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Book Review - Love and Desire
Love and Desire
by William A. Ewing
Chronicle Books, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Dec 2nd 2002

William Ewing’s earlier collection of photographs for Chronicle Books, The Body (1994) (reviewed in Metapsychology December 2001) was a wonderful collection of images of the human body collected by theme accompanied by a discussion of the photographs and photographers.  This newer collection is very similar, except its themes are love and desire, and there is considerably less text included with the images.  The book is divided into eight chapters, titled Bonds, Icons, Observations, Propositions, Tokens, Libidos, Reveries, and Obsessions.  There’s less thematic unity to this collection, but it has the same high quality of reproduction of images, and Ewing’s selection is thoughtful and creative enough to please both those new to art photography and also those who know a great deal about the subject.  The only disappointment is the lack of sustained discussion in the written portion of each chapter.

The photographs included in this book span the whole history of the medium, going back to 1850.  Since many photographers are crammed into the 400 pages of the book, each individual is normally represented by only one or two pieces of their work.  It’s good to see familiar names such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Imogen Cunningham, Sally Mann, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Doisneau, Alfred Eisenstadt, Man Ray, Sylvia Plachy, Larry Clark, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nan Goldin, and of course Robert Maplethorpe.  There are also a large number of unattributed photographs, partly because sometimes the information has simply been lost, but more often because the photographer preferred to remain anonymous, given the content of their photographs, which often include nudity or are plainly sexual.  But maybe most readers will gain the most from this book by coming acquainted with many photographers with whom they were previously unfamiliar.  Personally I was struck by many of the images, including:

·        Andrea Modica’s 1996 picture, “Treadwell, New York,” of two young children being held by their mother

·        Shelby Lee Adams' 1993 picture, “Brothers Praying, Hooterville, Kentucky,” of two men kneeling together on the floor, resting their arms on a chair, their heads touching

·        Elinor Carucci’s 1994 picture, “Haircut,” of two young people, possibly brother and sister, on a bathroom floor

·        Yasuhiro Ishimoto’s 1951 picture, “North Avenue Beach, Chicago,” of a woman’s legs on a beach, while she waits in line

·        Ralph Steiner’s 1931 picture, “Nude and Mannequin,” making a wry juxtaposition.

·        Annemarie Schuden-Halm’s 1991 picture, “Ich (I),” a glorious montage of 144 Polaroids of flowers and a female nude.

·        Tom Stappers’ 1994 picture, “Jessica Dancing at Club Exposure,” of young people showing a great sense of self-awareness of their own beauty.

·        Alejandra Figueroa’s 1997 untitled pictures of sculptures looking very realistic.

·        Ann Mandelbaum’s 1996 picture, “Untitled, No. 108,” of two mouths pressing their tongues together

·        Doug Prince’s “Body Image” pictures from 1998 and 1999, of classical statues and backgrounds interrupted by large negatives of pornographic photographs of couples having sex

Love and Desire makes for excellent browsing, and it is a physically well-constructed book that can withstand sustained use.  It’s a pleasure to see the variety of images and approaches to depicting the ways that people experience attraction to others.  Recommended.


© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.