02 February 2014

Richard Grossman, "The Man in the Gray [or is that "Grey"?] Flannel Suit," and Photography Books

I read in today's New York Times about the death of publisher Richard Grossman. According to the obituary by Douglas Martin, Grossman "was photographed, anonymously, for the cover of one edition of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" by Sloan Wilson, originally published in 1955, and the following year made into a movie starring Gregory Peck in the title role.

Martin quotes a friend of Grossman's as noting that "his pose was jaunty--the perfect suit with his back to the camera."

I searched Google Images and LibraryThing to locate covers of Wilson's book that would fit the bill.
Various covers of The Man... from LibraryThing

One image is of Peck, wearing the suit, dressed for the movie. And thus, clearly not anonymous or from the back, and appearing in variants on several other covers.

There is a graphic, probably derived from a photograph, appearing in the first row, far right, and the third row, far left, gracing the cover of a fairly recent Spanish language edition of the book (El hombre del traje gris, with a prologue by Jonathan Franzen).

So, my money is on Grossman's posterior aspect appearing in the positive/negative, animus/anima, figure/silhouette cover in the middle of the middle row, with its UK spelling of the operative color--"Grey" here, but "Gray" in all the other English-language editions I found. This paperback edition was published by PAN Books (based in West Molesey, Surrey, England - thanks to Tikit Resources at http://www.tikit.net/ for their compilation of data) in 1958.

Also on the bookshelves in 1958, at least across the Channel in France, was Robert Frank's Les Americains, published by Delpire (and in the US the next year, from Grove Press). Frank's photographs offered the flip side of the "gray flannel suit" version of America.

In partnership with Aperture, Grossman Publishers, started in 1962, released a second US edition of The Americans in 1969.

One of Grossman's biggest books was Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile (1965) which certainly annoyed a few men in gray suits.

While Frank's magnum opus may be the Grossman publication best known in photo circles, it was not the only recognized work from the company. Other photography books first released by Grossman Publishers include, in order by photographer or editor:

  • Cornell Capa, ed., The Concerned Photographer 2 (1972; including work by Riboud, Vishniac, Davidson, Parks, Haas, Hamaya, McCullin, and W. E. Smith)
  • Robert Capa, Images of War (1964)
  • Elliott Erwitt, Son of Bitch (1974)
  • Leonard Freed, Black in White America (1968) and Made in Germany (1970)
  • Mark Jury, The Vietnam Photo Book (1971)
  • Andre Kertesz, On Reading (1971), Sixty Years in Photography (1972), and J'aime Paris (1974)
  • Dorothea Lange, To A Cabin (1973)
  • Irving Penn, Worlds in a Small Room (1974)
  • W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, Minimata (1975; with Aperture)
  • Dennis Stock, California Trip (1970)
  • Paul Strand, Tir A'Mhurain: Outer Hebrides (1968; in conjunction with Aperture)
  • Adam Clark Vroman, Dwellers at the Source (1973)

And these are culled from the first 191 entries on ABE's list of 6,292 results from a search for Grossman Publishers, arranged from most to least expensive. There are over 6,000 items priced $200 and below still to be considered. (Be my guest.)

While it's clear that there wasn't a lot of women's photography appearing in Grossman's books--a fact we might attribute to the abundance of gray-suited guys a la Mad Men--it is also clear that Richard Grossman is responsible for an important chapter in the history of photography book publishing.

According to today's obituary, he also prompted some great work to be made. Here's Douglas Martin again:

One story [Grossman] liked to tell about his publishing days concerned a visit to the photographer Richard Avedon at his home on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He found Mr. Avedon crying.
"Where are your 35-millimeter cameras?" he said to Mr. Avedon, who was best known for his fashion work. "Get out on the streets immediately."
The haunted faces of grief that Mr. Avedon shot that day are considered some of his most moving work.
Richard Avedon, The Night of John F. Kennedy's Assassination, November 22, 1963

Thank you, Richard Grossman, for making it possible for us to see this moving work, and so much more through your will to publish great black-and-white photography against the grain of those ubiquitous flannel suits.

Douglas Martin, "Richard Grossman, 92, Crusading Publisher of 1960s" NYT 2/1/2014


  1. Thank you, George, for introducing me to Grossman Publishers. Your writings always full of spice and vinegar. Am on suspension for book purchases, but will be your 'guest' next month. Susan S. Bank

  2. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)