This Week In Photography Books

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Three raccoons turned up dead here on the farm in the last few months. Most likely the dogs got them, though I suppose it could have been the coyotes. Coons are surprisingly big, and unfortunately the first was in the early stage of decomposition near where some friends set up a campsite earlier this summer. It made for a pungent evening, and for that I’ve already apologized. Co-incidentally, I got to take a look at a new book, recently released, called “More Cooning with Cooners,” published by the Archive of Modern Conflict in London, edition 500. They gray hardback, (with a black stripe across it like a raccoon’s face) is a collection of images from the mid-60’s, taken by an anonymous American hunter/photographer. It’s a little race of a narrative through a subculture of corn-cob-pipe-smoking, tough looking dudes who hunt raccoons with dogs, and collect the pelts for pleasure, (and presumably the marketplace.) If I had to guess, I’d say this book was published as the equivalent of an ironic mustache, but I don’t care. It’s funny, fascinating, and manages to capture the spirit of a little world that would be otherwise opaque, and lost to time. Of course, if the dogs keep bringing down the coons out here, I might be tempted to start grabbing some pelts myself.
Bottom line: Ironically awesome

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Last year, I reviewed a show of Michael Wolf photographs at Bruce Silverstein in New York. The exhibition was broad, and included many a large-scale mega-print, but I was most interested in some small images of Tokyo metro-riders, their faces squished up against the window-glass like an inverted version of pressed ham. The photos are both voyeuristic and intimate, which is no small feat. As a man who left New York partly because my soul was slowly erased by too many hours spent underground, (watching the rats copulate), I relate to something primal in these photographs. But they’re also fantastic as a method of resuscitating portraiture, because you really haven’t seen a group of pictures just like this before. Needless to say, the photos have re-surfaced, in the proper small scale, as a book called “Tokyo Compression Revisited,” published by Asia One and Peperoni Books. The plates are meditative and absurd at the same time, which is a terrific mix. And the back cover features a dude giving the finger to the photographer, which must have happened more than once, right? Think about it. You’re squeezed from all sides by strangers, some salary-man has his armpit smushed up inside your nostrils, and then you look out the window at some gaijin photographer documenting your misery? You’d give him the finger too.
Bottom line: Spot on

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Capitalism is built upon the premise of forward progress and growth. And yet, one of the great clichés we have is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s quite the conundrum. Fortunately, the artist Simon Norfolk had the brilliant idea of visiting one of planet Earth’s most recalcitrant places, and at the same time, revisiting a previous photographic vision of a mythic backwater: Afghanistan. “Burke + Norfolk” is a large, navy and gold colored hardcover that was recently released in conjunction with an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, published by Dewi Lewis. First off, I’ve rarely seen an artist work with both color and black and white with equal facility. The contemporary color photos of Afghanistan are striking. But the gem, for me, is the repeated juxtaposition of John Burke’s historical group portraits and cultural landscapes with contemporary images presented in the same faded, weathered style. Rare is the artist that plays with our temporal expectations this well, and in so doing, passes along a strong message: We don’t have things figured out any more than we did a hundred years ago. Societies, and Empires in particular, keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I hope we’ll keep that in mind the next time some asshole like Dick Cheney suggests we invade Iran, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or Mars. Most likely, somewhere with oil.
Bottom line: Innovative

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Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 3 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’ve purchased so few photography books over the years, mainly because in my view, a photo book should be one I want to look at time and time again. All too often, photo books offer a brief stint of intrigue or enjoyment, which begs the question, were the images worthy of a book or just the short attention span common to web presentations.

  2. I have to agree. Not sure what content today is really timeless. “Back in the day’, I’d get a Norman Seef book, or some other favorite collection, but today there’s almost too much content to sift through. No need to discuss how ‘everyone’s a photogrpaher now’. As a creative person, I feel like it’s easy to overdose on all the content that’s out there. Especially when every art form is becoming more and more diluted with amateur content. How much ‘slice of life’ can we look at? Sorry if it’s a little OT, but that’s what seeing all these books makes me think of.

  3. sjc,
    those are good points. As a photographer AND photobook collector, it’s gotten easier for me to buy books as I now only purchase ones that effect ME. My most recent purchase, Nord, by Belgian photographer Aymeric Fouquez (http://theprintedspace.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/aymeric-fouquez-nord/). It’s a beautifully designed piece of art. It’s subject and photos stuck with me weeks after purchase. With so many books to pick from on the market, I narrow them down by ones that “hit me in the gut”
    Also, the smaller more personal books my apperciate in value more than say something by Testino, Crewsdon or Tina Barney for example.
    Johnathan, this column rocks. Thanks for doing it and keep it up.