MATHEW BRADY AND HIS WORLD, by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr. and the Editors of Time-Life Books (Time-Life, $19.95). The full range of American life in the second half of the 19th century can be seen in the photographs that bear the name of Mathew Brady. The great political figures and events - Lincoln, Grant, Lee, the devastation at Bull Run and at Gettysburg - were all recorded, as were the age's cultural leaders - a youthful, dark-haired Mark Twain is especially memorable - and even the bizarre collection of human specimens that traveled with P.T. Barnum's show. Brady's subjects, however, are not the only reasons his work holds great historical interest today. For though no one questions the importance of Brady's studio in the development of American photography there is considerable disagreement about the extent of his personal involvement in the photographic process. How many of the pictures signed by Brady were actually taken by the camera operators he employed? How many of them are copies of images made by other firms? Was it really Brady who first thought of using the camera to cover the Civil War? Because Brady seldom wrote letters and kept neither a diary nor his own account books and because he never hesitated to take credit for the work of others, the mystery of Brady's involvement in the art form that made him famous must remain. This book offers a direct presentation of the known facts and the issues involved, and is a fine introduction to one of American photography's most challenging puzzles.
NADAR, by Nigel Gosling (Knopf, $25). The portraits of the 19th-century photographer Nadar have often been discussed and written about but have been seen less frequently. Now, in this first full-length study in English of Nadar's work, the reader is able to see that all the glowing adjectives and the endless string of superlatives have been justified. This extraordinarily colorful character, a journalist, a balloonist, a caricaturist, an ardent socialist, was also a brilliant photographer. Initially it was his other interests that supplied Nadar with the famous subjects of his pictures, for with his great intellectual curiosity, the photographer befriended most of the important French cultural figures in the second half of the last century. Baudelaire was an intimate. The Impressionists were such close associates that they staged their first exhibition in Nadar's studio. It was in part this easy access to the greats of his time that enabled the photographer to obtain such penetrating glimpses of his sitters. Even with the relatively formal poses that were the vogue at that time, George Sand, Honore Daumier, the Goncourt brothers, Jacques Offenbach, to name just a few members of Nadar's pantheon, seem at ease in front of his camera. Each of the portraits reproduced in this book is accompanied by a capsule biography of the sitter, and the entire collection is introduced by an essay on Nadar's life. This is a thoroughly successful study of a most remarkable man and his legendary work.
AN EARLY VICTORIAN ALBUM: The Photographic Masterpieces (1843-1847) of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, edited and introduced by Colin Ford (Knopf, $35). No matter what the ads say, in the history of photography, technological advances do not necessarily result in better pictures. The earliest photographic images were made under conditions that are almost unimaginable in this age of Polaroid and Kodak, but some of the practitioners of these early, excruciatingly laborious procedures made pictures that are successful even by today's standards. Hill and Adamson belong to this elite group, and this book illustrates 258 of their finest pictures, portraits of Scotland's Victorian society and scenes of Edinburgh and the surronding countryside. Although the sentimental gestures and theatrical settings seen in this work are typical of 19th-century photography, there is a strength and vividness here is timeless. Made in the very first decade after the invention of photography, the work of Hill and Adamson proves that even in its earliest, crudest form the photographic method had the potential for greatness.