Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My very first photobook

Someone asked me recently what was my first photobook. I think they were expecting something profound & well chosen from the 'classic photobook category'. However, when I said the 'Sleepy Little Lion' they were confused. I cannot remember when my mum bought this book, but it was read to me before I could read myself, so aged 3 I guess. There are many editions of this available. I love the cover of this one:

So not the most ground-breaking photobook in the world, but unusual, as I have only ever seen a few kids books with photographs rather than the traditional illustration route (of which there are many - see my previous blog from a show I saw in Melbourne here) & I still found myself drawn to any if I spot them. I must admit the older ones are always better, perhaps the nostalgic innocence of them...

So who was Ylla? 

Well very little is written about her. I can only guide you to Wikipedia. Her untimely death in 1955 is probably why we have seen little of her work, but with Hungarian photographer's so celebrated, why not add Ylla to the mix for a bit of light hearted warmth so lacking in the serious world of photography today? 

Animal portraits are by no means easy to achieve. Yes, all pet owners (as you know I can't resist snapping my cat Nova) take pictures of their animals, but do we approach them as 'portraits' or just as records of the 'cute things they do' or a memory to keep, a picture to show others to share our fondness for them. Marcus Doyle's photo of 'Molly' is a great photo worth noting:

Anyway back to Ylla. As you can see from photos of her interacting with animals, her love for her furry & feathered friends runs deep & brings great joy to her & to her audience, young & old alike.

She obviously didn't take herself too seriously. I must say a refreshing change from the usual...

This image really reminded me of a famous picture by Joan Fontcuberta, spot the difference (ok pretty obvious, I will let you investigate this yourselves or another post may have to be dedicated to this) :

So back to the Sleepy Little Lion...

(I think this book was originally sold as part of a Blue Peter appeal)
The siamese cat obviously does not feel happy about her territory being invaded, (note to self keep Nova away from lions) another wise lesson is learned...

Why has this not become a classic staple of the childrens/photo library? Well I think it should. It beautifully illustrates the somewhat dated ideas about wild animals, but also allows for a close observation of the little lion through the photographic medium. There is a little bit of anthropomorphising - dressing him in a jumper for example - which is promptly corrected with the lines:
And she dressed him up in a little sweater.
But who ever heard
of a  lion with a sweater on him!
(Not to mention the grammar. I digress.) It is also disturbing at times when he is laid on a zebra skin rug, however quite knowing in its own way, subversive imagery for a child to digest, ahem...

So I can't resist a cat section to finish

The joy expressed in this image is fantastic as Ylla cuddles a kitten...

Imagine Ylla as a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, perfect!

Everyone knows what curiosity did. This picture of hers is amazing too.

Here is my own effort taken recently with my cat on her reigns (she is a house cat, & very small in an area full of BIG tomcats) meeting the local wildlife. No comparison, but a nice illustration of how good Ylla is...

Then on a more abstract note (& because I felt it needed to be included here) is my photo titled 'Catsplat' in honour of Olivia Spooner's 'Dropped' series. Have a look, her blog is well worth checking out.

So it has been another frivolous blog, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Please post a comment if the mood takes you & for goodness sake tell people about this book. 


  1. Wonderful!! Ylla seems like such a vibrant happy lady, a breath of fresh air!
    I would love to give "The Sleepy Little Lion" a look, I would also LOVE that copy of U.S Camera!

    My first photobook was of a similar "furry creature" theme...but with awkward 1960's Guinea Pigs! It was all done in such a "British" manner, quite surreal! I'll have to go have a look for it, who wouldn't enjoy self-concious looking Guinea Pigs?!

    An excellent first photo book, and I would love to see people's reactions when you tell them this story! x

  2. I think you need to blog about 1960's Guinea Pigs, it sounds fab! I can picture it now. You can get the book on Amazon. (It is a very slim bok so not too expensive I promise)