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Daughter publishes book to highlight father's photographic legacy

Portrait of a father

  • Photo
By Rob Cline, correspondent

The seed for Judy Polumbaum’s new book, “Juxtapositions: Images from the Newseum Ted Polumbaum Photo Collection,” may have been planted near the end of her teaching career as a faculty member in the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The book presents pairs of her father’s photographs matched because of some element — sometimes obvious, sometimes less so — that links them.

“I think (the idea) partly came from an exhibit of a Chinese photographer I worked on my last semester at Iowa,” Polumbaum said in an interview on the UI campus. The photographer worked for China Daily, an English-language paper published in China. He had put together some pairings that showed the same image in a traditional guise and a modern guise. “So the point of his paired pictures,” Polumbaum said, “was to show social change in China.”

The idea of pairings stuck with Polumbaum and became the organizing principle for “Juxtapositions,” which draws from an estimated 200,000 images in the Ted Polumbaum Photo Collection stored in the archives of the Newseum near Washington, D.C. Ted Polumbaum, who died in 2001 at the age of 76, was a photojournalist for nearly 50 years, leaving behind an enormous body of work.

“I can’t do a book with thousands and thousands of pictures,” Polumbaum said, “so I had to have some sort of theme or gimmick.”

The result doesn’t come across as gimmicky at all. Polumbaum has done an exceptional job curating her father’s photos for the book, creating pairs that invite — and sometimes demand — contemplation.

To get the book in the hands of the public, Polumbaum created her own publishing company, learned the software necessary to lay out the book, chose the photos and prepared them, and found others in the industry — including the staff at University of Iowa Press — who could provide advice or services necessary to advance her cause. A Kickstarter campaign provided essential funds, as well. All of this came together quickly.

“I started working on it in a concerted way in the summer of 2015 ... It went much faster than it would have if I’d gone through a commercial publisher,” Polumbaum said.

Given all the options to choose from, it’s understandable that Polumbaum is unable to identify a pairing she might call her favorite.

“I don’t have a favorite but I do have one that came late to me that I’m fond of.” She pointed out a still life of some pots and pans in a household shop in Guiyang, China. Her father didn’t shoot many still lifes, and she was eager to include the photograph. “What would it possibly go with? And then — of course! Julia Child with all her pots.”

She also particularly likes a photograph her father took in Delhi, India, in 1961 featuring some street performers. “The main thing for me is the relationship between these two street kids,” she said pointing out two girls, one dressed to perform and the other watching with evident envy. “Every time I look, I see something new. It’s such a rich scene.”

Polumbaum hopes the rich scenes her father photographed will find a wide audience.

“I just hope it’s one of those big gems of a book that booksellers discover,” she said.

Her June 21 event at Prairie Lights is a prelaunch for the book; it will be officially published on Aug. 1, though copies will be available as part of the prelaunch event. Polumbaum is looking forward to sharing her father’s work.

“At Prairie Lights, I’ll show some pictures, tell some stories, talk about my dad. I love to brag about my dad.”

Book discussion

What: Judy Polumbaum discusses “Juxtapositions”

Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Cost: Free

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