1001 Photographs

With only a week to go until Christmas, book buying opportunities are rapidly disappearing, so my final photography-themed recommendation of 2017 is one that purists may turn their noses up at.

But there’s so much to enjoy in the newly-published addition to the ‘Before You Die‘ series on ‘1001 Photographs You Must See…‘ (Quintessence Books / £20 – but currently half-price at Waterstone’s in the UK).

Starting with Niepce, Fox Talbot and Daguerre (in that order), the 960-pager takes its reader on a whirlwind tour of the medium’s history, climaxing with a 2016 news photo of an image of Donald Trump projected on to the Empire State Building on the night of his Presidential election victory.

Like all such compilations, its choices are bound to generate heated debate about the established photographic canon, who’s in and who’s forgotten or overlooked, and what makes a photograph worth viewing above any other image.

Both Nadar and Vivian Maier (the subjects of my last two blog posts) feature, but the image I’ve chosen to highlight is one that led me off on a detour that continues to provide me with much pleasure.

Art Kane’s ‘A Great Day in Harlem,’ taken in 1958, features a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of seminal jazz musicians gathered in front a New York brownstone for a sort of team photo to illustrate an article for Esquire magazine.

I first became aware of the photograph through Jean Bach’s 1995 film documentary about the photo’s creation, which I saw one afternoon at Hampstead’s Everyman cinema during that year’s London Film Festival.

In the company of no more than a handful of people, I sat entranced watching the creative genesis of what I suppose is the ultimate improvisation – photographing a bunch of musical mavericks and pioneers, some of whom (we learn in the film) didn’t know there were two 10 o’clocks in the same day.

Musically, it sent me off to Tower Records and HMV and Virgin in the West End, hoovering up obscure jazz records by artists who at the time were new to me – Pee Wee Russell, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, Mary Lou Williams and a long list of others.

The VHS of the movie was a treasured possession for a long time and the black-and-white film poster that you could send away for was duly framed and now resides alongside Jane Bown’s 1963 shot of John Lennon backstage before a Beatles concert, and an Ansel Adams poster-sized photo of Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park, California.

Kane’s Harlem photo does not look out of place.

A quick Amazon search has now yielded a ‘used’ 2006 DVD set of Bach’s film, which includes an ‘extra’ containing profiles of all the featured musicians, so I’m looking forward to some more musical adventures over the long, leisurely days of the Christmas and New Year holiday.

The film’s official website has lots of technical information about how the photograph was conceived and executed, which these days has much more interest for me than it did over 20 years ago.

A Great Day In Harlem – official website

So as they say in these parts, ‘result all round.’

Have a great Christmas and see you in 2018.

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