As I've found myself a bit obsessed of late with the idea of regional history in photography, especially the work of William Christenberry, the reissue of John Szarkowski's look at 1950's Minnesota was a book that I was really looking forward to.
The book is very large and reads a bit like a text book, with images interspersed into chapters about different aspects of life in Minnesota. Szarkowski, better known as the man behind photography for years at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York and the author of the seminal photography text The Photographer's Eye, presents a sprawling overview of everything Minnesota, complete with images and essays about the state at the time of its centennial in 1958.
Those purchasing The Face of Minnesota for dynamic, thought-provoking photography will ultimately wind up disappointed. Szarkowski's photographs serve as little more than documentation, skillfully done, but without artistic pretension at all. The book's text book-esque format doesn't do much to hold the reader's interest, making it a bit of a chore to make it through the entire collection. That said, there was plenty to hold the interest of someone who is interested in exploring the history of place, in this case Minnesota. The fifty years since the original publication of the book lend the images a nostalgic glow, and Szarkowski's dedication to the project make up for much of what it may lack aesthetically.
To me, it's very important to document the places and times that may otherwise slip by unnoticed or remembered, deemed unremarkable by most observers. The Face of Minnesota accomplishes this in a very in depth manner and is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who values this sort of effort.
The Face of Minnesota by John Szarkowski
The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski