So before anyone points it out, I’d like to note that this column has thusfar been a bit male-centric. My apologies. Today’s offering is no exception: all dudes. Fortunately, I’ve run through my addictive photo-book stash, and need to hit photo-eye for a re-up. I’ll make sure to find a better gender balance going forward. The collection of books to be reviewed today have a few things in common. All are beautifully produced, cloth-bound hardcovers, and ought to satisfy last week’s commenters who yearn for something less derivative. Lest I be accused of pandering, however, I’ve had these books waiting in the queue for a month or so.
“Ernst Haas: Color Correction” is a gray cloth-wrapped book from Steidl, with bright red text accents jumping off the cover. Mr. Haas, for those of you who are unaware, was a highly influential commercial and editorial photographer (and Magnum member) who holds the distinction of having the first show of color photographs at MOMA. According to the book, he fell out of favor after John Szarkowski took over the MOMA photo department, and his fine art images, or personal work, have not been given proper appreciation until now. So I’d suppose that might be enough of a reason for some of you to grab a copy, given that many of these images have never been seen before. (They went through something like 10,000 slides to make the edit.) But for most of you, it comes down to the pictures, not the backstory. This volume is teeming with extraordinary color images that collectively create a serene, quiet tone, despite the loud and audacious palette. Abstraction plays a large role, but we get to see people, places, and things, all mashed up with reflections and visual obstructions. Personally, I fell in love with a photo of a man holding a pomelo behind his back in on a NYC street, and a poignant little image of an abandoned necklace, nestled on the ground among some dead leaves.
Bottom Line: A Classic Career, Re-imagined
“Joel Sternfeld: First Pictures” makes a great complement to the Haas book. This one is also offered by Stiedl, in white, with a classic 70′s Americana image affixed to the cover. If you think that the title and that photo give you a sense of what’s in store within, you’re right. They do. This collection of photographs was made between 1971-1980, and it shows. The last words in the book’s essay are “This book is a time capsule,” and I didn’t need them to tell me that. It’s obvious. But wow, could this guy find the symbolic moments of that decade that we all love to love. (Yes, that was a Donna Summer reference. Deal with it.) This is a large book with lots of photographs, and like the Haas book, many of which you’ve never seen before. They have a wit, pathos, and dexterity with symbolism that are as enjoyable as the cultural references. A yellow wheelchair chained to a sign post follows an image of a old lady counting her dollars at the counter of a NYC diner, the empty soup-cracker-wrapper catching the light from the flash just so. Then he drops an image of a bunch of cigars and some horned-rimmed black glasses in the pocket of a 70′s polka-dotted polyester shirt. Boom. What a tripych. He closes the narrative with a series of images shot in malls around New Jersey in 1980, (yes, I was looking for anyone I knew) that perfectly anticipates our contemporary fascination with Jersey Shore, while also capturing the spirit of 80′s teased hair and un-ironic mustaches. This book is a keeper, for sure, and I’m sorry I have to return it.
Bottom Line: Unapologetically Awesome
I thought I’d finish up with another set of color images that attempts to take a fresh look at the world. We jump a few decades to the present for “Suburbia Mexicana,” a gray cloth-bound hard cover that was published jointly by photolucida and Daylight books. I’m a big fan of Alejandro Cartagena’s work, and I’m probably at the back of a long line, as he’s been honored by just about everyone for this project. Mr. Cartagena set about to take a closer look at the cookie-cutter, mini-muffin style concrete micro-homes that have sprouted up around the Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, where he is based. (Though the phenomenon exists around Mexico.) The images can be read ironically, like, look at those ridiculous little monsters debasing the environment at the base of some desert Mountain-scape, or earnestly, like, look at what happens when a Third world country begins to develop a middle-class, and people can finally afford a decent place for their families with a TV and indoor plumbing. Regardless, “Suburbia Mexicana” captures the essence of a global movement that has seen the American middle class struggle while hungry, desperate people around the world claw towards a better way of life. Those of you curious to see what’s going on in our neighbor to the South, (aside from the gruesome drug war and absurd permanent spring-break tourist culture) will get a unique vision of an issue super-relevant to our times.
Bottom line: Insightful
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