Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
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A new surprise among library books: Famous Photographers Course, in three oversized volumes.

Yes, it was published by “Famous Photographers School,” which apparently is now completely defunct after being absorbed a while back by Al Dorne’s Famous Artists School (which doesn’t offer anything about photography at this point, AFAIK). These books were published back in 1964.

What attracted me to them initial was the list of “faculty” instructors, including Bert Stern, Richard Avedon, Alfred Eisenstadt, Irving Penn, Philippe Halsman…

You simply could not make a book series like this today, in the era of rights managements and media-access control. The illustrations are pulled liberally from the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Life, and so forth. Celebrities in every direction, in photos that would never pass an agent’s scrutiny and control today (Halsman dodging Tippy Hedren, spotting Audrey Hepburn). Classic shot after classic shot, it reads as much like Famous Photographs School as it does Famous Photographers.

Importantly, while there is technical info in this book (Penn using ferricyanide, or lesson 2: how to hold a TLR (which I was surprised to find I have been doing sub-optimally for many years)), it’s a delight to find that it takes a passenger-seat ride. The basics are in there: processing, exposure, high key versus low key — but they are always the follow-on info, while the photos and the ideas behind them take front and center stage.

As a window into the world of working photographers of that era, I’ve never seen anything else like it.

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