By Phillip Prodger
256 pages, hardcover, $55
Published by Prestel
An Alternative History of Photography is the title of a new monograph by curator, art historian and author Phillip Prodger, who cofounded the Solander Collection from which the book’s images are taken. Named after the black box that museums use to store flat works, Solander spotlights artists and movements underrepresented in traditional discourse. From the opening essay, Prodger makes it clear that not only does he intend to look beyond received histories and established narratives, but that the very idea of a canon conflicts with the democratic free-for-all that defines photography as a medium.
“In its immensity, volatility, intimacy, and spread, photography is fundamentally different from any other art,” writes Prodger. “Its trajectory was not determined in salons, galleries, and museums.”
Moreover, Prodger’s experience as a museum curator enables him to observe that, in art, canonization is not a meritocracy. Museums and galleries depend on small groups of wealthy donors to build their collections, and those parties have their own agendas, biases and blind spots.
An Alternative History of Photography makes its own agenda plain: to center works, traditions and artists that have languished at the margins while also unveiling lesser-known works from names like Arbus and Adams. The book teems with captivating photography, but what elevates the work is the depth of scholarship and the quality of Prodger’s writing. As the author makes clear, photography is too voluminous, too open-sourced for definitive historicism, but at 256 pages, An Alternative History of Photography turns as many stones as it can. —Dzana Tsomondo