NPR logo Covering Photography

Editor's Pick

Covering Photography

Ever wonder about the origin of that photo on your book cover? Karl Baden, the man behind the Covering Photography project, has an exhaustive online index and could probably tell you. He writes:

I had fallen into the habit of haunting secondhand bookstores... While prowling the stacks, I began to notice familiar images from the history of photography on the covers of novels, textbooks and volumes of poetry; books whose nominal subject matter didn't necessarily have a literal correspondence with the often iconic photographs that graced their jackets.

Famed photographer Henri Cartier Bresson was a contemporary and friend of Jean-Paul Sartre. hide caption

toggle caption

Baden continues:

In some cases, the image has been re-staged by another photographer or even copied into another medium. All this manipulation prompts the question: How is a photograph, initially conceived as an independent aesthetic object, re-used as a visual cipher for a book's subject or as an attention-getting sales device; i.e., how does a shift in context affect a photograph's meaning?

Tears, 1930-3, by avant-garde photographer Man Ray, appears on two covers. hide caption

toggle caption

Dorothea Lange's famous image Tractored Out, Texas Panhandle, June 1938 is used for both books, although the second image is an illustration of the photograph. hide caption

toggle caption

To learn more about the photo on your book cover, check out the Web site, where you can browse or search by author, photographer, publisher, publication date or designer. This project was discovered through Flak Photo.

Images courtesy Covering Photography.