Reviewed by Paul Rogers
Titanic in Photographs : By Daniel Klistorner, Steve Hall, Bruce Beveridge, Art Braunschweiger & Scott Andrews
The centenary of the Titanic disaster will be upon us in April next year, no doubt to be both preceded and followed by a large number of books from authors (and publishing houses), seeking to profit from the inevitable rise in reader interest that will occur. Most of these offerings will, no doubt, be ‘coffee table’ style books, that will re-hash the story and repeat the myths, without adding any new knowledge. Almost all of them will be a waste of money for both the casual reader and the serious Titanorak. It was with these sentiments in my mind that I agreed – with some misgivings – to review this book. After all, surely we’ve seen all the photographs that exist of Titanic already. What interest could there possibly be in yet another book, re-printing the same old ‘iconic’ images for the umpteenth time? Thankfully for all concerned, I was pleasantly surprised.
Let’s start with the basics. The book retails for £20 in the UK and is published by The History Press (according to Wikipedia, “one of the UK’s largest local and specialist history publishers”) who has lived up to this reputation by creating a quality product. It is published in a landscape-type format, which is entirely logical for a book specialising in photographs, and it measures almost exactly 25cm square. It is a hardback, with an attractive dust jacket with gold and white text and a black background. The cover image is of Titanic leaving Southampton. The book also contains a surprising amount of text (more about this later) which is clear and easy to read; assuming, that is, the reader is aged under 45. Sadly, the text uses a size eight font (it’s even smaller for the picture captions) and so I definitely needed my reading glasses and lots of bright light to read it in comfort. The book runs to 158 pages which, ignoring forewords, etc. is divided into five chapters. These are:
As might be expected, the middle three chapters make up the majority of the content. The book also contains a foreword by Ken Marschall, an acknowledgements page, a brief introduction by Klistorner and Hall (the main credited authors) and a final afterword.
Each chapter follows a similar layout: firstly, the text, interspersed with relevant photographs, explains what was happening at each stage of Titanic’s life. This text runs for between six and ten pages in a two-column format and I was pleasantly surprised at the care and attention to detail with which the story was told. It was obvious that the authors were the same individuals who had written ‘TITANIC: The Ship Magnificent’ (TTSM), for their depth of knowledge and love of the subject matter is clearly evident. After the text, a number of pages are set aside for a large number of photographs, all of which are captioned in detail. The book’s layout allows the reader to see the detail in the photographs, whilst keeping the vast majority of images to a single page, rather than spreading an image across both pages. Therefore, the irritation of losing photographic details within the book’s spine has mostly been avoided.
One would assume from the title of this book that any text contained within it would be brief and mainly limited to captions for the images. This is certainly not the case and Titanic’s story is told in some detail. It also includes many historical references; for example, there is a full account of the launch as recorded at the time by a journalist from The Manchester Guardian. This attention to detail is just one example of many. It may be that the text was simply lifted and dropped from TTSM (I have no idea, as I haven’t read it) but it is extremely well written and lends gravitas to the book as a whole, as well as providing context for the photographs themselves.
The intricate detail provided by the authors themselves is also impressive. Here’s just one example that illustrates this impressive attention to detail: the five Red Star tugs that moved Titanic into Berth 44 in Southampton are all named – in alphabetical order, no less! The quantity and quality of the text means that the reader is encouraged to spend time actually reading the book, rather than just leafing through the pages, looking at all the pretty pictures. I would suggest that there is more factual information contained within this book than all of the Robert Ballard publications put together. This statement is not to be taken as criticism of the Ballard books, but rather as praise for this publication. This means, of course, that the book is perfect for a complete novice to the Titanic universe, as they can gain a thorough knowledge of the ship’s history, as well as enjoying the photographs for their own sake.
Of course, the acid test of this book must be the quality of the photographs. It is, without doubt, exceptional. The book contains the photos taken by Kate Odell, which only came to light in 1987, as well as photos taken by various newspaper photographers and a large number from other private collections. The print quality is superb and the space allocated to the images is sufficient to do them justice and allow the reader to see details without having to resort to a magnifying glass. The majority are, of course, back and white but there are also some stunning colour illustrations taken from a publication called The Railway & Travel Monthly as well as advertisements reproduced from many of Titanic’s suppliers.
The captioning of the images is also first class. Rather than just stating the photograph’s origin, a mini-history of the image is also provided, which often names the individuals photographed as well. Often, two or more images taken at the same time are placed together, to provide a truly comprehensive record of the event. This means that, on occasion, the photographer of a particular image can be seen taking that actual photo within another image. An example of the above, together with the detail provided in the captions, can be found in two photographs showing Titanic leaving Southampton. The caption reads as follows:
“Two images taken from aboard the Houlder Line steamer Beacon Grange. A local Southampton photographer by the name of Courtney captured the image on the left as Titanic approaches. The man seen holding the camera in the right of this image is the Illustrations Bureau photographer from London, who moments later took the photo below.”
Another example of the detail contained within the captions can be found in relation to a photograph of Titanic’s chains being made at the Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd workshop in Dudley. Not only is the photographer named, but also the date the photo was taken, the names of the workmen photographed, and the quantity of chain made for the ship at the workshop. In other captions, the authors point out matters of interest contained within the photos that a casual reader would otherwise completely miss. I cannot stress enough that the above examples are the norm rather than the exception. This attention to detail brings the photographs to life and means that, even if the reader has seen some of the images previously, they will still gain new insights into the subject matter photographed.
In conclusion: this book is a ‘must-read’! The price is more than reasonable given the superb quality and content, and it will be enjoyed no matter how many other Titanic publications you have in your collection. It is also a book that you will find yourself returning to and re-reading; and that is a rare compliment for any modern Titanic book, let alone one mainly devoted to photographs of the ship.