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Photography: The Whole Story

The cultural significance of this widespread medium condensed in a fascinating new book

by Kat Herriman in Culture on 27 September 2012

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Since its genesis in 1839, photography itself has evolved tremendously as a medium, with the very essence of its output forging culturally significant technological, social and artistic movements. In Prestel's new visually compelling tome, "Photography: The Whole Story," editor Juliet Hackering and her team tackle the daunting task of mapping photography's extensive scope and its dynamic historical impact.

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Organized chronologically in easily navigable, color-coded sections, the thorough record includes more than 1,000 images in 575 pages. The book opens with the oldest known surviving photograph—Joseph Niepce's "View from the Window at Le Gras"—and ends with contemporary, post-modern works like Kim Joon's "Birdland" series. The book's breakdown into four larger historical contexts walks through the lineage of photography by movement, with each given a general overview, event timeline and explications of key works. Aware of the medium's inextricable tie to society, the editors not only provide context for the photos in terms of artistic trends, but in terms of technological advances and cultural changes.

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Each movement is characterized by a key work, which is broken down into smaller details—some aesthetic, some contextual. Using focal points, the editors cleverly draw the reader's attention to specific parts of each photograph, linking them back to the wider social context. The book also pauses occasionally to profile especially influential artists who helped shape, or direct a given cultural shift.

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By providing concrete examples and contextualizing each movement in history, "The Whole Story" succeeds in capturing the variation and magnitude of photography's influence over its relatively brief history. The massive book sells online from Amazon and in bookshops for $23.

Images by James Thorne

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