Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Visions of America Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Visions of America
Author/Photographer: Joseph Sohm
Publication: Visons of America, 2009

Author and self-proclaimed Photo Historian Joseph Sohm has spent over thirty years traveling across America taking photographs. At some point the travel photography journey turned into a more of a quest with a goal to capture in photographed images, the idea of what democracy is and expanded to include visits and photographs of all fifty states. As a self-employed photographer without access to press credentials, Sohm has had to work hard to gain access to locations and politicians to succeed in capturing the wide range of content which he felt was imperative to the project (such as access to photograph Presidents).

I learned about this book by seeing Sohm on CSPAN's BookTV discussing the book. In his lecture, I enjoyed hearing stories behind some of the photos of his passion for photography and his patriotism for America. However I mistakenly assumed the book was ONLY a coffee table book of photography.

I loved seeing the high quality photography and the large number of photographs that should go without saying. But what surprised me about VISIONS OF AMERICA once I had it in my hands, was that it is filled with essay stories by Sohm.

Sohm's passion for America, his pride in being an American citizen and his wealth of knowledge about United States history was clearly apparent. I was so entranced by Sohm's words right from the first story that I decided to not peek at the photographs in the future pages, and instead read the book cover to cover, slowly taking in each image as I read the stories in the order the author intended to reveal his literal 'visions of America'. The images so closely tie in with the stories and the finely crafted chapters that reading it in its entirety and in order seemed the most respectful and best way to approach this book. Of the storytelling I will say that the stories are just right, not overdone, are full of passion (not exaggerated) and seem so sincere.

This winds up being anything but a generic compilation of color photographs of the United States of America, there are surely a number of those types of coffee table books on the market already, good only for their photographs. This book is different and SUPERIOR because it tells a story not just in the images selected in the chapter groupings, painting a picture of America's past and present but it is a collection of stories that reads like a travel journal and also like a memoir. The historical content gives a bit of nonfiction history book flavor to the book as well. Additionally there is a fair amount of discussion of the challenges of taking good photographs and the quest and hard work trying to get a great shot so that photographers who like to read about the photographer’s artistic process will enjoy that element of Sohm's stories as well.

The book is without strong political bias but I detect hints which were not troublesome to me. The books contain images of Presidents. Sohm was hired to photograph President Clinton and so that is the time period when the bulk of his Presidential photographs were taken and the book is heavier on the Presidents post 1992. There are images of the Bush's and a couple of now President Obama, taken close to the publication date. The hot button issue of global warming found its way into the book with the author seeming very worried about it (he's clearly not a validity of the issue doubter). A chapter features some photos of some abuse of the Earth by humans (pollution, garbage dumps and so forth) as a bit of a call to action to treat our planet more gently.

Patriotic Americans will love this book. This is a great book for families too, being a wonderful photographic introduction to our United States of America. If my eleven year old son was any indication, kids will enjoy hearing some of the stories too (he loved the story of the difficulty in getting a clear shot of Mt. Rushmore, when a man in an orange jacket was standing right on Lincoln's head, ruining an otherwise perfect shot).

This is also a great book for public libraries.

This is a great coffee table book for casual flipping for people of all ages, but readers should do themselves a favor and take the time to read through the book cover to cover to savor it to its fullest.

I can't recommend this book highly enough! It is a beautiful book, very high quality paper and printing with stunning color photography with very good storytelling.

Bravo Joseph Sohm and thank you for sharing your Magnum Opus with us!

External Links

Author's official website, see samples from the book

Watch author lecture on CSPAN's BookTV

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