La Strada: Italian Street Photography.
At first glance, this book seemed to follow the pattern of many photography compilations; a mix of great shots that can stand on their own even when removed from the context of the book, and shots that seem to simply document the people and location of the era. On successive views, however, the boundary lines become more vague.
The book starts with an excellent nine-page history of Italian photography. After going back and reading this introduction (admit it, we all flip through the photos first), I could appreciate more of the photos contained within the book, some of which I may have previously flipped past without much thought. While paging through this book, any series of photos you may find boring soon gives way to very impressive images, often with several amazing shots strung together over consecutive pages. These are moments which put me into an all-too-familiar mood of wanting to delete most of the content off my website, then going out to take better photos.
Another interesting aspect is the varying ‘technical’ quality of the photos. Some images, though great, will reveal the primitive nature of early hand-held 35mm photography, with faded tones, imprecise focus, heavy grain, subjects blurred from slow exposures, and highlight areas with all detail lost. This ‘character’ often adds to the allure of the photo, and becomes what you expect from a book like this. Some photographers may have used these characteristics intentionally, and to good affect. In stark contrast, however, other images appear which seem impossibly clear, detailed, and contrasty. Sometimes it seems startling to see such detailed images from the past, something often owed to the larger-format negatives and careful shooting techniques of the individual photographers.
Throughout the book, the images are presented one to a page, or with a single photo encompassing both facing pages. I think this book is out of print, but it is still easily available online used, and sometimes new (as with the copy I found). For anyone interested in this type of photography, I can easily recommend buying a copy of La Strada.
This video review from Ted Forbes will provide you with an idea of the images contained within the book: