News | February 26, 2020

Rare Collection of Photobooks Donated to Bodleian Libraries

© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Man Ray Photographies 1920-1934 (1934). A modernist/surrealist photobook, spiral-bound with text in French and English. Man Ray’s first monograph.

Oxford, England – A major collection of rare photobooks has been given to the Bodleian Libraries, building on the Libraries’ world-class collection of photographic works and books. The donation includes works from some of the most renowned photographers from the 20th century, including Man Ray and Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus.  
The collection of more than 2,300 printed photobooks published between 1887 and 2016 includes monographs, serials, exhibition catalogues, as well as artist and private press books. It features a huge variety of subjects and photographers, with particular strength in photobooks from France and Germany.
A collection of this size and breadth is particularly rare and its size makes this one of the largest donations to the Bodleian Libraries so far this century, and builds on its growing photographic resources; the Libraries already hold one of the earliest photobooks, The Pencil of Nature, produced by William Henry Fox Talbot between 1844-46.

A small selection of photobooks – by Brassai, Man Ray, Krull, and Cartier-Bresson – will feature in a one-day display in the Weston Library on 13 March 2020. See:

Photobooks are books designed to share the photographic work of individual photographers, groups, studios or collectives, sometimes with accompanying text, sometimes purely based on images. Images are often presented in a sequence to communicate a narrative, and innovative printing techniques are often used to reproduce the photographic image. Collaborations with writers and poets sometimes feature as part of the approach to making photobooks, but they could also reflect on the role of photography in advertising, propaganda, industry and public life. Many titles are produced in very small editions and are therefore very rare. Photobooks are vulnerable to light and damage caused by handling so photobooks in good condition are highly collectable.

The photobooks were given to the Bodleian Libraries by Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey through the generosity of the Arts Council England’s Cultural Gifts Scheme. Chadwyck-Healey, founder of both the Chadwyck-Healey publishing group and Environmental Risk Information and Imaging Services, is also an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian said, “The Chadwyck-Healey collection of photobooks is a major acquisition for the Bodleian, immeasurably enriching our holdings through adding highly significant materials from European, Russian, Japanese and American photographers. This collection has great strengths including French Surrealist and avant-garde photography, the scarce work of the Russian constructivists, and the major American photographic movements. Photography is an area of growing scholarly importance, and it is vital that a great research library like the Bodleian is able to document in depth this crucial means of communicating visual ideas in the modern world.”

The photobooks donated to the Bodleian Libraries include:

·        Man Ray Photographies 1920-1934 (1934) – An extremely rare modernist/surrealist photobook, spiral-bound with text in French and English. Man Ray’s first monograph, it begins with a portrait drawing of Man Ray by Pablo Picasso and consists of 104 photographs of still lifes, rooms, landscapes, cityscapes, and flowers.

·        Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment (1952), considered one of the most influential photobooks of all time. Both the US and French edition (Images à la Sauvette) are included in the collection, both with presentation inscriptions from the photographer, and in the famous dust wrapper designed by Matisse.  

·        Robert Capa’s Slightly out of Focus (1947), which features iconic images of the D-Day landings at Normandy, taken by the Hungarian-born photojournalist and co-founder of the famous Magnum photographic agency.

·        Paris vu par André Kertész (Day of Paris) (1945) which features a superb collection of photographs of everyday life in Paris. Kertész was considered a key figure in photojournalism and Day of Paris is his most sought-after title.

·        Bill Brandt’s The English at Home (1936), a hugely influential collection of 63 photographs capturing domestic life in challenging juxtapositions, revealing class inequality of the time.

·        Brassai, Paris de nuit (1933), a collaboration between the Hungarian photographer Brassai and the French writer Paul Morand, this is one of the first books of photographs taken at night. The images, with their iconic design (full-bleed images), revolutionised the way photo-books looked. One of very few copies in UK libraries.

·        Metal (1928) by photojournalist Germaine Krull, a contemporary of Man Ray, features a series of 64 collotypes depicting industrial structures and one of the pioneering works of modernist photography. This is one of the few copies available in public collections in the UK.

·         Other photobooks by Diane Arbus, Philippe Halsman, Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Robert Frank and August Sander.
Over 600 of the photobooks in the collection have been catalogued already and are available for library readers to access in The remaining photobooks will be catalogued over the next year for completion in March 2021.