“HE PIONEERED THE DOCUMENTARY”: SCARCE COLLECTION OF BEAUTIFUL FOLIO PLATES FROM ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHS BY LEGENDARY FILMMAKER ROBERT FLAHERTY
FLAHERTY, Robert. Six engravings. New York: Revillon Fréres, . Elephant folio, six loose folio sheets of engravings variously measuring from 5 by 8-1/2 to 6-1/2 by 9 inches, each mounted on sheets measuring 13 by 20 inches, single loose printed sheet, uncut, stiff paper chemise, brown paper-covered portfolio. $2200.
Superb first edition of a portfolio collection of six copper-plate, toned engravings mounted on folio sheets, after photographs by director Robert Flaherty, father of the documentary, including several images found in his landmark film, Nanook of the North, and published same year as the premiere of the movie that changed film history.
“A half dozen geniuses took a crude mechanical device for reproducing motion and created of it an art, an art with its own laws, techniques and potentialities. Certainly no one has played a more important role in shaping that art than the late Robert J. Flaherty” (Arthur Knight). “He pioneered the documentary form” and it was Flaherty who inspired British filmmaker John Grierson to coin the very word ‘documentary,” but the Michigan-born director did not begin his extraordinary career behind a camera (Thomson, 302). “I was an explorer first and a motion picture maker a long way after,” Flaherty once said. During the years he worked as a prospector for railroads and small mining companies in northeastern Canada, Flaherty used a still camera for his surveying, in the process creating dramatic “records of where he had been and whom he had seen. Most striking of these were his portraits of the people of the North” (Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society). Encouraged by his employer Sir William Mackenzie of the Canadian Northern Railway, Flaherty added a movie camera to his photographic equipment. Then in 1915, Flaherty and his wife were influenced by a visit to “the New York office of Edward S. Curtis, a man known primarily for his monumental visual ethnography… During their visit they saw Curtis’s photographs and his 1914 film, In the Land of the Headhunters… During Flaherty’s third and fourth [Mackenzie] expeditions he shot about 30,000 feet of motion picture film in addition to the photographs he was already taking” and began to “examine the possibility of turning the footage into a film.” After a fire destroyed much of this work, in 1920 “Flaherty convinced Thierry Mallot of a French fur trading company, Revillon Fréres, to finance Nanook” (Ruby, Quarterly Review of Film Studies). Influenced by his early reliance on both formats, Flaherty’s style of filmmaking, described by his wife Frances as exploratory rather than preconceived, ultimately used both still and movie cameras to let a film emerge. “Especially in the case of the earlier films, and perhaps because of economic considerations, a good deal of this exploration was done with a still camera, and many of the photos… represent efforts to determine how the lens would transform a potential subject into an image” (Claremont University Flaherty Study Center). Flaherty’s process of filmmaking is reflected in the six beautifully composed engravings found here-“Allegoo, “Nyla and Child,” “Summer,” “The Hunter,” “Tooktoo” and “The Huskie”-which include several images found in Flaherty’s film Nanook: Each sheet with small printed label affixed; single quarto of publisher’s announcement with engraved headpiece, rubricated initial and paragraph marks. Complete as issued; 12 additional photographs by Flaherty, as noted in label affixed to publisher’s sheet, sold separately by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Very lightest scattered foxing, none affecting fine, crisp images; slight embrowning to chemise, portfolio with some expert repair.