Babes in the Woods

Baby’s First Book is, asserts the publisher, filled with the most common objects in a baby’s world. “Notice how a baby always responds to the one familiar thing in a picture.” Well, that makes sense. “The baby needs to learn about things as they are, and simple, accurate pictures to help him.”

This black and white book of photographs is the anti-picture book of 1932. And visually opposite to Garth Williams’ 1959 book of the same name.  No stylization, no conceptualization, no safety concerns (see the knife and bread and the hammer and nails). Just the everyday objects a baby discovers as it matures. “The camera has been used because it portrays them truly.”

And check out the curious choice of children’s books in the photo titled “books.”

Fascinating concept, though. What if there was no such thing as styling? What if all books were photographed like snap shots? How many of us would be out of a job? And would the public really care?

9 thoughts on “Babes in the Woods

  1. Erika Knerr

    The no conceptualization, anti-style implementation is one of my favorite styles to work with. The photos appear to be highly styled in the placement of the objects, but the overall affect is of noneness.  The cover is an exception which to my eye is the opposite. Interesting, thanks!

  2. Bruno Watel

    No such thing as styling… it is also interesting to notice that in the pre-desktop age, 1932, the “type composer” of the book puts two spaces after a period (I thought this was a contemporary post-typewriter disease), doesn’t seem to know the existence of ellipses, and uses two mismatched typefaces for the intro and the body. No such thing as styling.

  3. Karen

    I would like to comment on the photos. I disagree with your contention that these are merely snapshot photos. These were “styled,” but not as we might do it, that’s all. Every image supports the author’s objective by offering only the object against a plain, neutral background. The objects were specifically selected, arranged in the space (not random), and lit. I think the idea itself of using photographs instead of illustrations in a children’s book is intriguing, even though the actual design of this piece is not exciting.

  4. Yael

    This is actually pretty funny: first, I find myself shaking my head at the choice of “knife” and “overshoes”, and then I remember that I made almost exactly this same thing for my son when he was 2. I found photos of things he liked, printed them wallet-size with the caption in big letters, and filled a small photo book. It was the perfect size to take along anywhere, and he loved “reading” it–going through each page, saying what was in the picture.
    When someone else would look at the book, though, I found myself wryly explaining my choice of pictures–things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to put in a kids’ book were included, simply because those were things my son loved, and they were things I knew he would enjoy seeing in a book. (No knives or racism, though.) That said, I’m sure a published book tries to be as widely appealing as possible; although it makes me wonder if the author’s kid was partial to umbrellas too…speaking from experience, however, I think kids get more excited when the umbrella is open. 🙂

  5. Steven Heller Post author

    See comment:
    And check out the curious choice of children’s books in the photo titled “books.”

    In lectures I have given about “racist imagery” various audience members admitted to reading “Little Black Sambo” and never thinking of it as racist, but rather as “friendly.”

    Some of you may know that this story began as an East Indian tale and was transformed in the U.S.

    But as Mr. Gates and Ms. Barr point out, it is shocking in today’s light.

  6. Oladele Barr

    To second what Mr. Gates pointed out, I couldn’t help but do a double take, or rather, “scroll-back” at that Little Black Sambo book, so prominently displayed for baby’s first reading materials. Status quo for the 1930’s, huh?