by Geoffrey Batchen. Govett-Brewster Art Gallery; DelMonico, June 2016. 200 p. ill. ISBN 9783791355047 (cl.), $60.00.
Reviewed September 2016
Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph offers a well-researched and well-written devotion to perhaps the earliest yet most marginalized form of photography. In this book, cameraless photography - or images created by exposing light-sensitive paper instead of through a chemical development processes - is championed by art history professor Geoffrey Batchen as a form of the medium which continues to receive less attention than it is due.
Emanations begins by presenting a new narrative for photographs created independently of the camera. The author engages the genealogy of cameraless photography first with a survey discussion of the medium's history. This section opens with pioneers such as Thomas Wedgwood, Claude and Nicéphore Niépce, and William Henry Fox Talbot, before continuing on to discuss cameraless photography as a scientific practice, as an historic avant-garde favorite, and as a popular postwar artistic process. Beyond famous modern artists such as Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, Batchen takes special care to discuss lesser-known and new names in cameraless photography through today, too, such as contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Dali.
Aside from the essay and notes section, the majority of this title is almost exclusively high-quality, full-page color reproductions. These 144 plates mirror the introductory essay by chronologically tracing the history of cameraless photography from the 1820s onward. The chosen illustrations survey a broad range of processes and subjects from an international chorus of artists, further adding to the overall richness of what could be considered the most comprehensive publication on the subject to date.
This book is a hardcover, solidly bound and printed on fine paper. Unfortunately, there are no appendices, suggested supplementary readings, or bibliography included, but Professor Batchen's research is extremely thorough as evidenced in the essay and endnotes. The writing is thoughtful and clear, too, but the design of the introductory essay is admittedly somewhat lacking, as the image reproductions in this section are unnecessarily small. This does not pertain to the subsequent plates section, but it does hinder reader experience while reading the essay and examining its accompanying images.
Emanations is intended for scholarly audiences and would be a welcome addition to any academic library or museum library collection. This is a quality publication in terms of research and writing, and the images are stunning. It would best serve researchers working in the history of photography, modern art history, and students of photography seeking inspiration from those working in the field of cameraless photography before them.