American Photojournalism Comes of Age

Article excerpt

* Carlebach, Michael L. (1997). American Photojournalism Comes of Age. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 217 pp. Paperback, $29.95.

Even if dozens of other books about the history of photojournalism were available and they are not - Michael Carlebach's The Oigins of Photojournalism in America and American Photojournalism Comes of Age would be essential reading. The first book shows how photojournalism was born soon after daguerreotypes were first made in 1839 and it chronicles developments until the invention of the halftone in 1880. This new book continues the history of photojournalism until the mid-1930s.

If students know nothing at all about the history of photojournalism, then American Photojournalism Comes of Age will provide a fascinating account written in a clear, direct manner. Their professors, who undoubtedly already have read numerous books about key people, publications, and developments during this period, will be equally enthused. As a thorough researcher, Carlebach has found new facts, stories, and images that supplement and enrich our previous knowledge of this period. For example, the fiery crash of the Hindenburg zeppelin in 1937 and the (re)actions of news photographers are well known, but I, at least, did not know that the Hindenburg played another role in the history of photojournalism. In 1936 several American news companies used the dirigible to bring the first photos of the Berlin Olympic games to America. One syndicate outdid its competitors by arranging to have a package of film attached to a parachute and thrown overboard. Because unfavorable winds forced the dirigible to spend six hours hovering over the airfield, this syndicate got a scoop.

Readers also will appreciate Carlebach's eye for humor. The book opens with a fullpage photograph of a news photographer sitting on a swing attached to the hook of a crane and suspended high above a town. The original caption reads, "Difficulties of the news cameraman-in this position the photographer is tied in because a fall would mean the breaking of a dozen plates. …