Part 3: A Passion for Books and Scholarship
This is the third in a three-part series about the influence of philanthropist David Logan.
Christine Hult-Lewis is a photographic historian, scholar and author who currently is curating the Reva and David Logan Collection of Photography Books at the Bancroft Library on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to coming to the Bancroft she was a researcher at the Getty Museum where she co-authored Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, winner of the 2012 Kraszna-Krausz award for Best Photography Book. She is a well-known authority on the history of photography in California and the Western U.S.
I spoke with Christine recently while viewing some of the highlights of the Logan Collection.
Christine Hult-Lewis at a recent exhibition of the Logan Collection of Photography Books
Tim Greyhavens: We’re looking at the Logan Collection of Photography Books now on display here in the Bancroft Library. Tell me about how the Bancroft acquired the collection.
Christine Hult-Lewis: This collection came to us in 2013 as a gift from the Reva and David Logan Foundation. It’s about 2,000 titles altogether, including some of the most significant and sought-after photo books of the 20th century. The chronological range is significant, with books that date from the 1850's all the way up to the early 2000's, but the bulk of the material is from the 1930's through 1970's. There's a very good selection of documentary photography and photojournalism books that ties in well with the Bancroft’s already strong collection of documentary photography from California and the West. This collection actually expanded our collecting mandate in that now we are looking at photography books from all over the world rather than just our previous geographic interest area.
I notice what's on display here is very US centric. Is that how David Logan assembled the collection?
From what I know about him he was primarily interested in American and British photographers. This exhibition features certain categories from those countries like photojournalism, modernism, the f/64 California group and European modernists as well. There's a really large portraiture selection, including every book by Cecil Beaton. The collection really develops its strength with books by Stieglitz and with a full run of his seminal journal Camera Work, and we wanted to highlight that because it’s where David Logan first fell in love with publications about photography. There are also substantive holdings by Strand and Steichen.
What's really amazing about David Logan is he worked at finding what we've called the shadows of photographer’s publications ‒ not in the sense that they're dark topics but that they're not the common titles most people know. For example with Steichen we've got two sets of picture books he did with his daughter, Mary Steichen. She wrote The First Picture Book for babies illustrated with charming images by Steichen. There's also a gardening book with Steichen's photographs in color. It's these interesting and little known little rarities that make the collection so vibrant. I'm a photo historian, and even I haven't seen some of these titles.
Are there other shadow examples that come to mind?
Robert Frank made a book called Zero Mostel Read a Book, which is just that – pictures of Zero Mostel reading. It’s a lighthearted, humorous book. It’s certainly not something that people think about or even know of when think about Robert Frank, but David Logan found it. Another rarity by Frank in the collection is called New York Is, which was paid for by the New York Times and given to its advertisers. It’s a collection of photos and text of people talking about how great the New York Times is.
Do you have a favorite in the collection?
I've always been really partial to documentary photography, and I especially like the Robert Frank material. We have first editions of both the French and the American versions of The Americans, and it’s fascinating to look at just how different the layout and text is in each edition, and how that in turn transforms how we interpret the photographs.
How will people be able to access this collection?
The Logan collection is unlike most books that come into the Bancroft Library because it will be housed in a special room. It's called the Reva and David Logan Room, and it will allow patrons to see the collection nearly in its entirety; however, they will still need to page the books in the main reading room to actually look through them. There will be a certain element of trying to make it feel like David Logan’s personal library because people will be able to peruse the shelves rather than simply look on a computer and try to find titles.
Part of the Logan Collection of Photography Books on display at the Bancroft Library.
What are some of the more unusual books in the collection?
A real strength of this collection is the technical manuals, especially the older ones. Most people who collect photography books aren't really looking for titles on how to make a gum bichromate or a carbon print, but there are over a hundred titles like that in this collection. I think it will be really helpful to people interested in the dissemination of photographic technical knowledge in the 19th century. Even in the 20th century a lot of the technical learning came from books. Ansel Adams had a series of books on the negative and the print and exposure.
That's how I first learned the Zone System, which was considered to be the best technology for film and print development at the time.
Sometimes you learn from a person, sometimes you learn from a school, but many times you learn from books.
Is there a plan for some of the rare titles to be digitized?
We don’t have a plan to digitize them at this point, which is mostly just a resource allocation issue. We have over 8 million items in our pictorial collection alone, second only to the Library of Congress. Only a small fraction of those titles is digitized, and there's a long queue of books already waiting to be digitized. Right now we’re concentrating on getting them in their room and making them accessible to students and scholars.
What is your role in relation to these books and the larger photography collection here?
My title is the Reva and David Logan Curatorial Assistant, so this collection is my main focus. It's only a part time position, but I do find time once in a while to do other things within the pictorial department, especially with bringing new photography collections into the library. We will also be adding titles to the Logan collection, with monies earmarked for that purpose. Another interesting thing about this collection is that it's considered part of the pictorial department. Usually a book collection like this would be with the manuscripts because that's the usual rare books division in our library. But because some of these titles have original photographs or high-quality photogravures in them it was decided that the pictorial curator should be in charge of the collection.
When will the collection be ready for researchers to see?
The room is under construction as we speak, and we are anticipating the room to be completed by the end of this fall semester. One of the great things about the Bancroft library is even though this is a university facility anyone can be a reader here. All you have to do is present a driver’s license or other photo ID. It's not limited to scholars or Berkeley students; it's open to everybody.
What’s not on display now that may excite some researchers?
The collection also includes approximately 45 photography journals, including full runs of important magazines like Camera. At the same time there are some little-known oddities like Eros or Grain, both of which lasted only a few issues. One of the really rare titles is The Minority Photographer's Newsletter, which only came out in mimeograph form in the 1970s. Many of these titles are not available elsewhere even through microfilm or fiche.
Are there are particular gaps in this collection that are perhaps filled in by your other holdings?
There are, because it's a uniquely personal collection. For example, he was not really interested in color photography, but then there’s solid grouping of Elliot Porter books. As I mentioned, he was interested in technical manuals, so there are several books on early color processes.
At the same time there are some titles for which we have multiple copies, like Edward Weston's classic My Camera on Point Lobos ‒ there are four of them in the collection. It’s possible that after buying a copy he’d find another that he thought was in better condition, or was signed, or he might have bought collections from dealers that happened to contain some duplicates.
He seemed to engage directly with a lot of photographers as he was building this collection.
Yes, he sometimes bought books directly from photographers, in addition to dealers and booksellers. A lot of these books are inscribed by the photographers directly to David Logan. But he not only paid attention to what was already published, he also gave grants to a variety of scholars to write new perspectives on the history and aesthetics of photography. Those essays were collected in a book called Multiple Views that came out in the early 90's. He was very interested in the development of the field of scholarship about photography as well as the photography itself.
What's the place of this collection in that field of scholarship?
What I find most interesting about all of this is experiencing the importance of photography books as part of the history of photography. I and many art historians were taught to think about single images, or sometimes a series of images, or an exhibition, but for most of us that’s not how we really learned about photography. Most of us learned about photography by having access to books, by seeing the masters or reading about how to think critically. I think this collection highlights the centrality and the importance of books not only to the history of photography but also to American culture. We can see how certain images really galvanized public opinion, and through the books we can put them in context with their time and the larger vision of the photographer. That’s not something you comprehend any other way.