Glenn D. Lowry, Director
Peter Galassi, Chief Curator of Photography
The Museum of Modern Art
Frontispiece from the book. Gelatin silver print. Abelardo Morell. Pietà by El Greco. 1993. 18 x 22½" (45.7 x 57.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase © Abelardo Morell
It is impossible to conceive of modern visual culture apart from the very particular contributions of highly creative individual artists, and the preservation, display, and study of their work constitute the principal mission of The Museum of Modern Art. It is equally impossible to ignore the vast and ultimately anonymous transformations wrought by technological change. MoMA has grappled steadily with that very complex domain as well, without ever attempting a comprehensive program.
Richard Benson's book The Printed Picture is a major contribution to the latter tradition. Its marvelous illustrations include more than a handful of outstanding works of art, but the great bulk of the pictures are utterly commonplace. For Benson, these humble things are more important than their exquisite, rare, and sometimes very valuable cousins because their social function has been enormously more influential. That influence rests upon the capacity to multiply the image, and the book's essential subject is just how that physical capacity is created: the way pictures are made shapes the way they look and behave, and hence what they can mean.
Richard Benson is uniquely qualified to guide us through this sprawling territory, which today, with the advent of digital technologies, is once again expanding rapidly. A dedicated artist and teacher, he is also an inspired tinkerer, who four decades ago led a revolution in printing that would radically improve the quality of photographs in reproduction. He has himself made nearly all of the many kinds of pictures he discusses here, and that hands-on experience makes itself felt on every page.
The Museum is proud to present this landmark contribution to our understanding of the life of pictures in the modern world. We thank the excellent staff of the Department of Publications, led by Christopher Hudson, and we salute in particular David Frankel, who edited the book, and Marc Sapir, who collaborated with the author in producing it. Finally we are grateful to Robert B. Menschel and his fellow members of the Committee on Photography, who nearly twenty years ago generously established the John Szarkowski Publications Fund, whose support has been indispensable. Never was a name more rightly linked to a project, for John Szarkowski initiated and shared some of Richard Benson's most ambitious and fruitful experiments in offset lithography, notably the four-volume The Work of Atget (1981–85).