As photography became an increasingly accessible medium in the 20th century, the popularity of the photographic album exploded, yielding a wide range of objects made for varying purposes—to memorialize, document, promote, educate or simply to channel creative energy.
Published by Aperture in association with the Library of Congress, “Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography” traces the rise of the album from the turn of the century to the present day. It showcases some of the most important examples in the history of the medium that are housed in the Library’s unparalleled collections.
“When you hold a photo album, you sense that you are in possession of something unique, intimate and meant to be saved for a long time,” says editor Verna Posever Curtis in her introduction to the volume. “As you turn the pages and look at the images, you imbibe the maker’s experience, invoking your imagination and prompting personal memories.”
At a time when the physical collection of photographs is becoming largely immaterial through digital means, “Photographic Memory” is a comprehensive, illustrated history of a mode of presentation that became an art form in itself.
The albums that comprise “Photographic Memory” provide personal and idiosyncratic historical perspectives. From an 1899 Alaskan expedition album of Edward S. Curtis’s early work, to Walker Evans’s collection of images for James Agee’s Depression-era book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” and from Phil Stern’s record of John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pre-inaugural gala to a contemporary family album by Danny Lyon, this book documents events, both major and mundane.
The compilation of selected albums provides an in-depth look at the history of photography through the work of some its most famous 20th-century practitioners, much of which is previously unpublished. Works by notable photographers and filmmakers such as F. Holland Day, Jim Goldberg, Dorothea Lange, Duane Michals, Leni Riefenstahl and W. Eugene Smith appear alongside those of by lesser-known artists on subjects as varied as African American vaudeville, the 1915 Jerusalem locust plague and the folkways of Spain.
Each album, reproduced over numerous spreads, is accompanied by detailed explanatory text. A history of the album format and an informative essay about caring for and restoring albums complement the collection.
Verna Posever Curtis, editor of “Photographic Memory,” is a curator of photography in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. She has written and lectured extensively on 19th- and 20th- century photography, and co-authored the volumes “Ambassadors of Progress: American Women Photographers in Paris, 1900–1901” and “F. Holland Day: Selected Texts and Bibliography,” among others.
“Photographic Memory,” a 288-page hardcover book with 350 four-color images, is available for $75 in bookstores nationwide and online and in the Library of Congress Shop, Washington, DC 20540-4985, (888) 682-3557, www.loc.gov/shop/.