This review is written by Robin Benson.
Le Corbusier's visual notes
Tim Benton has written an exhaustive overview of Le Corbusier's photography though as he says in the introduction Giuliano Gresleri's 1985 book reproduces six hundred photos when he found the negatives and contact prints in a library at La Chaux-de-Fonds. Benton's book has some overlap with Gresleri's but really considers different aspects of Jeanneret's creativity.
The book is in two parts: Jeanneret's photos from 1907 to 1919 and the second part looking at Le Corbusier's photography and short movies during 1936 to 1938. In the first section Benton suggests that Jeanneret made serious attempts to take professional architectural photos but by 1911 gave up on this idea and used his camera to take visual notes. He took hundreds of these though very few were published. The pages reproduce many of these as large thumbnails (and there are color photos of the types of camera Jeanneret used and tables of technical detail about the models). Benton makes the point that to understand the photos you have to be aware of how these cameras functioned. The second part looks at Le Corbusier's more ambitious photo and movie output, he used a Siemens B 16mm for movies. You can see seven montages of this work accessible through QR patches placed at the start of several portfolio sections in the book.
Many of the thumbnails in the text are reproduced much larger in the thirteen portfolios of photos that follow each chapter. The earlier of those mostly feature architecture and landscapes. From 1936 they feature Le Corbusier's family, Europe and various trips overseas. The longest portfolio is forty-two pages of photos taken on the SS Conte Biancamano in August 1936 and rather than photograph passengers he concentrated of the ships machinery.
I thought it slightly unfortunate that all the portfolio sections (they take up half the book) are printed on black pages which overpowers the photos. So many of them are grainy and with subdued tonal quality. The thumbnail versions, printed on white paper, have much more sparkle.
I thought Benton's final chapter: Conclusions raised some interesting points. On page 403 he asks why take these photos seriously because they are mostly of mediocre quality. His explanation is that Le Corbusier used photography as a memoir of his personal and professional life and they offer a look at his psychology. Despite taking may hundreds of photos (and short movies) over his lifetime he preferred to regard them no more than visual notes and this explains why this aspect of his creativity is little known rather than his towering genius as an architect.
*The book is landscape size: 9.5 by 6.5 inches.
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