"ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PHOTOBOOKS EVER PUBLISHED": FIRST EDITION OF HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES, 1890, WITH 18 HALFTONES, MANY FROM PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACOB RIIS
RIIS, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1890. Octavo, original blue cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $3800.
First edition of this pioneering work by Riis—"the first photographer to use the power of the image as a tool for reform"—with over 45 illustrations, including 18 halftone photographic images and numerous line drawings, most based on photographs by Riis, in original non-pictorial cloth.
A Danish immigrant, Riis worked as a journalist for the New York Sun in the 1870s; within two decades he became "the first photographer to use the power of the image as a tool for reform" (McDarrah & McDarrah, 381). Expanded from his 1889 magazine article, Riis' How the Other Half Lives "shocked the nation, prompting the city to pass the first important legislation imposing health standards to make tenements more livable" (New York Times). The book's power derives from its "deeply felt—always picturesque, sometimes sentimental—vignettes of the lives of slum-dwellers… Riis, proud to be a reporter, felt no need to support his implied generalizations about tenement life with 'statistics,' or 'theory,' or 'sociology.' But he found, and relied on, a new kind of authority. A number of technical innovations in photography in the 1880s enabled Riis to take pictures in dark interiors and alleyways at night as well as in daylight. He did not claim to be an artist. His pictures were effective just because they were spontaneous and unsophisticated. Riis himself contentedly observed that his words, spoken or written, had made little impression until his 'negatives' came 'dripping from the dark-room… From them, there was no appeal.' Riis was thus a pioneer in the development of the documentary" (ANB).
"One of the most important photobooks ever published, How the Other Half Lives represents the first extensive use of halftone photographic reproductions in a book… it is the beginning, not of a photographic genre, but a photographic attitude, an ethos—humanist documentary photography—in which the photographic social document is employed to bear critical witness to what is going on in the world" (Parr & Badger I: 53). How the Other Half Lives "has rightly taken a central place among works on the history of photography" (Pinney & Peterson, Photography's Other Histories, 1). First edition with "1890" on both title page and copyright page; "Trow's Printing and Bookbinding Company New York" on copyright page. With frontispiece; without dust jacket as issued. Also found in half blue cloth and pictorial paper boards, no priority established. See Open Book, 46.
Interior very fresh with mild toning to frontispiece and title page offset from original tissue, expert strengthening to front hinge with original front pastedown laid down. A handsome near-fine copy.