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ELT: Volume 33:4 1990 as thirty lines of unrelieved gray before beginning to pick up the trail of James. Outweighing these quibbles, however, is the sheer sense— the quality as well as the quantity—of the man and the writer captured in the volume. A Henry James Encyclopedia is good for browsing as well as handy reference. It offers a generous amount of James for its size, if perhaps not for its price. Stanley Renner Illinois State University Shaw on Photography Bernard Shaw on Photography. Bill Jay and Margaret Moore, eds. Foreword by Michael Holroyd. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1989. xxi + 146 pp. $19.95 IT IS CONSOLING SOMEHOW to learn that Shaw did not do everything always well; if he had turned out to be one of the master photographers of his time—secretly—in addition to all his other selves, there would be cause to wonder seriously if extra-terrestrials do indeed sometimes visit certain individuals with extraordinary powers. The possibility that Shaw might have left a hitherto un-noted legacy of artistically and historically significant photographs really did confront the editors of this very useful and fascinating collection of Shaw's writings about the art of photography until they were able to examine the actual trove in all its abundance; whereupon, they were forced to face the disappointment that Shaw's plethora of pictures (in every conceivable format available to photographers of his era) was more interesting for its biographical indications than for its contribution to the sum of great works of art. Nevertheless, the editors were able to overcome their initial deflation sufficiently to return to the photographs and learn from them. The result is a selection of Shaw's most interesting shots (some forty pictures well-reproduced—with allowances for the age and condition of the originals), a collection of Shaw's writings about photography, and an account of Shaw's involvement with photography. That involvement began as a private enthusiasm in the late 1870s (when snapshot cameras became generally available), entered into a public phase in 1887 when Shaw first wrote photography criticism, and exited its public phase in 1909 when he gave a lecture on photography in its relation to modern art. Shaw first bought a Kodak camera in 1898, and from that moment his chief hobby was photography, as the twenty large boxes containing Shaw's photos and 478 Book Reviews negatives (now held at the London School of Economics) attest. He was fond of the gadgetry side of photography (like anyone today keen on the special effects on VCRs), but the comic side of this was that inevitably he failed to set one of the knobs properly, or push the lever at the right time, so that he spoiled many a shot. Shaw observes of himself that he has "a remarkable turn for forgetting something in taking a photo," and he envies one photographer her "astonishing control of a process which is able to control me quite absolutely when I try it." Shaw's technical deficiencies as a photographer are a running joke in the volume, but his critical articles and reviews of the London photography scene are not. Like all Shaw's critical writings, they are full of serious thought, genuine appreciation, and engaging strictures, observations, and pronouncements. Some examples: Shaw declares, "the communication of feeling is the true diagnostic of fine art." Commenting on one photograph, he asserts that "Sea foam is the whitest, sharpest, glitteringest thing in nature," and anticipating Robert Bolt's line in Lawrence of Arabia about the desert's being clean, Shaw remarks of a series of photos that they "quite miss the wonderful bright cleanness which is the sandhill's charm." He also gives a wonderful description (too long to quote here) of a picture of a cauliflower which was "like Don Quixote's wits . . . just the millionth of a millimetre off the mark." One of Shaw's repeated themes is that photography should be itself and not try to imitate painting. Here is a comic enunciation of the principle: "a photographer imitating the work of a draughtsman is like a man imitating the noises of the barnyard: he may do it...


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pp. 478-480
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Will Be Archived 2021
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