It’s just past the time of the year when everyone has posted their favorite photography books from 2012 and I thought I’d get in on the action, but because I’m very edgy I’m picking a book from 2011. Ok, actually I bought it last year intending to write about it, but my motivation left me somewhere along the way (almost didn’t do it again). My pick for for a timeless book everyone should own is The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan.
If you’re a fan of editorial photography, you know that The New York Times Magazine is the gold standard. This is not because they have their pick of photographers or because they publish weekly and have lots of assignments to hand out or because they’re not sold on newsstands so they don’t have to do many of the stupid things other magazines do to hit promised circulation numbers. All good reasons but no that’s not it. It’s because Kathy and crew swing for the fences with their pairings. They pair ambitious projects with ambitious photographers. They pair subject with a photographers particular experience and interest. Like a sommelier in the editorial department, they know it’s the chemistry between subject and photographer that makes incredible, memorable, home run photography.
This would be a great book if they simply picked the best photography from the last 33 years of the magazine and shipped it off to the printer. What makes it incredible and a valuable resource for anyone in the photography business is the commentary that accompanies nearly every image. The photographer, the subject, or one of the photo editors gives anecdotes about the subject, the shoot and even the circumstances surrounding the assignment. For me, it was like being in the photo department at The New York Times Magazine. An incredible treat for someone who loves magazine photography. If you’ve spent your career looking at photography like this, you will pick up the subtle difference when a great pairing is made.
Here’s a sample:
Author Tom Wolfe. Frome “Wolfe’s World,” published October 31, 2004.
For me, Tom Wolfe’s eccentricity is wonderfully expressed in this picture, by that crazy smile. He was charming. I thing that, above else, Tom Wolfe wis absolutely charming. And when I was equally charming, he was more charming. I like a portrait session to last ten minutes. When it goes past ten minutes, I’m in trouble, of something strange is happening. Because my photo-shoots are uncomfortable for most people. — RICARD BURBRIDGE
Filmmaker Spike Jonze. From “Spike Jonze’s Wild Ride,” published September 2, 2009 (cover image)
I have to say, Dan was pretty patient with my back-seat driving. I definitely had opinions on what the photos should be. I think he has an ego as a photographer, in that he wants to make something he is connected to, but not so much so that he doesn’t also want the photo to represent the person. —SPIKE JONZE
Artist Kiki Smith. From t”The intuitionist,” published November 5, 2006.
Sometimes the slightly out-of-focus image is the one to go with. To me, this image is absolutely alive. It just breathes. And that celestial blue light brings to mind the hues and spirituality of Giotto. Goldin is a defining photographer of our time, who skips back a couple of centuries for her inspiration. — K.R.
Petlyura’s artists’s squat in Moscow. From “Young Russia’s Defiant Decadence,” published July 18, 1993
Gueorgui Pinkhassov says that he doesn’t have a particular intention when he is photographing; he is interested in something he doesn’t know. When he is shooting, he ignores the action and concentrates on the movement and intersection of purely visual elements–line, form, light. “Don’t be afraid to take bad pictures,” he says, “because good pictures are the mistakes of the bad pictures.” In this photograph, there are four separate actions that all weave together: one person lifts a cigarette, one tosses a ball, the dog looks on, and the Lenin-like figure drops the flag to the ground. For Pinkhassov, life is really like a tapestry—he’s never shooting just one thing, there are often several things happening simultaneously. –K.R.