We are proud to present the first in a regular series from our new guest blogger, photobook expert Thomas Wiegand. In this first blog, Thomas explains why he finds Das Leben ein Wagnis, an almost totally unknown publication, so captivating.
Das Leben ein Wagnis (Life's a Gamble)
Uta von Witzleben (Text, Idea and Design)
Düsseldorf: Econ, 1964
Cloth-backed boards in slip-case. Some editions include a printed brochure.
This is a book from a period when people made picture books, not photo books. It is big, it is very well printed in rotogravure, and it is well laid-out and designed. It was not only sold in bookstores, but also as a commemorative volume (with an additional text booklet) by the 50-year old "Vereinigten Lebensversicherungsanstalt", a German Life insurance company, who gave the book to their customers, business partners and employees. The print-run of this company book must have been high. As a result, it is neither rare nor expensive even 40 years after it was published.
The theme of this picture book is accurately described by the title: Life's a Gamble. So the book displays the dangers that threaten us in life, but remember that it is presented by a Life Insurance Company, so this is probably in order to assure the us that the policy we have just signed will protect us. The recurring symbol of protection on offer is a dove, carefully held in two hands.
The book dates from the height of magazine journalism, represented by photographers such as Carlo Bavagnoli, Robert Frank, Stefan Moses, Tony Armstrong-Jones, Andreas Feininger, Ansel Adams and Henry Cartier-Bresson. The largest share of the pictures were provided by the young Hamburg-based advertising photographer Thomas Grebe, who apparently had the task of supplying the missing shots to unite the main images with a common thread or story.
It is not clear to me how the author, a journalist and writer, managed to create such an assured dreamlike sequence in the design of this practically unknown but totally brilliant photo book, distinguished as it is by big names, a captivating topic and perfect page by page realisation.
Look out for the next edition of Wiegand's Wunderkammer, coming soon.