Saturday, October 06, 2007

Invisible Preservatives

David Plowden: Vanishing Point

Fifty Years of Photography by David Plowden
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2007
340 pages/hardcover/280 duotone photographs/$100.00

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Taking the cellophane wrap off of the large new volume of David Plowden: Vanishing Point feels like blowing years of dust away from an old box of keepsakes. Inside, the images taken by the quiet and prolific master photographer David Plowden have been righteously preserved. Plowden deserves a big heap of recognition with the publication of this tribute to his examination of American over the last half century.

Journalist Steve Edwards reveals fascinating background insights about Plowden in the book’s introduction. In Plowden’s case, it is impressive to read that he studied with Minor White, but what is more informative is to discover that when they first met, Plowden was so intimidated by White’s room displaying works by Edward Weston and Paul Caponigro, “I almost turned around and fled,” he says.

If rural America is disappearing, we can thank Plowden for steadily recording the forgotten pockets of the country for all these years. We have his images of ramshackle porches, abandoned factories, bar-and-grill waitresses, and deco furniture in an Iowa home. One day, photography enthusiasts might compare the August 1, 2007 photos of the Twin City bridge collapse with those taken by Plowden of the rusted and worn steel sides of Chicago’s 100th Street Bridge. “What a wonderful, marvelous example of steelwork. We don’t make bridges like this anymore,” he said upon seeing the photographic value of the underside of an old drawbridge.

Plowden is adamant that his technique should remain invisible; he insists that the subject is lost if technique overwhelms the picture. Yet the book ends with notes from Plowden about his experiments with all kinds of equipment, films and developer temperatures. This inclusion is just one of many compelling reasons for adding Vanishing Point to your book collection.

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