Bill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.
When I buy a photo book, I tend to be more interested in monographs than thematic books. But I’ve always been interested in the road trip, particularly in the United States, where this idea is almost as iconic as the European “grand tour” of the 19th century. People have set out on cross-country trips since the car became commonplace, sometimes to move to a new city for a new job, and sometimes for pleasure.
Many photographers have done this too, as a way of looking for a way to portray the multiple faces of the United States, and its contradictions. This book, The Open Road, published by the Aperture Foundation (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), looks at road trips by 18 photographers, from Robert Frank in the 1950s to contemporary photographers.
In 336 pages, with 248 color and duotone images, this book paints a picture of the United States, as seen through the eyes of a number of great photographers. It makes no attempt to be exhaustive, but focuses on a number of photographers who have made iconic photos in this genre. Each photographer has their own chapter, and the chapters run chronologically, from Robert Frank’s 1955-1956 photos through the 2005-2008 photos of Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs.
While Elliot Erwitt was technically not a street photographer, the black and white photos in this book fit comfortably in this genre. He shot for advertising, and was a Magnum photographer, shooting some of the most famous people in the world, and working for some of the major magazines, such as Collier’s, Look, Life, and others.
This two-book slipcased box set combines two of his books, Elliot Erwitt’s Paris and Elliot Erwitt’s New York. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) With photos from as early as the 1940s and as late as the 21st century, each book offers a wide palette of subjects that are all rooted in their cities. His Parisian photos all have the feel of the classic French style of street photography, but with Erwitt’s often quirky subjects and composition (and lots of dogs).
The New York photos tend to be from the 1950s and 1960s, with some older and newer photos, and feature a number of photos of celebrities, such as Arthur Miller, Jack Kerouac, Nelson Algren, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, and more. But there are also some wonderful street shots, the type that anyone working in this genre would love to catch.
There is a remarkable consistency of tone throughout these photos. If it were not for the graininess of some of the older photos, and the way the people dress and the cars they drive, you would be hard pressed to date many of them. A master of black and white, and of spontaneous photography, Erwitt should be an inspiration to anyone interested in black and white or in street photography.
And the Paris book contains what may be the best street photograph ever, which you can see at the top of this article.