Tag Archives: photography

Eve Sonneman: A Spring Diptych

Eve Sonneman (born 1946).
Beatrice Wyatt’s Rock Garden: Rocks and Magnolia, 1988.
Cibachrome diptypch.
Courtesy of Zabriskie Gallery, New York.
Image from A History of Women Photographers, published by Abbeville Press.

Much more than Beatrice Wyatt and her rock garden comes to life in this diptych by Eve Sonneman: in its juxtaposition of two moments and two perspectives, the subject becomes the dynamic moment, and what is preserved suggests what is lost. The magnolia tree in full bloom pairs with the color of the painted stones, enriching the subtle narrative of transience and permanence.

If you’ve ever seen a magnolia tree come into flower (and we hope you’ve had the pleasure) you know it happens suddenly, almost explosively, and that the blooms last for only a few short weeks once a tree begins to blossom—and here, Sonneman’s choice of season for the piece is essential to its emotional and thematic tone. This week at the Abbeville Blog, (in case you haven’t noticed…) we’ve been celebrating—and we’ll be celebrating more!—the season of spring that is now burgeoning around us, and this portrait portrays the woman, the garden, and the moment, in vivid full bloom.

In Abbeville’s A History of Women Photographers, scholar, curator, and author Naomi Rosenblum discusses the role women have played in developing new concepts and ideas for expression in photography as an art form, and she observes: “By mounting side by side two images of the same subject taken at different times or from slightly different vantage points, Eve Sonneman suggests that no single view of reality should be considered more truthful than any other.” Beatrice Wyatt’s Rock Garden: Rocks and Magnolia expresses just that: the experience of the garden and of the image is individual and fleeting, even as it presses our senses with its sparkling pastels, evocative and vital.


Click here for more information on A History of Women Photographers, published by Abbeville Press.

Q&A with Steven Kasher, Part 3

“Sit-in at F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter, Jackson, Mississippi, May 28, 1963,” by Fred Blackwell. Image from The Civil Rights Movement.

Steven Kasher is a photographer, curator, and author of the book The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press. This week, Kasher was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Abbeville Blog, and here, in the final portion of the interview, he talks about the role of photography and the continuing influence of the Civil Rights Movement.

Q. What role did photography play throughout the Movement?

A. You can mark the beginning of what we call the 60s—the era of protests and counterculture in America and elsewhere—to February 1960, when there was the sit-in in Greensboro, which started very small—just four college freshmen trying to get a cup of coffee in a Woolworth’s. Their action was a spark that kindled a fire that spread through the South very rapidly. Over a matter of weeks and months there were protests all over the South inspired by that first one. The tinder was there, and it had to be dry and ready to take the spark, and how exactly that happened is a very important part of the history. But the actions were spread through the news, the news media, and photography was a major part of that spreading of the word.

“Sit-in training session, Virginia State College, Petersburg, 1960,” by Eve Arnold. Image from The Civil Rights Movement.

As the movement progressed, it was constantly being written about, snowballing as it went on. At first, the media attention was purely repressed and skeptical, but as the Movement gathered power and also learned how to publicize themselves, the word got out more and more, and it quickly reached beyond the South—into the North and to the newspapers that government leaders and the President of the United States read, and people around the world read. The accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement were very real and very much due to the direct action of everyday black people.

Q. How did the Civil Rights Movement inspire or serve as a role model for subsequent causes and movements for social change?

A. It has been an extremely important—if not the most important—social movement of our time. The Civil Rights Movement was really the first movement of the 60s. It inspired directly the peace movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement. The people who started all these other movements very often were trained in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s really endless, the effect of the Civil Rights Movement.

Q. What do you see as the continuing impact and importance of these photographs, half a century later?

A. I hope that people will read the book and look at the pictures and be inspired to see that a few people banded together and protesting in brave and creative ways can change a lot of things. That, to me, is the continuing message of the Civil Rights Movement. To look at it and see a lot has been achieved, and you can’t help looking at it and seeing that a lot still remains to be done, when you look at America, which still has racism and still has tremendous inequality. So the story is there to inspire us, to work continuously to make more equality.


Click here for more information on The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press.

Q&A with Steven Kasher, Part 2

“Danella Bryant praying during a demonstration outside the Traffic Engineering Building, Birmingham, May 5, 1963,” by Gary Haynes. Image from The Civil Rights Movement.

Steven Kasher is a photographer, curator, and author of The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press. Continuing our interview from last time, we asked more about the effect of the photography of the Civil Rights Movement.

Q. How do the photographs illuminate the history of the Civil Rights Movement? What do the photographs convey that words cannot express?

A. The emotion, for one, that you can read on people’s faces. The photographs can allow the viewer to enter into the space of the photograph and be part of it in a very visceral way. A photograph will, by giving these tiny details—a leaf of grass or the way somebody’s shirt has been plastered to his body because of the fire hose directed at him—by showing the details that a written narrative would never have the time to fill in, there are two things that happen: you believe in it—it’s taken as proof as having happened—and there’s a feeling component, you get more of a sense of exactly what it felt like to be there.

Q. What was the public’s response to the violence in these images? What was the effect of their prominence in the media during the Movement?

A. You can trace it in Life magazine, for example—and Life magazine was not just any magazine, it was the most-read journal in America, it was said to be seen by half the adults in America at its peak. It was, in the early 60s, reaching more people than television. The power of the still photography image in a magazine was extremely important—we kind of forget about it now because we live in the era of television, but the era of television covering the news was really just beginning at the time. So you have to look at both of these things together during the 60s and beyond—still images and video images.

So, in Life magazine, when you look at how they covered the protests in Birmingham, Alabama in May of 1963, you see a lot of violence. They called the story “They Fight a Fire That Won’t Go Out,” and they portrayed it very much as violence perpetrated by the protestors and then counter-violence by the police—they’re very skeptical of the Movement. It’s an eleven-page story, a huge story, with gigantic pictures because they spread over the two-page fold of this big magazine, and then there’s text as well—and I noted in the book that there is not a single black voice quoted in that article. So then you look at magazines just two years later, during the Selma marches in Alabama and there’s a total change in the attitude—now the protesters are portrayed as peaceful, protesters who are attacked for no good reason by the Alabama state troopers, who are compared by some to storm troopers.

“Arrest of a demonstrator outside the Carver Theatre, Birmingham, May, 1963,” by Bruce Davidson. Image from The Civil Rights Movement.

So there was a real change in both the public sentiment and the way the major journals portrayed the Movement. To make a long story short, the protesters are seen as violent at first, and later it’s the repressive state forces that are seen as violent—and a lot of that is due to Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence, which he and other people were promulgating very loudly, and people were hearing that.

Q. And that was the same philosophy behind the sit-ins, is that right?

A. Yes, definitely. Things like sit-ins and marches were really not that common in the political dialogue before the Civil Rights Movement—we have to remember that. There were obviously other demonstrations, labor demonstrations in American history, but the forms that we consider pretty universal now were really being developed, a lot of them, in the Civil Rights Movement, and they were quite novel.


To celebrate Black History Month, we’re offering a discount on The Civil Rights Movement. Click here and use code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 at checkout to reduce the price to $25, a savings of over 40% on the list price. Please be sure to click the “redeem coupon” button after you enter code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 to apply your discount. The code is valid through February 28th.

Q&A with Steven Kasher: The Civil Rights Movement

“Picketing the Courthouse, Monroe, North Carolina, August 26, 1961,” by Declan Haun. Image from The Civil Rights Movement.

Steven Kasher is a photographer, curator, and author of The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press. This week, Kasher generously offered to answer a few questions about his book for the Abbeville Blog.

Q. What inspired you to begin work on your book The Civil Rights Movement? Was there a specific person or moment that sparked your interest in the subject?

A. In 1964, when I was ten years old, the cousin of my best friend was murdered in Mississippi. His name was Andrew Goodman, and our family was very close to the Goodmans. It was that traumatic event from my childhood, which I didn’t understand at the time but bookmarked for many years to try to study or research or understand. Then, in conjunction with work I was doing as a curator of photography, I got the opportunity to do some exhibitions based on first one archive of photojournalism called Black Star that had a large number of photographs about the Civil Rights Movement. So I did some exhibitions in 1993 commemorating the March on Washington, thirty years later. And then, I expanded that research to embrace the whole Civil Rights Movement and did an exhibition called Appeal to this Age, which launched in 1994 and traveled to seventeen public institutions—mostly museums, university museums and such around the country, also to England—and the book was done in conjunction originally with that exhibition.

Q. Can you tell us about your process of selecting photographs, and of selecting which histories to detail in your text?

A. My original plan was to do a book about the photography of the Civil Rights Movement, but when in discussion with Abbeville Press, we expanded the idea to a broader subject, which is the Civil Rights Movement per se, using the photographs as the entryway in. And so the photographs were a key component of the book from the beginning. The idea was to balance a succinct history of the modern Civil Rights Movement with a survey of the photography. So there’s a real attempt to find the best photographs but also use the photographs to tell the story as vividly as possible. There’s a real back and forth. In addition to that, there was the attempt to put in the most important pictures, some newly discovered pictures, little known pictures, and in the middle pictures that were necessary to illustrate the stories, the narrative.

Q. You include many powerful images in the book. Are there specific photographs that strike you as particularly moving or evocative of the time?

A. There’s one that always stands out for me, which was photographed in Monroe, North Carolina, in 1961, by a photojournalist named Declan Haun. It shows a young protester carrying a sign that says “Justice.” She’s staring at the camera very intensely. That picture was quite well known—it had been published a number of times, and it was certainly very powerful. But in research, a deeper story came out, a much more complicated story about why she was carrying that sign. That story is in the book, and it demonstrates quite a few things, including the creativity of the Civil Rights Movement in the local response, because that sign was made in reaction to a new law that had been put in place in this locale, in Monroe, NC, saying that a sign larger than a certain size couldn’t be made, and various other restrictions—so this was the kind of creative response and very effective activity going on, and then the photographer capturing it and taking that message to a wider audience. It illustrates how the role of photography was often to document what was going on and then to amplify the message that was being put out by the protesters, the activists.


To celebrate Black History Month, we’re offering a discount on The Civil Rights Movement. Click here and use code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 at checkout to reduce the price to $25, a savings of over 40% on the list price. Please be sure to click the “redeem coupon” button after you enter code CIVIL RIGHTS 2013 to apply your discount. The code is valid through February 28th.


Q&A With Robert McCabe, Pt. 3: Favorite Photographs

Robert McCabe is a celebrated photographer whose most recent exhibition took place in Corfu, Greece. This week he selected some of his favorite shots from his two Abbeville Press books, The Ramble in Central Park and Weekend in Havana.

Q. What are some of your favorite shots from The Ramble in Central Park?

A: P 31 Reflections in the Lake. I got inspired by the reflections in the lake several times and there are a couple of others included in the book. The success of these reflection photos depends on what was in the foreground, what was reflected, and how the light fell on all the components. One could do whole book of them!
P 66 The Oven. I like the sense of tranquility and the distance from the bustle of the city. The only link is the Times.
P 81. Fall Wedding. Luck plays an important role in photography. This was one of those lucky shots where all the players are visible and doing what they are supposed to be doing. If they had been my models and I had taken 1000 shots I doubt I would have gotten one as good.
P 109 Winter near Azalea Pond. This spot is exceptionally photogenic. And I picked the winter scene just because it’s rarer. There are other shots in the book of this spot in the fall.
P 118 A tranquil spot on the banks of the Gill. When I see this I think to myself, no one will believe this exists in New York.

Q. How about from Weekend in Havana?

A: P 87 The Man. The Bronze. The communist bronze ideal juxtaposed against the lanky human reality. But there are structural similarities which make the two figures seem related.
P 103 School pals. The sense of two children in rapport is strong in this–something difficult to capture in images. I have a series of the two of them together.
P 114 Woman and her dog. The color palette I like, as well as the sense of the emotional attachment between the woman and her dog.
P 119 The Three Graces. A lucky shot, with everyone in exactly the right position.
P 125 Toy vendor. This summarizes some of the heartbreak of Havana–no toys for children except these handmade “toys,” and the sadness of the maker.
P 137 Untitled. The local and foreign visitor. The positions and expressions speak 10,000 words.

Q. Tell us about your most recent work, including your recent exhibition in Corfu?

A. I am currently working on two books relating to Greece. This year I had the opportunity to photograph in a number of Greek islands that have beautiful topography, including Ithaca and Patmos.

I have an exhibition in progress now on the island of Corfu. It is titled “China Greece–Ancient Peoples, Changing Worlds.” It is in the Old Palace in Corfu, which is now the Museum of Asian Art. It consists of 40 color photographs of Greece in the 1950s and ’60s and 45 color photos of China in 2006. There are in addition 25 black and white photos of Greece in the 1950s. The venue is the most beautiful in Greece, and the island certainly one of the most beautiful and pleasant. So I hope you will try to visit before the May 12 closing date.


Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of The Ramble in Central Park, published by Abbeville Press.

Images by Robert McCabe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase a copy of Weekend in Havana, published by Abbeville Press.

Abbeville Book Buzz – November 2012


While the Abbeville Blog has been exploring Abbeville’s new releases in depth throughout the fall, other media outlets have been buzzing about our books as well. Here’s a roundup of some of the more notable November coverage.

The New York Times chose Renaissance Intarsia and Greek and Roman Mosaics for its Holiday Gift Guide, praising them both as books that pack “intellectual heft and emotional wallop.” The editors particularly enjoyed the arcane trivia and fantastic lore offered in each:

[Greek and Roman Mosaics'] glossary is entertaining: ancient installers called themselves tessellators, and a favorite squiggly motif was known as “opus vermiculatum. ” Many of the mosaics have been removed from their original mortar beds; a petaled frame from a Tivoli villa’s scene of doves around a birdbath has been cut apart and dispersed among collections in Germany, England and France.”

Scholars liked intarsia images of musical instruments and books, and popes and monks ordered portraits of saints. The wood grain lines, dotted with mother-of-pearl, were positioned to represent tiny gleaming swords, bird feathers and draped robes. The raw material, the [Intarsia] authors explain quite evocatively, came from trees felled in winter, “and only during the waning phase of the moon.”

Equally evocative was the review of Pieter Bruegel in the Journal of the Northern Renaissance, which revels in the sensuous thrills of the volume:

This lavish book looks and feels indulgent; revealing with thrilling intimacy details of large panel paintings, including dress, gesture, facial expressions and under-drawing, it offers the closest thing to a museum experience … Taken together with [Larry] Silver’s Hieronymous Bosch (2006), Pieter Bruegel presents a masterful survey of Northern Renaissance visual trends over a span of more than a century. The book provides a fabulous resource of images, supported by a lively text that re-engages with a much loved master, and is sure to inspire many more people to look again at Bruegel.”

The reviewer also salutes author Larry Silver for deftly negotiating the vast body of scholarship on Bruegel—a painter who has become “a brand in every sense”—while at the same time keeping the emphasis where it ought to be: “Silver’s tome…rightly declares its central purpose to be the contemplation of pictures.”

Speaking of contemplation, the JapanCulture NYC blog found a whole garden’s worth of blissful serenity in Jonathan Singer’s photographic opus, Fine Bonsai: Art & Nature: “Dr. Singer creates bold, colorful images that spring off the page and demonstrate how nature can at once be both delicate and powerful…each of [the book's] 596 pages offers moments of contemplation and meditation.” In the Journal of the American Bonsai Society, editor Bob King agreed that “this is more than your average coffee table book”:

Jonathan Singer with his grounding as an art-based photographer has revealed what he sees as the true nature of the trees through the use of selective lighting. The same black background makes the trees “pop” from the pages … As I viewed the book, I also considered the educational component for the bonsai community. The book is not just a collection of photographs of bonsai. It appears that the planned design was to have trees shown without detailed information close at hand, thereby forcing the viewer to appreciate the individual tree without the prejudgment of who was involved in the development. The sections of the history, aesthetics, and container selection all add value to this book as a comprehensive book on the art of bonsai.

And there, like a master gardener trimming a bonsai plant, we will cut off the roundup before it sprawls untidily. We hope you’ll continue to follow the Abbeville Blog throughout December for more Abbeville news, author interviews, and reflections on art and art history, as well as holiday gift ideas. See you Monday!

Joy on the Grand Scale: Jonathan Singer at the New Jersey State Museum

When a fellow scholar interested in botanical illustration pointed Dr. Karen Reeds to a Smithsonian.com article on Jonathan Singer, she was struck right away by what she saw. “Within five minutes,” she recalls, “I thought: this is something that would make a good exhibition.”

Actually bringing Singer’s photography to the New Jersey State Museum, where Dr. Reeds is a freelance curator, took some time and negotiation. For one thing, the project would be an ambitious one for the museum, which “didn’t have any frames large enough on hand” for Singer’s giant-sized photographs. Still, says Dr. Reeds, the publication of Singer’s Botanica Magnifica, with its gorgeous full-color images of rare and exotic plants, was a “tremendous advertisement” that wowed her fellow curators.

Asked why the images appealed so much to her own eye, Reeds praised “the contrast of the absolutely luminous color against the black background…that makes them all the more vivid.” She noted the influence on Singer of still life paintings by Dutch Old Masters, which, she said, were “ingrained in me from a very early age as a beautiful thing to see” (a reproduction of one of them hung in her grandmother’s house as a child). She pointed, too, to the way their size works in the photographs’ favor; they’re “so large that you see things that you could not actually see on the living plant”–or under a microscope, which doesn’t permit a view of the entire specimen. Finally, she said, there is the artist’s personal imprint, independent of technical considerations: his “sheer joy in the forms and colors of the plant.”

Once the exhibition was set to go forward, Reeds worked with Singer and her fellow curators to, as she puts it, “create a story.” Their choice of materials dictated by what was already framed, they grouped images to create a logical flow for each section of exhibition, juxtaposing them with the museum’s John James Audubon prints to emphasize their continuity with the “historical tradition of natural history illustration on the grand scale.”

How was the show received? “Very well,” says Reeds: it attracted praise from ARTNews, ART TIMES, and Princeton Magazine, among other outlets, as well as considerable community interest in Trenton and beyond. It satisfied the most demanding critics, too: Reeds noticed that children were quite fond of the work, responding in particular to “Jonathan’s more abstract images”–those that “hom[ed] in on an abstract piece of color and form.” From little kids to the Smithsonian, from Botanica Magnifica to Fine Bonsai, it seems that the wow factor in Singer’s work remains a constant.

“Absolute Focus”: A Conversation With Jonathan Singer

In the course of photographing his latest volume, Fine Bonsai: Art and Nature, Jonathan Singer had the privilege of meeting with a number of prominent international bonsai masters. When one of them–Seiji Morimae of the S-Cube Uchiku-Tei Bonsai Garden in Hanyu, Japan–saw Singer’s work, he realized instantly that it eclipsed any previous photography techniques known to the art form. He dismissed his poor staff photographer “on the spot.”

So Dr. Singer recalled this week in a conversation about Fine Bonsai, newly released this fall from Abbeville Press. Singer, who began his career as a New Jersey podiatrist, has become arguably the world’s most celebrated botanical photographer. His extraordinary knack for dramatic lighting and composition, as well as his passion for plants, emerges in each of the deluxe-sized images in Bonsai as well as in his previous volume for Abbeville, Botanica Magnifica. The result is a signature style of which “botanists are in awe,” according to Smithsonian.com.

Singer’s talents have also received recognition in high places. Morimae has recently nominated his work for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award in Japan, which typically goes to bonsai plants themselves. Vanity Fair devoted a feature article to him in 2008, calling him a “prodigy” and tracing his vertiginous ascent in the worlds of photography and bookselling. Closer to home, a retrospective of his work took place at the New Jersey State Art Museum last year.

Convincing the Japanese bonsai masters to champion his work was no easy task. “I had to have absolute, dead-on focus,” Singer notes. “The Japanese don’t like black backgrounds–had never seen it, never tried it.” They doubted that some “upstart from the U.S. [could] show us from Japan something about photographing bonsai, which has been in our culture for 2,000 years.” As a guest in a foreign country, Singer “didn’t want to be my typical boisterous self,” so he asked the bonsai masters to keep an open mind. At the same time, “I had to slightly alter my shooting style [from Botanica] to suit the need of the subject…I had to shoot so I had at least 3 to 5 feet depth of field.” He was aided in his task, he says, by a “really solid” Hasselblad camera with a “great lens,” and by Abbeville’s publisher and designers, who did a “beautiful job” reproducing and pairing images so that “each thing flows into the next.” As evidenced by Morimae’s reaction, he more than won over his skeptics.

For Singer, the project is not only a professional triumph but a personal cause. While he was traveling and photographing in Japan, he was shocked by the devastation from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami. Thousands of lives and buildings had been lost and destroyed, and at least one major bonsai collection had been washed away. As a result, he says, he decided to use his photography to help. Portions of the proceeds from the Bonsai volume will be donated to Japanese relief organizations, and Singer has pledged to donate his own royalties to the widow of Morimae’s apprentice, who died in the catastrophe. “Hopefully,” he says, “it will make a difference.”

Singer spoke enthusiastically, too, about his next project, a photographic exploration of the “spirit rocks” or “scholar stones” used in traditional Chinese gardens. Collaborating with dealer and collector Kemin Hu, Singer has switched out his signature black backgrounds for red ones: the color is considered auspicious in China, and better sets off the black stones. Singer believes the book will be both “beautiful and meaningful” and will make Hu and himself “rock stars.” For this Vanity Fair-featured artist, still on the ascent, the pun may not be entirely a joke.