Yes, you can. Well, in this case anyway. Judge a book by its cover. I’m not sure if the saying originated as “You cannot judge a book by its cover” or “You should not judge a book by its cover” but whatever the original verbiage, no need to worry about that when you pick up ‘Streisand: In the Camera Eye”. Intrigued as you will be by the Cecil Beaton portrait on this book’s cover, the intrigue lies ahead, in this collection of photographs masterfully curated by best-selling author James Spada and given the kid-glove production it deserves from book publisher Abrams.
Although the 170 portraits and candid shots of Miss Streisand can speak for themselves, Spada writes a breezily engaging commentary tracing the star’s career that brings you from page to page, and has taken the time and care to speak with some of the photographers and shares their thoughts and insights, fully rounding out the experience of stargazing.
If the camera loves Barbra, it must be stated that she, in turn, loves the camera. She must. Not as a narcissist but as an artist who understands and obliges whatever medium in which she is presently engaged. To some it might seem a long jump from standing in front of your bathroom mirror to sitting for Cecil Beaton or Francesco Scavullo but for Barbra it appears to be a lovely, graceful step. Or as Beaton, who designed the sets and historical costumes for “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” is quoted in the book says, “She is an ideal mannequin and compelling actress in elegant period costumes. Her face is a painting from several historical eras. She is a self-willed creation.”
And Spada works well to remind us that there were two people in the room, and includes many insightful comments from those photographers with whom he was able to speak.
When Barbra Streisand joined Instagram in August of 2014 she made news. Network, cable, basic-cable, bloggers, tweets – you name it, she made it. In this era of selfie-portraits and snap-chats and file sharing and photo-shopping and photo-bombing and cloud hacking and everything else I haven’t mentioned, the idea of a beautiful, coffee table book illustrating the career of a beloved movie star might seem a bit quaint. Well, what’s wrong with quaint? I, for one, have grown a bit tired of seeing laptops, gaming controls, bowls of potpourri, cutting boards and whatever else is crowding the tops of coffee tables these days. You might as well display a worthy book on it, now that everyone is drinking their coffee on the streets anyway.
So go ahead, judge this book by its cover. And when the judging is over, slip off the dust jacket and relish the hardcover “case” photo by Craig D. Simpson. Your coffee table will thank you.
Published by Abrams, New York. Available now in all the places you’d expect. $40