Books remain one of the major sources of photographic enjoyment and educations. We are constantly being enjoined to buy this new volume, or that in order to see how the masters do it.

Yet it not necessary to buy new books to do this, haunting the second hand bookshops is equally valid. Over the past couple of weeks, for examples, I’ve come across two interesting sixty year old books that are both educational and entertaining, although perhaps not in the way that it was originally intended.

“My Experiences in Color Photography” by German doctor turned photographer and author Paul Wolff, is an insight into color photography in the days immediately after World War II. It is quite dated in both photographic style and design but the color plates are reproduced in eight colors, and for the time the book must have been an expensive production.

Originally published in published in Frankfurt in 1942 ($US199 for a first edition in German on eBay Jan 9 2012) and in English in 1952 the book features 54 examples of Wolff’s Leica photographs from the thirties and forties (around $20 on eBay).

While “My Experiences” is eclectic in its selection of images Wolff is also known as one of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games photographers. One of his photographs of Hitler made the cover of issue number 15 of Time Magazine, and there is no doubt that he took advantage of the opportunities offered by the Nazi regime. But he seems to have been spared most of the accusations leveled at Leni Riefenstahl, for example, and became of the main proponents of color photography after the war.

In the text Wolff not only outlines his techniques for shooting color but also makes some interesting points about the old “is Photography Art?” debate.In this digital age no one is going to learn a great deal from this book as a practical how-to, but it is worthwhile as a historical document on both color photography itself, and on the mechanical reproduction of color.

Coming from around the same time as “My Experiences” is “The War’s Best Photographs,” a wonderful example of World War II propaganda, from the Allied perspective.

None of the black and white photographs are credited, and have obviously been assembled from a large number of sources. A large number are banal, some are tear-jerkers and a few are great. Overall it is quite an impressive overview of the War up until about mid-1943 (the date of publication is not given). Published by Odhams Press in London the production is a typical British austerity production, but none the worse for that.

The pics are contrasty, grainy and gritty. Just right for the subject and the times. The captions patriotic and in our eyes a little trite, but no doubt effective when the bombs were raining down.

The publishers didn’t spare the reader’s sensibilities … there are dead bodies, including one of a Chinese child in a coffin opposite an image of three blind British children feeling their way into an air raid shelter which was judged by a popular vote in America “to be the most moving of the whole war.”

Overall it is a grim book. Some of the photographs in it have been published many times, but most I haven’t seen before and the horror they evoke is hard to ignore. Well worth the $10 I paid for it in a local book store.


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