The idea of Louis Sullivan--what's the idea? Sullivan invented the cliché "Form follows function", an idea that has changed the world--one he implemented into his beautiful architecture, as he used the new materials of steel and terra cotta to design the elegant buildings of the last few decades of the 19th century, especially in Chicago. However, when one of his buildings collapsed, so did his reputation, and he grew old in disgrace, designing small Midwestern banks while pursuing the avocation of alcoholism.
John Szarkowski, the greatest critic and writer that photography has ever known, photographed the work of Louis Sullivan while a young man, while on a Guggenheim Fellowship, which resulted in the publication of the first edition of this book in the 1950s. The first sentence of the preface to the new edition "Old men should not revise young men's work; they are sure to make a botch of it," introduces one of the most marvelous stories every told about the workings of the world of photography in the 20th century--a wonderful story of the old and the young--a must read for anyone hoping to understand how Szarkowski became himself.
The first edition of this book almost failed to be published, and the second edition remains virtually unknown--my first impression of the book was that it was a tribute to a great curator, a consolation prize for the years he spent in the collections of MOMA rather than on the streets as a photographer, making work--but the story he tells in the new preface is something more--the passing of blessings from the old to the young--and the glory of the young finding their power.