Century is a grand and grandiose collection of more than 1,000 photographs documenting a hundred years of world history as seen through the eyes of photojournalists.
Of course, you may need a forklift. ”Century” fills 1,120 pages, is almost four inches thick, and weighs 13 pounds. (The book comes with its own plastic carrying handle just to get the thing home.) The project is edited by Bruce Bernard, a veteran British magazine photo editor whose own author picture is, Englishly, not a photo at all but a portrait of himself painted by Lucian Freud, and whose prose tends toward the twitty. (”Those over a certain age might deduce correctly that when very young I much enjoyed the great British pocket magazine ‘Lilliput,’ ” he pip-pips.)
But the sheer colossal scope of the assembled stills is decisive proof that the 19th-century invention of photography, refined and advanced in the 20th century beyond imagining, has profoundly and forever changed human comprehension of the physical world, and self-knowledge as well.
Organized in chapters given such flowery headings as ”High Hopes and Recklessness” and ”Self-Inflicted Wounds Remain Infected,” and with accompanying (flowery, typo-prone) historical background, ”Century ”juxtaposes big moments and everyday scenes, most of them candid rather than composed and shot by workaday photojournalists rather than art photographers.
Any one picture — of workers and soldiers, prisoners and celebrities, politicians and corpses — invites long contemplation, just studying the eyes of a century of humanity. Any 20 are almost more than the mind can take in at a sitting. A 1919 photo of a lynching in Nebraska is nearly unbearable to look at yet demands attention; a casual 1979 shot of Pope John Paul II on a windy day in New York City is airy and charming.