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Visions of America: Photographing Democracy v. 1 [Hardcover]

Joseph Sohm

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Addresses a single question: how do you photograph democracy? This title takes us on an insightful journey down the back roads and byways of the US, which leads to a deeper understanding of who we are as a nation. It presents a portrait of life in the American democracy that shows us the United States.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Photographs with Great Stories 26 Aug 2009
By ChristineMM - Published on
Author and self-proclaimed Photo Historian Joseph Sohm has spent over thirty years traveling across America taking photographs. At some point the travel photography journey turned into a more of a quest with a goal to capture in photographed images, the idea of what democracy is and expanded to include visits and photographs of all fifty states. As a self-employed photographer without access to press credentials, Sohm has had to work hard to gain access to locations and politicians to succeed in capturing the wide range of content which he felt was imperative to the project (such as access to photograph Presidents).

I learned about this book by seeing Sohm on CSPAN's BookTV discussing the book. In his lecture, I enjoyed hearing stories behind some of the photos of his passion for photography and his patriotism for America. However I mistakenly assumed the book was ONLY a coffee table book of photography.

I loved seeing the high quality photography and the large number of photographs that should go without saying. But what surprised me about VISIONS OF AMERICA once I had it in my hands, was that it is filled with essay stories by Sohm.

Sohm's passion for America, his pride in being an American citizen and his wealth of knowledge about United States history was clearly apparent. I was so entranced by Sohm's words right from the first story that I decided to not peek at the photographs in the future pages, and instead read the book cover to cover, slowly taking in each image as I read the stories in the order the author intended to reveal his literal 'visions of America'. The images so closely tie in with the stories and the finely crafted chapters that reading it in its entirety and in order seemed the most respectful and best way to approach this book. Of the storytelling I will say that the stories are just right, not overdone, are full of passion (not exaggerated) and seem so sincere.

This winds up being anything but a generic compilation of color photographs of the United States of America, there are surely a number of those types of coffee table books on the market already, good only for their photographs. This book is different and SUPERIOR because it tells a story not just in the images selected in the chapter groupings, painting a picture of America's past and present but it is a collection of stories that reads like a travel journal and also like a memoir. The historical content gives a bit of nonfiction history book flavor to the book as well. Additionally there is a fair amount of discussion of the challenges of taking good photographs and the quest and hard work trying to get a great shot so that photographers who like to read about the photographer's artistic process will enjoy that element of Sohm's stories as well.

The book is without strong political bias but I detect hints which were not troublesome to me. The books contain images of Presidents. Sohm was hired to photograph President Clinton and so that is the time period when the bulk of his Presidential photographs were taken and the book is heavier on the Presidents post 1992. There are images of the Bush's and a couple of now President Obama, taken close to the publication date. The hot button issue of global warming found its way into the book with the author seeming very worried about it (he's clearly not a validity of the issue doubter). A chapter features some photos of some abuse of the Earth by humans (pollution, garbage dumps and so forth) as a bit of a call to action to treat our planet more gently.

Patriotic Americans will love this book. This is a great book for families too, being a wonderful photographic introduction to our United States of America. If my eleven year old son was any indication, kids will enjoy hearing some of the stories too (he loved the story of the difficulty in getting a clear shot of Mt. Rushmore, when a man in an orange jacket was standing right on Lincoln's head, ruining an otherwise perfect shot).

This is also a great book for public libraries.

This is a great coffee table book for casual flipping for people of all ages, but readers should do themselves a favor and take the time to read through the book cover to cover to savor it to its fullest.

I can't recommend this book highly enough! It is a beautiful book, very high quality paper and printing with stunning color photography with very good storytelling.

Bravo Joseph Sohm and thank you for sharing your Magnum Opus with us!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America's Perfection 14 Aug 2009
By S. Agusto-Cox - Published on
Visions of America by Joseph Sohm is more than a collection of photos about democracy, it is one man's journey across America to find democracy and reconnect with his nation. Amidst the photographs Sohm intersperses our nation's history and the emergence of our very own icons--the bald eagle, Mount Rushmore, the American flag, and more.

And one point in this "travel" journal, Sohm says, "Maybe the point in photographing icons of democracy is more about seeking perfectio...more Visions of America by Joseph Sohm is more than a collection of photos about democracy, it is one man's journey across America to find democracy and reconnect with his nation. Amidst the photographs Sohm intersperses our nation's history and the emergence of our very own icons--the bald eagle, Mount Rushmore, the American flag, and more.

And one point in this "travel" journal, Sohm says, "Maybe the point in photographing icons of democracy is more about seeking perfection than finding it." (Page 7). Not only are the photos gorgeous, the essays are poignant and informative about his journey and our nation's history.

Visions of America is a coffee table book for guests to peruse while dinner is cooking, for friends, family, and neighbors to ogle and discuss. This book compiles some of the most breathtaking images of our nation's countryside, our icons, and our people from all walks of life.

Each page is laid out in a variety of ways from large images with superimposed images of birds and famous quotes from former presidents and others. One of my favorite tidbits from the book is when Sohm talks about how he got out his trusty Mr. Clean and paper towels to wash down the New Hampshire welcome sign for its photo shoot.

There are a series of panoramic photos throughout the books from the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., to landscapes in Utah, Alaska, and California. Countrysides, cityscapes, everyday men and women, and communities pepper this volume and celebrate democracy in a variety of ways.

Readers eager for a break from traditional reading pursuits should consider picking up this beautiful volume of our American heritage. There are only two possible drawbacks to this book--the cost of $75 and the heft of the book itself. You won't be carrying this one around on the subway. Photographers--amateur and professional--will want to add Visions of America to their collections. However, Sohm has a great eye for what makes this country great and his photography and essays are a testament to our nation's grandeur.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Democracy Photographed 30 Jun 2011
By Betty Bush - Published on
I just bought Visions of America "Photographing Democracy" by Joseph Sohm. He claims it took 30 years to photograph the 50 states, but as I review the 312 color pages, and 1300 stunning images, it looks as if he devoted a half century to capture our nation in living color. Everything you love about America can be found here: the small towns, US Cities, the games of Democracy, stunning panoramic landscapes, Presidents from both sides of the aisle, Icons, Native Americans, etc. If it can be found in America, Sohm photographed it. But the book's best part are the essays - all 21 of them. Each essay is rich, poignant, entertaining and loaded with historical insights that we all should know as Americans. Combining pictures with words, Visions of America is an inspirational treatment of the American Spirit. And with all the bad news these days, the book is a breath of fresh air. It's time to feel good about America again - and this book does it! I strongly recommend this book for parents, teacher and students who believe that America is a very special place. It makes you want to go out and get a 57 Chevy and see the USA.

Betty Bush
Frontenac, MO
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America the Beautiful 27 Aug 2009
By Sam Sattler - Published on
Paul Sohm had a vision and he was determined to capture that vision in pictures he could share with the rest of us. Sohm wanted to photograph democracy. But how does one take pictures of a concept of government? Sohm worked at the problem for thirty years and his new book, "Visions of America: Photographing Democracy," is filled with the breathtaking results of his efforts.

"Visions of America" is divided into 13 chapters, one for each of the 13 original colonies. Each chapter focuses on a theme critical to Shom's vision of America, including photographic essays on American icons, Native Americans, Black Americans, small town America, the open road, and American presidents. Taken together, the 13 chapters, and the photos used to illustrate them, unite to create a clear picture of what makes the American experience unique. Paul Sohm has, indeed, photographed democracy.

Each of the book's chapters is filled with memorable photographs, but I suspect that each reader will be particularly drawn to one or two chapters because of the personal memories they stir. For me, there were two: Chapter Seven, "Song of the Open Road" and Chapter Ten, "E Pluribus Unum," the chapter on sport (especially the baseball and marathon photos). Others, I am certain, will find their own favorite chapters.

"Visions of America" is more than a coffee-table book of photos. Each chapter is built around an essay of Sohm's in which he visits the theme being illustrated by his photographs. In addition, Sohm often shares anecdotes about the pictures themselves and the effort and planning that went into creating them. Sohm's essays, powerful as they are, are short and to the point. They are so perfectly paired with a set of photos to illustrate the message of each chapter that one comes to realize that neither the essays nor the photos would have nearly the same impact if offered alone.

I have spent nearly a month with "Visions of America" and I keep coming back to Chapter Seven and the sentence that always ends with me studying Sohm's pictures of the American open road,"Few things are more American than getting in your car and driving cross-country." Simple as that sentence is, it never fails to make me wish I were behind the wheel again and wandering rather aimlessly from one small town to the next. That kind of driving is my idea of the perfect vacation and it probably always will be that way. The sentence brings back countless memories of family vacations spent on the road with my parents and brother. I learned as a child that I enjoyed the road trip more than I did the destination, and Sohm's photos remind me of why I still feel that way.

"Visions of America" is a masterpiece. It is an inspirational reminder of what this country once was and what it can be again if we remember who we are. I plan to leave the book out for friends and family to browse through; it is good medicine for these tough economic times.
5.0 out of 5 stars Visions of America 18 Feb 2014
By Linda Milzow Rinkinen - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Our family has enjoyed the book with all it's beautiful pages and patriotism. The book was reasonable and arrived quickly.
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