Thursday, April 26, 2007

Court House: A Photographic Document

This is a book that I found many years ago that is somewhat interesting. Edited by architectural photographer Richard Pare, Court House: A Photographic Document is a collection of architectural studies of court houses all over the Unites States. Published by Horizon in 1978, it was conceived as a part of the United States bicentennial celebration and sponsored by the Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Company. The Seagram Collection of art has a rather large collection of American photography and a good one at that. The book features photographs of exteriors, interiors and details of the nation’s halls of justice in an attempt to describe the character of specific American architecture.

A quote from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun starts off the book: “Because there was no town until there was a court house, and no court house until…the floorless lean-to rabbit-hutch housing the iron chest was reft from the log flank of the jail and transmogrified into a by-neo-Greek-out-of-Georgian-England edifice set in the center of what in time would be the town square…”

The book contains hundreds of photographs and is quite nicely produced. The reproductions are good both in black and white and color. The design is functional at best.

What caught my eye originally about this book was the list of photographers that contributed to this project: Lewis Baltz, William Clift, Richard Pare, Stephen Shore, Laura Volkerding, Nicholas Nixon, Tod Papageorge, Geoff Winningham, Frank Gohlke, Jim Dow and others. This, to me, was an impressive list of artists to gather for one project.

What is the most interesting aspect of this title is that in looking over the book I was amazed at how most all of the photographs seem to be from one voice. Even between the color photographs (Stephen Shore and Geoff Winningham are the only color photographers here) and the black and white, there is not as much of a variance as you might think. Here you have a large group of photographers whose work if your mental images serve you correctly look vastly different from one another and here they echo and harmonize. Of course not all look alike, if you examine and pay attention you see subtle differences, but the similarity is uncanny.

The book does contain some of the finest photographers making a lot of wonderful images. So much so, that who would think that a book of hundreds of photographs of court houses could, in some miraculous way, have been made interesting?