If you're looking for a book of pretty pictures, this is not it - the authors say as much. Or if you're looking for a book of pictures at the level of your favorite big name photographers, this book is not that either - again the authors say as much. What it is is a book of work by students and recent graduates (as of 2005) of a range of prominent art programs who have a real chance to be among the great photographers twenty years from now (2025, counting from 2005).
As another commenter has pointed out, what you see in this book is very filtered. This too the authors acknowledge. The fifty photographers whose work appears in the book (four pages each, four full page or more half page or smaller) were chosen as follows:
* The authors decided to seek candidates only from photography programs in art schools and other academic institutions.
* The authors chose sixty programs to extend invitations to.
* The faculty of the programs chose up to ten students and recent grads to offer nominations to.
* The students had to accept the offer.
* The faculty and students together (presumably) chose the specific work to submit.
* The work will have generally been done within the program and have been approved and supervised by the faculty.
* Finally, the authors selected the fifty "winners" from the almost four hundred submissions received (a rate of about one in eight).
Some demographics on the fifty:
* Gender: M 29, F 21
* Average year of birth: 1976 (age as of 2005: 29)
* Average years of attendance in program: 2001-2004
* Countries of birth/nationality: Switzerland 10, US 8, Germany 6, France 4, England 3, Israel, Japan, Netherlands and South Africa 2, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Sweden and Taiwan 1
* Countries of programs: Switzerland and US 10, France 6, England 5, Germany 4, Canada 3, Italy 2, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa 1
As a point of interest, both Musee de l'Elysee, the institution that carried out the project, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, the company that funded it, are Swiss.
In making their selection, the authors applied at least one criterion that they explicitly state, which is that "there had to be a manifest intelligence behind the work." To verify this they asked the candidates to make a statement as to what they were trying to accomplish with their work and then evaluated the work against the statement. In doing this they clearly favored series (something you would expect from the programs anyway) and were very sympathetic to conceptual and theory-driven art (also to be expected from the programs).
At the same time the authors also insist that, as selective as they were, the work they chose was representative of the submissions as a whole and is characteristic of current work across the range of programs. Some of the specific trends (and anti-trends) they note include:
* Extreme dominance of color over black and white (only two artists in the book show B&W).
* Wide use of digital (i.e. Photoshop) techniques ranging from enhancement to selective removal of objects to compositing to radical transformation.
* Low/non-representation of some historically important genres including street photography and nudes, to which I would add narrative and other "fictional" forms along the lines of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson.
* Self-consciousness and a measure of insecurity about the value and future of the work.
They also mention the dichotomy between engaged and what they call escapist orientations but don't make any statement that I could find about how the work they evaluated and selected falls into the two categories. However the impression that I got from looking through the book is that only about a quarter of the artists are clearly engaged in the conventional sense, whether in terms of social issues or personal ones. The rest are, if not escaping from reality, at least viewing it from a distance.
Over half the artists show no people at all, and some (according to the descriptions) have actively removed people from their pictures through digital means. Of those who do show people a majority do so in a deadpan style, and a number "artificalize" their subjects through techniques ranging from compositing to distortion to shooting clay figures.
So this is what the book is. Is it something you would want to buy? If you are interested in what's going on in the top art schools (or was as of a few years ago), then probably yes. If you just want to see a lot of interesting work, then the answer depends on your tastes. Yours may be different from mine (I have only been actively involved in photography for about a year), but here are some artists in the book that I think are especially worth looking at:
* Raphael Dallaporta (France): exquisitely beautiful pictures of land mines paired with factual descriptions of the devices - chilling
* Idris Khan (England) : compelling extreme multiple exposures - he stands out in the book as showing a highly distinctive and well developed style
* Mieke van den Voort (Netherlands): living spaces left by people who died alone - the ultimate in trace/aftermath photography
* Pablo Zuleta Zahr (Chile, studied in Germany): lots of composite pictures of people dressed alike - a little gimmicky but very well executed
* Marco Bohr (German, studied in Canada): subtly insightful documentary photos of Japanese city life
* Ted Partin (US): real pictures of real people, intimate, black and white - really stands out in the book.
A number of other artists had a picture or two I liked even if I did not go for the whole series. Two of my favorites among these are Bianca Brunner (Switzerland) untitled (p. 53) and Chih-Chien Wang (Taiwan) Newspaper Wrap (p. 209).
I personally loved this book, but I don't think everybody will, so I give it just four stars.