cover image 20th Century French Photography

20th Century French Photography

Rizzoli, Agnes De Gouvion Saint-Cyr. Rizzoli International Publications, $35 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-0943-1

Turn-of-the-century French ``Pictorialist'' photographers posed sensuous models in the style of academic painting; then came early documentary pioneers like Eugene Atget and Andre Kertesz, opening the floodgates of reality. Brassai's macabre, disturbing images of Paris nightlife find a contemporary echo in Diane Arbus. With the advent of surrealism, Man Ray, Raoul Ubac and Roger Parry exploited a bag of tricks to pry open the unconscious. It wasn't until the 1950s that French photojournalists led by Henri Cartier-Bresson proved photography to be a medium that could stand on its own, independent of painting. Cataloguing a London exhibition, this excellent survey is a revelation for casual browers and seasoned photography buffs alike. Among pictures by contemporaries we find Tom Drahos's crumpled-paper icons, Christian Boltanski's explorations of the outer limits of kitsch and Pascal Kern's imaginary factories cluttered with dream-objects. (August)