The Berenice Abbott 2 volume set we discussed yesterday got me thinking about catalogues raisonné and their availability in the world of photography. Catalogues raisonné require a huge amount of work to research, are expensive to produce, and have a generally limited market, so at some level, it’s not surprising that there aren’t more being published in any given year. For a medium like photography, where there are multiple copies of any single negative, the project is exponentially more complicated. But off the top of my head, I couldn’t come up with very many that were available.
So I went home and dug through our library and did some more thinking, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t come up with a single example of a true comprehensive catalogue raisonné for any photographer that matches those for any number of painters or sculptors. My definition here is every single image released as a finished object by the photographer (not the contact sheets and rejects), number of prints made of each, and exact dimensions. Trying to locate all the prints in public and private collections is beyond what seems achievable in most cases, although a few have tried.
The three below come the closest to meeting these standards, but in the end, they each only chronicle the holdings of a single museum, even though they may track down other prints of the same negatives in other places. The flaw is of course that if the issuing museum doesn’t hold a particular image, it isn’t in the book. Given these museums hold deep archives on the respective artists make this outlier effect pretty small, but I think it still matters.
- Amy Conger, Edward Weston: Photographs from the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography
- Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz, The Key Set (National Gallery of Art)
- Judith Keller, Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection
Beyond these three, there seem to be two additional potential substitutes: the deep monograph and the single subject volume.
In the deep monograph category, the books don’t attempt to be completely comprehensive, but do provide a generally thorough collection of key images. These books however lack the statistical information on number of prints made etc. I would place the Abbott set in this group (review here) as well as:
- The Work of Atget, Volume I-Old France, Volume II-The Art of Old Paris, Volume III-The Ancien Regime, Volume IV-Modern Times, MoMA
- Paul Strand, A Retrospective Monograph, Volume I-The Years 1915-1946; Volume II-The Years 1950-1968, Aperture
- Wolfgang Tillmans, If One Thing Matters Everything Matters, Tate Britain
In the single subject volume, the books go deep on one portion of a photographer’s output, often with some detailed background information. So we have Mapplethorpe’s flowers, but not his nudes, Sander’s portraits, but not his landscapes, and Brandt’s nudes, but not his pictures of Britain:
- Robert Mapplethorpe: The Complete Flowers, teNeues
- August Sander: People of the 20th Century (7 volume set), Abrams
- Brandt Nudes, Bill Brandt Archive
Our library is limited, so I’d really like the community at large to weigh in here with additional books that fit some of these definitions. You appraisers and auction house specialists must know of others that we have missed and that belong in the mythical perfect library. I imagine many estates know some of this information, but have yet to release it in book form for the public at large. And perhaps there is a dusty PhD thesis or two around that captures some of this information.
For a collector, the catalogue raisonné is the ultimate research tool; otherwise, we are left cobbling together a “virtual” catalogue from a shelf full of books on any specific photographer. I can’t believe that there aren’t plenty of master photographers who deserve the comprehensive treatment of such a volume (so book publishers, let’s see some more). Please, add your ideas and pointers to other catalogues raisonné of photography that we’ve missed in the comments, so we can all benefit.