Photographer Of Modern Life

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The Getty has marked the centenary of famed French photographer Camille Silvy's death by publishing a book packed with samples of his remarkable work.

PHOTOGRAPHER OF MODERN LIFE: CAMILLE SILVY is the work of Mark Haworth-Booth, former senior curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum. "Silvy enjoyed only a brief career in photography--from 1857 to 1867," Booth observes. "He passed like a comet over Second Empire Paris and High Victorian London, bequeathing us one of the most original oeuvres in the whole history of photography.

"Silvy was a 'modern' in many ways," the author continues. "He was...the first photographer to write about the division between 'personal' and 'commercial' work. In some ways, Silvy's career prefigures that of the American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009). Penn held a place at the top of New York's fashion, portrait and commercial photographic scene for over sixty years--but constantly found time to pursue his own private projects in photography."

Before moving to London, Silvy was well represented in the first Paris Salon of Photography (1859). His River Scene, France (1858) can be understood as a tableau of modern leisure--especially working-class leisure--on the outskirts of town. Silvy's studies of the impact of fog, twilight and sunshine on city life are highlighted in the 160-page book, which contains 113 color illustrations.

Silvy, a diplomat as well as a photographer, was also a pioneer in the creation and distribution of photographic visiting cards through his firm of Marion & Co. at 152 Regent St. in central London. (Getty Publications, $40--, hdbnd).