, look at each others work, and can't help having their vision shaped by the icons of photo history. And if the resemblance is coincidental, just what is it about the combination of raking side-light and the undulating crook of the subject's arm that made both photographers trip the shutter?

Title: Bait

Author: Karen Robards

Publisher: Signet 2005

Designer / Illustrator: Not listed

Display case 2 (Kertész, Abbott, Smith)

  Three cover illustrations and the photographs from which they are derived:

  For the 1964 paperback edition of Colette's novel, The Shackle, illustrator Jacqueline Schuman has produced a line drawing based on André Kertész's 1915 photograph Lovers, Budapest. Schuman (who has illustrated scores of book covers, including Violette Leduc's in the next display case) has here adopted a drawing style somewhat reminiscent of Jean Cocteau, a friend and contemporary of Colette.

Title: The Shackle

Author: Colette

Publisher: Noonday (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) 1976

Designer / Illustrator: Jacqueline Schuman

  The Arrow softcover of The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 cribs storefront, barber pole and sign from Berenice Abbott's Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan, October 24, 1935. The two figures in the cover artwork have been imported from elsewhere.

Title: The Big Kiss-Off Of 1944

Author: Andrew Bergman

Publisher: Arrow Books 1976

Designer / Illustrator: Not listed

  Finally, another edition of Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier (see previous display case for the first copy). The source for this edition's cover artwork is documentary photographer W. Eugene Smith's 1950 image, Three Generations of Welsh Miners. In the drawing, however, one generation has been removed, and the row houses in the background have been replaced by factory smokestacks.

Title: The Road To Wigan Pier

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Harvest (Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, Inc.)

Designer / Illustrator: Hal Siegal

Display case 3 (Brassai, Sander)

  Two covers based on photographs by the Hungarian-born, Paris-based Brassai:

  The Fat Woman's Joke, Fay Weldon's novel about female stereotypes and body image employs a painted illustration taken from Brassai's Streetwalker Near the Place d’Italie (ca.1932).

Nadine Michi is listed as the designer for this cover, but the artwork is uncredited.

Title: The Fat Woman’s Joke

Author: Fay Weldon

Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers 1986

Designer / Illustrator: Nadine Michl

  The cover for Violette Leduc's bestselling memoir, La Bâtarde presents a more intriguing case since, unlike the Weldon illustration, it is not a direct copy. Rather, Jacqueiline Schuman has taken the woman from Brassai's Lovers Quarrel, 1936, opened her eyes, removed the curl from her forehead and given her bangs. The right-hand image above the books shows a composite of the Schuman's cover illustration and Brassai's original:

Title: La Batarde

Author: Violette Leduc

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1976

Designer / Illustrator: Jacqueline Schuman

  For the cover of Yael Dayan's fourth book, Death Had Two Sons, the legendary designer and illustrator Milton Glaser has drawn a loosely interpretive facsimile of Widower, 1914, one of the best known portraits from August Sander's landmark publication, Menschen Des 20.Jahrhunderts. As psychologically complex as it is visually straightforward, Widower depicts a middle-class, middle-aged German man and, presumably, his two sons. In contrast to their father's rotund physique, both boys are thin, forlorn and pale to the point of anemia. In Sander's photograph, the man is looking toward the taller boy, while the other, ignored, turns his hopeless gaze to the camera.

  The image is a good choice for Dayan's novel, which tells the story of a man forced by the Nazis to choose the life of one of his sons over the other. Glaser has taken artistic license, however, by making the father thinner and more aristocratic. Additionally, and more important, the subtleties of interaction and expression are lost, and the personalities of all three individuals have virtually disappeared. In reducing the specificity of the photograph, Glaser's drawing has also taken away much of it's life.

Title: Death Had Two Sons

Author: Yael Dayan

Publisher: McGraw-Hill 1967

Designer / Illustrator: Milton Glaser

Display case 4 (Evans, Lange)

  First, two books with covers based on well-known photographs by Walker Evans:

  The Italian edition of James Baldwin's If Beale Street could Talk uses Walker Evans' Atlanta, Georgia, 1936 as the source for its cover artwork. The influence may be seen primarily in the middle and right-hand houses. In Evans' original, the poster on the fence is an advertisement for the film Love Before Breakfast, on which someone has painted a black eye on the portrait of its star, Carol Lombard.

Title: Se La Strada Potesse Parlare (If Beale Street Could Talk)

Author: James Baldwin

Publisher: Rizolli 1979

Designer / Illustrator: Paolo Guidotti

  Another Walker Evans image, also from 1936, has been referenced for the cover of Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink. Evans' portrait of Lucille Burroughs, albeit stylized and redone in pigment, is the model for Brinks' title character.

Title: Caddie Woodlawn

Author: Carol Ryrie Brink

Publisher: Collier Books 1970

Designer / Illustrator: J. McMullan

  Here is a panel which composites Evans' original portrait with the cover illustration:

  Sometimes a work of art by one artist is appropriated by another artist and remade into a new work of art. An obvious example might be Andy Warhol's use of DaVinci's Mona Lisa. In that case it is a matter of quotation; Warhol challenges our preconceptions about the nature of 'high' art and 'low' art.

  The cover of Mark Kline Taylor's Remembering Esperanza presents some similarities. In 1983, Elizabeth Catlett (an important artist in her own right) took one of Dorothea Lange's better-known photographs, Ex-Slave With a Long Memory, Alabama 1938 and hand-copied it as a linocut, flipping it horizontally in the process. The 'new' image was subsequently exhibited and published, under Catlett's name, with the title The Survivor. Seven years pass, and this new translation finds its way onto the cover of Taylor's book, now reduced in size, compromised in detail, shifted in color; that is, not quite the same work that would be found on gallery or museum walls. Since Lange's 'original' was made while she was working for the Farm Security Administration, it is 'owned' by the Library of Congress, and therefore free of most copyright restrictions. Catlett may use the image as she pleases. Her interpretation of Ex-Slave may be seen as transformative and skillful, and it can even be argued that, as an African-American, Catlett may claim a symbolic form of 'ownership' to a picture that references slavery. In transforming the image, Catlett has also made it her own from a legal standpoint; the picture's caption in the book informs us that it appears 'courtesy of Hancraft Studios. All Rights Reserved'.

  While this may pose an ethical dilemma for some, in terms of this exhibition it is not a problem at all; rather, it is an example, in a didactic sense, of issues that may surface when an image undergoes the process of translation (in this case, more than one translation) from 'original' to book cover.

Title: Remembering Esperanza

Author: Mark Kline Taylor

Publisher: Orbis Books 1990

Designer / Illustrator: Alicia Zoda

Display case 5 (Wulz, Blumenfeld, Steichen)

  Italian artist Wanda Wulz, known primarily for 1932 photomontage Cat and I, clearly the inspiration for Lester Krauss' cover photograph for Florence Stevenson's novel,


Title: Ophelia

Author: Florence Stevenson

Publisher: New American Library 1968

Designer / Illustrator: Lester Krauss

  Erwin Blumenfeld's stylized Surrealist simplification of a woman's face to a single mascara'd eye and painted pair of lips captivated the fashion world in 1950 when it appeared on the cover of Vogue's January issue. The picture was a product of it's time (a number of photographers had been using high contrast imagery in their fashion work; Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and William Klein, to name several), but it may have had an impact on the world of book cover illustration as well. That same year, for example, William Morrow first published The Case of the One-Eyed Witness, a Perry Mason thriller by Erle Stanley Gardner. Five years later, Blumenfeld left Vogue, and Pocket Books reissued One-Eyed Witness in paper with a cover illustration by James Meese that looks startlingly familiar.

  While there is no connection between Blumenfeld's exit from Vogue and the release of the Perry Mason paperback, there may be a trail of influence leading from Blumenfeld's photograph to Meese's illustration. Or, it may simply be a striking coincidence. A third possibility is that both were influenced by an even earlier image, done by someone else.

  Regardless of it's provenance, the woman's face, whited-out but for eye and lips, has figured a number of times over the years as a motif for covers of mass-market books involving sexy dames with a taste for danger.

Title: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness

Author: Erle Stanley Gardner

Publisher: Pocket Books 1955 (1st ed 1950)

Designer / Illustrator: James Meese

  One might be justified in wondering if the photographer for J. Randy Taraborrelli's 'unauthorized' biography of Diana Ross, or even Miss Ross herself, had Edward Steichen's classic 1928 portrait of Greta Garbo in mind when shooting the cover image. It is not necessarily out of character for a celebrity with Ross' public persona and temperament to want to emulate a diva from a bygone era.

Title: Call Her Miss Ross

Author: J. Randy Taraborrelli

Publisher: Birch Lane Press 1989

Designer / Illustrator: Steven Bower

Hand Tinting: Joanie Schwarz

Photographer: Wide World Media

Display case 6 (Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson, Lange)

  The resemblance of the pictures on these three book covers to their 'source' images seems to hover between the spheres of 'influence' and 'coincidence'. Certainly there exists a visual correspondence in all three cases: The cover image of The Mammoth Book of Erotica calls to mind Nude, 1919, part of Alfred Stieglitz's collective portrait of the painter (and his wife) Georgia O'Keeffe. The young woman sitting with legs crossed in Binnie Kirshenbaum's novel Hester Among The Ruins is reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 1968 portrait of the photographer (and his wife) Martine Franck. Finally, the image on the cover of Bear Me Safely Over has a strong similarity to Dorothea Lange's 1958 image of a priest's feet in Burma.

  Were the the photographers who made the cover images influenced by Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson or Lange? Or are the subject's poses archetype, appearing in the visual arts long before the invention of photography?

Title: The Mammoth Book of Erotica

Author: Maxim Jakubowski

Publisher: Carroll & Graf 1994

Designer / Illustrator: Not listed

Title: Hester Among the Ruins

Author: Binnie Kirshenbaum

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company 2002

Designer / Illustrator: Julie Metx

Photographer: Gary Isaacs

Title: Bear Me Safely Over

Author: Sheri Joseph

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press 2002

Designer / Illustrator: Not listed

                Please click 'Older Posts' (below) to continue viewing exhibit...

Display case 7 (Frank, Steiner)

  Most viewers familiar with the photographer Robert Frank's magnum opus The Americans will know that the images on the two book covers shown here aren't his, but not necessarily without first experiencing a moment of déjà vu.

  There are, no doubt, an endless number of photographs that depict roads leading off into nowhere, many taken by important photographers. While Robert Frank is hardly the first to have produced such a picture, the bleak, poetic beauty of U.S. 285, New Mexico has made it one of the more popular and quoted versions of the genre.

  Rosanne Wilson's drawing for the cover of Freya Manfred's book of poems, American Roads appears to have been modeled after Frank's image. Although the road lines in Wilson's drawing have been flipped, the oncoming car is closer and telephone poles have been added, the image proportions are virtually identical to those of Frank's photograph.

Title: American Roads

Author: Freya Manfred

Publisher: Overlook Press 1979

Designer / Illustrator: Rosanna Wilson

  The cover photo for The Assault on Tony's (credited not to an individual but 'courtesy of [the photo agency] Photonica') appears generally derivative of Frank’s influential vision, and specifically reminiscent of Bar, Gallup, New Mexico. The setting, the tilt, the way the image is contained by its edges, and the heightening of tension by obscuring detail all find their source in the 26th picture in Franks landmark book.

  A final detail worth noting: the publisher of this book is Grove Press; the same house that, 37 years earlier, published The Americans.

Title: The Assault On Tony’s

Author: John O’Brien

Publisher: Grove Press 1996

Designer / Illustrator: John Gall

Photographer: ‘courtesy of Photonica’

  American Rural Baroque, made by Ralph Steiner in 1929, is one of his best known photographs, predating Grant Wood's American Gothic by one year. In addition to being a sterling example of Modernist photographic formalism, it serves to portray, and preserve, an archetype of rural Americana. From the warmth of the light to the carefully crafted intricacies of the chair back, one feels a sense of peace, but also of melancholy.

  Designer Kathleen Digrado's photo, also of a chair on a front porch, calls Steiner's image to mind. It is used for the cover of Michael Winerip's 9 Highland Road, a book about metal illness and institutionalized living. In Digrado's photo, the empty chair and its shadow serve as a symbol of absence (both literal and emotional) as well as representing the threshold between confinement and freedom. While the shadow of Steiner's chair manifests itself as an engaging optical puzzle, the chair on the cover of Winerip's book casts the ominous shadow of bars on a stone wall.

  Was Kathleen Digrado in some way influenced by Ralph Steiner? Was she consciously aware of his work, or did she subconsciously absorb it, conceivably from a slide presentation in a photo history class, or while paging through an anthology? Or, perhaps just as likely, is there no connection whatsoever? To see an object and its shadow as a potential picture does not, after all, require a genius-level aesthetic sensibility; it is a common enough visual motif, even for beginning photography students. What is it, in this case, about the nature of substance and shadow that compels the image-maker to commit it to film?

Title: 9 Highland Road

Author: Michael Winerip

Publisher: Vintage Books 1995

Designer / Illustrator: Kathleen DiGrado