Mary Randlett: Portraits

by Frances McCue

Hardcover, 2014




Seattle, WA : University of Washington Press, 2014.


"Mary Randlett Portraits, the first collection of Mary Randlett's photographs of people, presents visual artists, writers, and arts advocates from 1949 to 2014. Her portraits are known for their effortless intimacy, illuminating her subjects as few ever saw them-something noted by many of those whom she photographed. The portraits are accompanied by biographical sketches written by Frances McCue, whose short essays blend life stories and reflections on the photographs with Randlett's own reminiscences. McCue also provides an essay that is the first to frame the scope of Randlett's life and professional career. Mary Randlett, who will be 91 in May, 2015, is still photographing landscapes."--Publisher's website.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Tatoosh
Photographs Mary Randlett has taken of artists, writers, and patrons having a connection to the Pacific Northwest is the organizing theme of this book. As a sometimes photographer, I was interested in this book primarily because of the photographs. The photographs show these public figures in their natural milieu, but just as with the rest of us, their natural milieu is often photographically unremarkable. I think most readers' primary interest in the photographs will be attributable to the public stature of the subjects rather than in the photographs themselves. Most of the subjects will be unknown to those outside of the artistic community, reducing much of the content to snapshots of photogenic individuals in scenes that are typical of the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps I was hoping for too much. Not every photographer can produce images like Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother or Yousef Karsh's Winston Churchill. Yet all too often the photos failed to capture my interest and I found myself doing little more than glance at them before turning to the text. Even when I went back through the book and carefully studied the photos in preparing this review my primary reaction was that the image showed a "nice-looking" person; many appeared to be friendly.

The photograph of Betty Bowen that appears on the cover is one of the more compelling images in the book; kudos to the judgment of the editor. Other photographs that captured my attention are those of young Mary Randlett (p. viii), Kenneth Callahan (p. 12), Morris Graves (p. 24), Galen Garwood (p. 82), Theodore Roethke (p. 125), and Judith Roche (p. 152). The two photographs of Virginia Bloedel Wright (pp. 94 & 111) also seem to have captured an appealing je ne sais quoi quality.

The book uses a somewhat common format with a photograph on the left and a page of text describing the subject's accomplishments and connection to the Pacific Northwest on the facing page. Some subjects receive a four page or even longer treatment. The text provides a lively read and the author (Frances McCue) does a nice job of pulling together information about the subject's accomplishments, personal life, and connection to the Pacific Northwest. However, I was left wanting some visual evidence to accompany the text. The book would have been enhanced by adding photos of the artistic works of each artist, especially those works mentioned in the text.
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