Peculiar Photo Books

Once in a while, I write about children’s photo books. Nowadays, most children’s books are illustrated, but there was a glorious period from the 1950s to the early 1980s when the format thrived, only to decline and almost disappear. I researched and collected those books to assess their unique narrative qualities and why the genre vanished.

I became a go-to specialist in Portugal, which led to more writing commissions on the subject.

Sometimes that work directs me to interesting new avenues of investigation. A straightforward commission about three specific children’s photobooks turned into surprisingly complex research.

Only one of them, «A lição das Coisas» (Object Lesson), is a book intended for children – though not in a standard fashion: the text was made by a factory worker, teaching about machinery and tools. The book was a collective attempt to give voice to the working class.

Another, «Manual de Alfabetização» (Adult Learning Manual), is the documentary record of a cooperative endeavor to teach first letters to marginalized working-class adults.

The last, «Estas Crianças Aqui» (These Children Here), is the only typical photo book with text written as a narrative about images by a photographer. However, it’s not so much a book for children but about them as an object.

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