Walker Evans’ famous photo book “American Photographs” was first published in 1938. Since then, the book has been released in new editions every 25 years or so. Although the photos contained within its covers have remained the same, the processes and technologies used to print the photos have evolved over time, causing each edition to be every so slightly different from the others.
Photo book enthusiast Eric Marth has written up an interesting — and lengthy — analysis over at Ahorn Magazine of how the print quality of American Photographs changed between its first edition (1938) and its latest (2012).
When first printed the Museum of Modern Art set out to make the best book possible with the dominant printing process of the time. In publishing each edition of American Photographs the editors at MoMA have been careful to honor the work of Evans’s hand in crafting the first edition while taking advantage of new possibilities in printing to show his work with greater clarity. It is fitting that this important book, made by an enduring American photographer, has been given such close attention over the past seventy-five years.
Marth did extensive research on the technical processes of each time period. It’s a pretty dense piece, but you’ll learn quite a bit about how photo books have been produced over the past century if you take the time to get it a read.
Image credit: Photographs by Walker Evans Archive and the Metropolitan Museum of Art