Volker M. Welter
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Photobooks and the architectural imagination of California
in The photobook world
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This chapter discusses the importance of architectural photobooks for the vision of an eclectic Southern Californian architecture that emerged around 1900. From the late nineteenth century onward, architects, photographers, art historians, art dealers and connoisseurs authored lavishly illustrated photobooks that record historic and vernacular buildings, ornamental details, and arts and crafts objects as seen, for example, in England, France, Italy, Mexico, Persia and Spain. In addition, photobooks authored by architects aimed to contribute to contemporary architectural debates. While traveling in foreign countries, architects photographed towns, buildings and ornaments. Subsequently, they compiled photographic surveys of human settlements and farmsteads nestling in the landscape, civic and private buildings in urban settings, and close-up shots of street scenes, architectural and decorative details. Photobooks that were either published by Southern Californian architects or are preserved in their archives, supplied reference images for details of contemporary revival style designs. Yet when viewed from cover to cover, these photobooks also put forward visions of an architecturally ordered society inhabiting a regional landscape that was, in turn, developed in harmony with its topographical and natural features. In addition to California’s historic colonial architecture and the often fantastic set designs of the rapidly growing movie industry of the early twentieth century, architect-authored photobooks are another important source of the eclectic architectural identity of Southern California imagined as a distinct region.

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The photobook world

Artists’ books and forgotten social objects



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