A historian and a photographer from a family of photographers, Deborah Willis is one of the foremost authorities on African-American photography. In her new volume, Posing Beauty: African-American Images, 1890s to the Present (W.W. Norton, $49.95), she explores the concept of black beauty and how it has been presented in the past century. The book’s first portraits show how careful photographers were to pose their subjects in dignified ways, to counter stereotypical images fostered by Jim Crow laws and minstrel shows. As society changed, the images reflected that, first in ads for goods directed at black consumers, and then in representations of beauty, as blacks entered beauty pageants and become models for magazines like Ebony and Jet. When black photographers offered new images, eventually the larger society followed and began to change their portrayals of the black community, as can be seen in work by white photographers like Eve Arnold, Gary Winogrand, and Annie Leibovitz—though that doesn’t mean they erased all the stereotypes.
Leon Krier’s Drawing For Architecture (MIT Press, $24.95) is the perfect fit for any stocking—or any coffee or drafting table. Krier’s work is humorous and enlightening, putting complex ideas into simple terms with minimal text and maximum effect. This collection of wonderfully rendered line drawings is at once a playful exploration of the art in architecture and an argument for the better use of public space.
They were extraordinary men and women, The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism (Knopf, $40), and art writer Nicholas Fox Weber has produced a wonderful group portrait. Weber has organized the handsome, well-illustrated book around some of the seminal figures at the school: Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers and his wife Anni, and Mies van der Rohe. No book could better exemplify the marked break between the rigidities of class and culture before 1914 and the modern world we know now. It was a time of loosening inhibitions in more than art, so that an account of Bauhaus is perforce full of life and love. The influence of the Bauhaus School, founded in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius, extends into our time, ninety years later. Certainly part of the reason is that most of the artists ended up in the United States, chased out of Germany by Hitler. The School itself closed in 1933. It had a shortlife but it unleashed a mighty movement.