Thursday, 10 June 2010


I was dithering over whether to buy a copy of Josef Koudelka's Piedmont book, and found myself reading the reviews on Amazon UK. I was very amused by this (one star) review, which I swear I haven't altered in any respect:

Having a love of Italy, and photography, and knowing little of Koudelka's work, the description of the book (and generously reduced price) encouraged me to take a blind plunge, and buy this book. What a mistake that was. The images have nothing of the quality, or style that photographers such as Edwin Smith, Horst, List, De Biasi, Erwitt, and countless others lend to the country. Sadly the photographs are reproduced in an irredeemably deep and gloomy low key, there are no highlights, or sparkle in any of the images. Further the gushing description describes the images as being "panoramic". They are nothing of the sort. A panoramic photograph conventionally encompasses an extremely wide angle of view (in excess of 100 degrees). Most of these do not. Instead they are standard photographs cropped to a letter box shape. This only serves to exclude much of the frame which would otherwise give some meaning too, or add a compositional element to the image. A handful of images are totally appropriate to this crop, but only a handful, and they are by far the better ones. At least 50% of the pages are blank, and printed a uniform black which exacerbates the gloomy appearance still further.

Sadly, though understandably, Amazon won't accept a properly ordered title as a return, otherwise this would have gone straight back. As for being beautifully bound, well, if square edged, thick, raw, cardboard, with gaffer tape on the spine, roughly cut paper and packing case graphics are `beautiful', then I happily admit to having too much taste and discernment for my own good.
Well, that's definitely helped me make up my mind -- two copies, I think.

I should point out that copies of Koudelka's Reconnaissance Wales (also bound in "raw cardboard, with gaffer tape on the spine") currently fetch £700. But photography is a broad church, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. And, after all, it's firmly-held opinions like those of this reviewer that help make books unbought, thus scarce and, ten years later, very sought after...

(Oh, and he's wrong about the Amazon returns policy, too).


Mauro said...

I think that the reviewer has some points. If one is not aware of Koudelka's artistic position, the general intro is one of a pretty pictures landscape book. The intro from Culicchia, with his primary school subsidiary tone, does not help too. That is unfortunate cause Koudelka's impressions capture some of the dark mood that is typical of that region. But it is only a small set of fragments, and some of them are even of the worse kind, come on, how could one believe that sheep may be a distinctive tract of a place, any place ? To be honest I some times feel a bit offended when a photographer comes in Italy, takes a couple of trips along a highway, and then pretends to have a general description.
I'm basing these considerations on to the small fragment available here:

Maybe be a less pretending title and some text from a more brilliant author could have avoided the bad review.

If you are looking for a good text I suggest the chapter on to the subject by the Marquis De Sade "voyage en Italie" that gives the exact stature of our past Royal breed that has influenced so much that landscape.

Mike C. said...

Good points, Mauro. I admit I was being a little elitist, there...

I revere JK, but it's clearly not one of his stronger collections. I think age and the inevitable toll of wandering the world as a photo-gypsy has perhaps begun to tell. I keep hoping for a "late period" ...

Italy is not alone in this treatment, of course -- so many eminent but foreign photographers have taken a few atmospheric shots of Stonehenge or London or the Scottish Highlands, and published then as a book...

I thought the review was amusing in the same way as this early (possibly apocryphal) review of "Lady Chatterley's Lover":

Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion the book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeper"


Gavin McL said...

I only know Koudelka from the photograph in the "Looking at Photographs" the one of a young man on his way to execution, if these landscapes are similar I don't imagine they would be full of sparkling highlights.
But Mauro you're wrong about sheep. They may not look like much but the control the landscape of upland Britain to an extraordinary degree.
They eat virtually any young or emergent shrub and prevent the growth of any tree cover.
Never underestimate a sheep