Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Private Moments, Public Reading

By Alastair Johnston

Pursuant to My Last...

After writing about André Kertesz's book, On Reading, and Steve McCurry's blog post about people reading, a couple of friends posted more pictures of readers on (where else?) Facebook that are worth sharing. Kate Godfrey reminded me of the wonderful site UndergroundNewYorkPublicLibrary, which shares images of readers on the New York's subway transit system.

Reading Katie Roiphe's In Praise of Messy Lives

The images, reminiscent of Walker Evans' project The Passengers (clandestine photos taken on the New York subway between 1939 and 1941 but not published in Evans' lifetime) include identification of the book's title so you can draw your own conclusions about the person in the photo and their choice of reading matter.

Reading Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions

Evans' passengers, by the way, were only caught reading the newspaper ("PAL TELLS HOW GUNGIRL KILLED"). Another photo, posted on Facebook, of a boy reading in a bombed-out building during the London Blitz led me to a google image search.

A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid
on October 8, 1940,  reading a book titled 'The History of London.'

This image led me to another biblio-site, called Needful Books, a google community where people are encouraged to post their own photos of books. This photo, posted by Michael Allen on 20 May 2013, is purportedly of a boy reading The History of London. There are other images of books and bookstores that will delight Booktryst readers, and more readers, shared by Mr Allen:

Posted by tanphoto on flickr

Obviously this could lead from here back into historic images of readers. I assumed that in the early days of photography when exposures took a minute or more, photographers would have used books as props quite often, but a cursory glance through the bookshelf shows this not to be the case. There is a lovely shot of a reader in the latest monograph on Clementina, Lady Hawarden, by Virginia Dodier (Aperture, n.d. [1999]) but that reader is soundly asleep. Recently another collection of Lady Hawarden's prints came to light and was auctioned in London. The album contains another reading portrait from the 1860s, one of her daughters, also named Clementina, "reading," but it looks as if the young lady is nodding off.

And to prove, once again, that the old guys stole all our best ideas, here is a favorite image by Alexander Rodchenko, a portrait of his mother from 1924:


Of Related Interest:

Photographers on Reading.


  1. Check this out:

    Reading as protest?


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