The Passionate Observer

The Passionate Observer

Photographs by Carl Van Vechten

Book - 1993
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Blackwell North Amer
In his thirty years of activity with the camera, Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) produced a uniquely important body of work. The 15,000 photographs he made between 1932 and 1964 constitute a remarkable visual catalog of the leaders of modern arts and letters. Working strictly for his own pleasure, Van Vechten recorded the most prominent painters, writers, actors, and musicians of his time with both warmth and style. This volume includes full-page reproductions of sixty of the finest of these images, with a text placing this little-known body of work in its historical and artistic context.
Photography represents only one facet of Carl Van Vechten's extraordinary creative life. As music critic for the New York Times he witnessed performances by the most important avant-garde artists of the time and came to know many of them personally. In 1915 he published his first book of collected criticism. Over the next fifteen years he published eight additional volumes of music and literary criticism, seven novels, two books on cats, one semi-autobiographical volume, and over 200 magazine essays and book reviews. He also became a champion of African-American culture, and a patron of many of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Van Vechten turned to photography in 1932 at the age of fifty-one. Using a new 35mm Leica camera he began compiling a great visual catalog of the major cultural figures of his time. The range of his subjects is remarkable. Leading personalities in the fields of opera, literature, theater, painting, sculpture, journalism, and public life all came to pose in the small studio Van Vechten installed in his apartment. He knew many of his subjects personally and often chose specific props or backgrounds to suggest aspects of their character. On other occasions he used very simple settings to emphasize the expressiveness of posture, costume, and glance.
Van Vechten's style combines his own interpretive ideas with a deep empathy for the humanity of his sitters. Through his eyes we gain fresh insights into the personal and cultural vitality of an increasingly distant age.

Publisher: Kansas City, Mo. : Hallmark Cards ; Albuquerque, N.M. : Distributed by the University of New Mexico Press, c1993
ISBN: 0875296696 (pbk.)
Branch Call Number: 779.2092 DAV
TR680 .V288 1993
Characteristics: 120 p. : ill. ; 30 cm
Additional Contributors: Van Vechten, Carl 1880-1964


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