Note: This is the same book issued by the publisher five years ago in a hard cover. The following is my review from that time.
Notwithstanding the promise of its title, "Art in Photography" is simply a survey of avant-garde photography of the last half of the twentieth century.
The book is divided into three parts: an essay by Campany, photographs and other works, and documents consisting of excerpts of articles, interviews and statements. The essay is divided into sections with titles like "The Urban and the Everyday" with similar sections of the photographs and documents. Each essay section makes a few general comments about the new in photography and then discusses in a sentence or two the particular photographers whose works appear among the photographs.
The essay's principal thesis is that while other plastic arts moved away from content toward form in modern times, photography has generally moved away from form to content. At the same time, the goal of either set of movements was always self-referential, although it seemed as if photographers were deliberately subverting the form to show its inadequacies. (The author ignores the main stream of photography during that same period, when there were many portrait, fashion and landscape photographers who clung splendidly to the combination of form and content, using form to explicate the content.)
The essay is often supported by thumbnails an inch and three-quarters high, but it is difficult to see much at this small size, and the reader may be further confounded in the effort to relate the picture to the text by the fact that the captions for the thumbnails are printed vertically in small type, requiring one to rotate the book 90 degrees and then look closely to confirm the relationship of the picture to the text.
The pictures themselves are difficult to understand out of the context of a particular photographer's work, although occasionally an image will arrest one's eye, like the photograph of a single woman's face turned toward the camera in a sea of black-cloaked praying Moslem women, or Chuck Close's painting of Philip Glass. For the most part the pictures, out of context, are enigmatic. Campany acknowledges that it is difficult to draw any consistent theory of photography from the pictures.
The documents vary in interest from insightful articles to artistic double-speak. It pained me to see Walter Benjamin's seminal article "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" abridged to a short excerpt, but it does add the flavor of the work to some understanding of the pictures presented.
Survey books are always difficult for me because they can never go into enough detail to comprehend larger movements. Still, for the individual interested in a collection of representative works of avant-garde photography, this book may fill the bill.