Photography books have a remarkable way of speaking without ever uttering a word, of bringing back to our earliest days, looking at picture books. The immediacy of the image captures our attention like nothing else, and we learn through silent observation about the world. To add words to the experience is to create context, to shape experience and imbue understanding. As such, most photography books keep the text in the front or the back, to be taken separately from the sequence of images themselves. The result is a feeling of silence akin to being in a gallery or museum.
But not all books take this approach. There are those who see the book as a collaboration between image and word, bringing together the photographer and the poet in a duet beneath the covers. In 1955, Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes co-authored The Sweet Flypaper of Life, an intimate paperback that told the story of life in Harlem from the perspective of an older woman who is a fixture in the community. Through Hughes, she introduces us to the people on the scene, sharing their tragedies and triumphs, giving voice to those who we would otherwise know not.
Inspired by this historic book, photographer Thomas Roma collaborated with his son Giancarlo for their second book together: The Waters of Our Times (powerHouse Books). Now in its second printing, this time in hardcover format, The Waters of Our Times is designed with the same size, layout, and font as The Sweet Flypaper of Life, sharing its idea: the story of New York through the lens of an older woman. This time, the story takes place in Brooklyn, the home of both Roma men.
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Photo ©Thomas Roma, courtesy of powerHouse Books