The Lovely Sea View: Photographs By Gustave Le Gray

by Alex Novak


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My friend Ken Jacobson has never done things the easy way. He has self-published two books now. The first was a wonderful catalogue entitled Etude d'Apres Nature: 19th Century Photographs in Relation to Art. It is still available from Ken for $65. I highly recommend it (it is one of my picks for a basic photography collector's library).

In his second book he takes on a number of important issues under the gentle title "The Lovely Sea-View". Most important of all he challenges many of our preconceptions about an area that most researchers thought to be thoroughly explored--something that turns out to be an academic fantasy rather than reality. The problem with the photo community is that so many of us think that everything has already been discovered in this field. Fortunately, we have someone like Ken Jacobson to help us realize that we are just at the beginnings of our education and research and that we should get down off our academic high horses.

Ken's book is about Gustave Le Gray's Seascape pictures. He makes a case that perhaps some of these historic images were actually taken by other photographers and that Le Gray acted in a publisher role. While I don't happen to agree with him, he has made a thoughtful and thought-provoking case. In the process, he also corrected numerous errors about Le Gray that have crept into the photo history books, instead of doing what too many writers do--that is just repeat the old mistakes over and over again.

The book contains a very comprehensive list of Le Gray seascapes, the most comprehensive to date, with newly corrected titles and better dating. There is also a very good bibliography on Le Gray. And Ken is not only a great researcher but also a fine writer. This is a book worth having and I recommend it heartily, especially if you are an academic who thinks all important photo history was complete and correct when Beaumont Newhall and Helmut Gernsheim finished their books. Do not misunderstand me. I appreciate the fine work both gentlemen started. It is just that there is a lot more to go. I have already been busy correcting my own information on my own small stock of Le Gray's.

If you are in the US, you can get Jacobson's book (The Lovely Sea-View: A Study of the Marine Photographs Published by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1858) from Carl Mautz Publishing. The price is a mere $35. You can reach Carl at 530-478-1610 or at If you are anywhere else, you can also get your book directly from Ken Jacobson himself at 44-(0)137-181-0566 (you don't need the zero unless you are calling from within the UK) or at for the same price in the appropriate currency.

Novak has over 42 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Historical Photographic Society. He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.