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Lorraine Monk

Toronto, Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1989.120pp, cloth, $34.95
ISBN 0-921912-01-3. CIP

Grades 7 and up/ Ages 12 and up
Reviewed by Alan Thomas.

Volume 18 Number 1
1990 January

Lorraine Monk has shown a safe touch in the production of handsome books of photographs. Canada: A Year of the Land (Copp, 1969) and Between Friends (National Film Board, 1976) are well-known examples of her work. She joined the Stills Division of the NFB in 1960 and has been asserting the value of the single photograph image ever since.

This new collection consists of forty-six black-and-white and five colour pho­tographs placed opposite single pages of explanatory text. It is a comfortable book to handle. As to the content, Monk draws in the main from two categories: pictures that are important records in the history of photography (first fixed image, first aerial photo, first underwa­ter photo, and so on) and pictures that provide a visual image of a historically significant action or person.

Monk argues that a photograph can be so strikingly successful and well known as to be "an event" in itself. Given this thesis, her selection can contain no surprises. Niepce's rooftop, Fox Talbot's abbey and Nadar's over­head view of Paris are familiar from histories of nineteenth-century photog­raphy. Later photographers give us well-known portraits of Churchill, Roosevelt, Gandhi and Mao and costume shots of Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. News and special cameras provide Vietnam war photo­graphs, U.S. domestic horrors such as the Kent State shootings, the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion and the first man on the moon.

The book has been designed for the general trade and the essay-captions are suitably informative; intermittently, they are used to support Monk's thesis. Powerful images have certainly helped to form public attitudes - and many of these images are powerful - but the hyperbole of the title remains evident. It seems little more than a peg to hang a collection on. Librarians will know that these photographs, and many more equally striking, are already to be found in specialized histories on their shelves.

Alan Thomas, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.
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