Category "Photo Books"

This Week In Photography Books: Notes from the Foundry

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Dear Melissa Catanese,

Hi. How are you?

My name is Jonathan Blaustein, and I’m an artist and writer based in Taos, NM. I write a weekly photo book review column that’s published right here each Friday, on A Photo Editor.

We’ve never met or spoken, but you might recognize my name. That’s because I’m the a-hole who attacked you earlier this year, right here, on A Photo Editor. (You might have heard something about it.)

I made an example of a book you’d made, presenting it as evidence of the remarkable vapidity of much of contemporary photography. I’m here, many months later, to apologize. It was poor form to suggest your intellectual curiosity was less impressive than your friend list.

I often use this column as a place to sharpen the many axes I choose to grind, and you were the unwitting victim. I hope you accept my apology, because, as my regular readers know, sometimes I just can’t help myself. The taste for controversy is rarely sated gracefully.

For the rest of you, this letter is meant to serve as a reminder, yet again, that we need to keep our minds open. Just because you feel something strongly doesn’t mean it’s true. We’re at the end of 2013, and it’s a good time to make amends, apologize to those you’ve wronged, and clear your head for the New Year.

As a way of proving my positive intentions, let’s take a quick look at “Notes from the Foundry,” a new soft-cover book recently published by Spaces Corners in Pittsburgh, PA. (And edited by… you guessed it… Melissa Catanese, along with the equally-well-connected Ed Panar.)

It’s a strange book, given its inviting Tiffany-esque color palette. Open it up, and you’re met with a postcard insert informing you the publication is a compilation of work by several photographers, including luminaries Zoe Strauss and Todd Hido. (The latter of whom apparently inspired Spike Jonze’s new film, “Her,” if we’re to believe what we read on the Internet.)

Back to the book. That small bit of text on the insert is all we have to go on. Then it’s page after page of photographs, totally unlabeled. No titles, no sections, no essays. Nothing.

I recognized one image by Andrew Moore that I’d seen so many times before, and then the Todd Hido pictures at the end were easy to spot as well. But the rest of it was a bit opaque; a mashup of images by people like Daniel Shea, Nicholas Gottlund and Gregory Halpern. In fact, I had to look through the book a couple of times before discovering the text on the backflap that gives order to the artists’ work.

But what about the photos? Don’t they matter too? Or is this just an absurd attempt to hoover up some of the slime I hurled in Ms. Catanese’s direction earlier this year?

The pictures are so different from one another, it’s hard to say the book is about anything. Unless it’s Pennsylvania. Or Northern Appalachia. Maybe that’s it. The Eastern Mid-West. What would we call that?

The theme might not be super-tight, but the pictures are engaging and well-made, and in their variety, forced me to ask some good questions, as a viewer. What is photographable? Is everything?

Cameras are pointed in all directions, now, all the time. Are we really living in a world that co-exists, brick for brick, in the physical and digital realities simultaneously? If a tree falls on Google Earth, will you hear it through your new-Christmas-present-beats-by-Dre headphones? And if you do, does it even matter?

Sometimes, I find myself drawn to things other than photographs. Hunks of rock, paint on canvas, or a movie that makes me want to give it all up and hitchhike to Hollywood, with a bandanna dangling off a stick like some yokel from the Beverly Hillbillies.

Other times, though, while flipping through a book like this, I’m reminded that it’s insatiable curiosity that keeps us clicking the shutter. Curiosity at what a group of children might look like, in the silhouetted light of a highway overpass? Or why the acrid smoke rising from a chimney resembles a triumphant tornado? Or why some random pieces of plywood are taped together on a city sidewalk?

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Blaustein

Bottom Line: A cool compilation, perhaps about PA?

To Purchase “Notes from the Foundry” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books – Adam Bartos

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I don’t check email on the weekends. No FB or Twitter either. I don’t have to worry about who wants to “talk” to me in New York, or New England, or even New Mexico. (Sorry, Dad.) Furthermore, I’m off the clock from 5pm to 8am each day. Try it some time.

Our brains weren’t designed for 24/7 contact and communication. Not even remotely. Every time you get a nice email, or a complimentary comment, your brain drops some dopamine or seratonin. (Mmmm, yummy brain juice.) Conversely, each time someone bitches at you, drops one more deadline on your head, or inundates you with sarcasm, your mind rolls out the adrenaline and/or cortisol.

Either way, your chemistry is working overdrive, all day, every day. I can’t wait to see what the cumulative effect will be, as this has never before existed in human history. We’ve all become a bunch of glorified lab rats, looking up at an unkind Universe, waiting for our next sign. (Ping, ping, ping.)

It’s none of my business if you choose to listen to this advice. I’m sharing it, because that’s what I do. For the last ten months, I’ve been talking to you each week. You can tinker with your routine, or not. I was as addicted as anyone, before my wife enforced these rules. Now, I’m happier, saner, and more productive.

Photographers, in particular, were not intended for such a life. Pre-digital, back in the day, it would have seemed absurd to any decent lensperson to suggest they allow themselves to be interrupted, constantly, while trying to get some work done. Our workspace was sacred: The Darkroom.

In the end, my decision to walk away from my Duke degree, (and the great likelihood of financial security,) was an easy one. Up until my time in the photo department at UNM, I’d never worked hard at anything before. School came easy, as did certain aspects of sports. If I wasn’t good at something, that was that. The idea of practice was not yet embedded in my head. Then came the darkroom.

At 23, for the first time, I could and did spend 5, 6, 7 hours at a time slaving away. The quiet, the sickly-sweet chemical smell, the soothing safety light, together they seduced my latent work ethic. Previously lazy, the darkroom engendered a marriage between my passion and my patience. I took it as a good omen, and devoted my life to the craft. (Especially when a color darkroom opened up a block from my apartment in San Francisco. The photo gods can, in fact, be kind.)

Now, we live on our computers. We tell people how proud we are that our digi-prints finally look as good as gelatin silver. And the world will never be the same.

As such, I was fascinated by “Darkroom,” a new, over-sized monograph by Adam Bartos, recently published by steidldangin. (A partnership, I believe.) Rarely before have I seen someone produce a work of nostalgia, without the sentiment. The project is devoid of emotion, while clearly bowing at the temple of the past. Tough combination.

The book is immaculate; even the cover image is perfectly rendered. High class production values have certainly gotten my attention lately. (Take it for what it’s worth.) We obviously don’t all have the dollars to spend, but a few extra grand can do wonders in the right hands.

The premise of the book is straightforward: photos of lived-in darkrooms owned by American photographers. A peek at the thank you note in the back indicates that several of them are high profile, and a couple are even folks I know here in New Mexico. So it has an insider appeal, as well as being a super-well-crafted look at a part of our collective history.

Compositionally, the images are very formal. Shiny film rolls, lined up here and there, posters that were rarely seen, as so much work was done in the dark. It evokes Thomas Demand a bit, with it’s cold rigor, but that prevents the whole project from devolving into a treacly mess. Nicely done.

I’ve got to think that many of you would love this book. Whether as a reminder of your salad days getting a contact high off the fixer, or as a hint that it’s time to put down the f-cking iPhone. Either way, this one is a keeper.

Bottom line: A very well-made trip down memory lane

To purchase “Darkroom” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

This Week In Photography Books – Claudine Doury

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Henceforth, I’ll be the guy that announced his wife’s pregnancy in a book review. There’s no way around it. That’s me now. I’m that guy.

And what of it? It means I’ve decided to share details about my life with you, our readership. Why would I do such a thing? Is it to ensure that these articles are interesting enough to hold your attention? Sure.

Or maybe it’s because the more you know about me, the more perspective you’ll have on my opinions? That’s true too. Because I really am just a guy sitting in his library, (soon to be nursery,) surrounded by photo-books, banging out the content each week. So the way I see it, the more you know about my taste and decision-making, the more capably you’ll decide when I’m wrong. (Or full of shit.)

So now you know that I’m going to have a daughter at the end of Summer. I already have a son, and a brother, who also has two sons. What do I now about raising a girl? Not much.

On the plus side, as an artist, I get to discuss my feelings. Heck, I get to be aware that I have feelings, which is more than I can say for many an American male. But yes, I have plenty of feminine characteristics to balance out the testosterone. Just last night, I had a chat about emotions with my Mom. Sure, I made her cry, but it was the good kind.

But as to rearing a little baby girl from scratch? I haven’t got a clue. I was weaned on sports, smacking my brother around, and slogging through the stream in the backyard. I’ve never played with dolls, (action figures are different,) and like many a man, have long harbored deep fears about what it will be like when my daughter’s first boyfriend (or girlfriend) shows up at the door with a smirk on his/her face. It’s a common fear, and one I’m looking forward to meeting head on.

But really, what am I in for? Where should I turn for a glimpse of what the future holds? How about a photo-book? (Yes, I’m sure you saw that coming this time.) In particular, let’s take a look at “Sasha,” by Claudine Doury, recently released by Le Caillou Bleu. (With an essay by my good friend Melanie McWhorter.)

I think someone made a comment about “Haiiro,” something about judging a book by its cover. Well, you can do that here as well. On a beautiful block of green fabric sits a black silhouette of a bird. Smallish, it might be a finch, or something like that. (Lacking details, as it’s black, we can’t tell.) But it sure is pretty. Open up and the inside of the cover is mauve, which is like a cross between pink and lavender. Again, pretty. (And it goes so well with the green.)

Flipping towards the photographs, which ought to be more important, we see a succession of images featuring a girl, whom we can only presume to be Sasha. She’s a late adolescent, maybe 12 or 13, if I had to guess, and is joined by a friend or two in many of the images. And what do they do? Play dead, imagine things, frolic in the mud, cavort covered with weeds, conjure spells cast with burning witch-ly sticks. In short, they live in imaginary worlds, no different from boys, in theory.

I suppose it’s a feminine version of what I did with my buddies back in the day, and what my son does now. In pre-school, we fought over who got to be Superman, and co-ordinated our Underroos. By Kindergarten, the teacher made us take turns pretending to be Luke Skywalker. On the playground, it was an endless blur of kickball games that always seemed to end in tears. (Yes, mine. I was a sensitive lad.)

No, really, back to the book. The photographs are well made, with a somber earth tone palette, and a healthy dash of mystery. Like when Sasha walks on water. (Thank you, Photoshop.) When the girls are running in mud, they made me think Ana Mendieta and her Earth art. Buried under the tall green grass up to her neck, eyes averted, Sasha plays dead. She’s always up to something, whether staring at leeches, presenting a blonde pony tail in a box, petting the bird from the cover, or pretending to suffocate while covered in a plastic sheet.

Is this my future? I don’t know. None of us do. But as I always say, I like to be surprised by a good photo-book, to learn new things, to witness fresh perspectives. “Sasha” did this for me; helped me visualize the unknown, which is the scariest thing of all. Will it do the same for you?

Bottom line: Lovely book, filled with pretend magic

To purchase Sasha visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

This Week In Photography Books – Javier Arcenillas

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Let’s be honest: last week’s column was long. The week after I agreed not to mess with the format, I went and added 10 paragraphs to your reading load. Forgive me. (Even my Dad had to read it in two stages.) I thought it was worth it, as the chance to hear from such talented publishers was too good to pass up. But this week, allow me to rectify the situation. We’ll keep it short, just to maintain the balance. Book review only. No rambling personal narrative. (Until next week.)

When I visited New York last Fall, I saw some posters strewn around Williamsburg. Intense and more than a little scary, they advertised a project called “Sicarios,” which was showing somewhere in Brooklyn, I believe. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means Hitman in Spanish. (Or Assassin, if you prefer.) There are a lot of them running around Mexico and Central America, as the skill-set is in high demand.

So when the book ended up in my pile, (by Javier Arcenillas, published by FotoEvidence in Brooklyn,) I was relieved and disturbed at the same time. While I would normally drop into a story about the dangers I faced traveling in Guatemala back in ’99, I won’t go there today. Got to honor the promise above. But the photos in this book offer a stark, black and white vision of the red bloody mess going on down there at present.

Is this book for everyone? No. Definitely not. It’s a collection of gruesome, troubling and poignantly tragic photographs. They’re expertly rendered, and may or may not lead to any sort of social change. But they do, for certain, bring humanity to what is, for many, an abstract Geo-Political problem. The US can swing it’s military dick around the Middle East all it wants, but that doesn’t make the drama to our South any less real, or horrifying.

It was only two weeks ago that we collectively meditated on the concept of suffering with Donald Weber’s new book “Interrogations.” He left much up to the imagination, which was what lent a talismanic power to the publication. “Sicarios” does not. Which is why it’s not for everyone. But for those of you who hunger to stare down the ugly “truth”, this book might offer a sumptuous repast.

Dead bodies, naked streetwalkers, scowling psychopaths, blood trails down the side of a car door, young kids strolling through their perilous reality without a second thought, women crying in hand-me-down American T-shirts (West Virginia- No Lifeguard At The Gene Pool,) barbed wire-topped prison walls, cowboy hats, machine guns, machetes, crucifixes…it’s all there. Does this sound like fun? I sure hope not.

But, if you’ve read any or all of my previous columns, you’ll know that I don’t believe Art must always be pretty. Quite the opposite. Dave Chapelle once did a skit on his show called “When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong.” This book pretty much nails the concept. A cycle of violence, once kicked off, is hard to stop, no matter where in the world you live. Some places, as Malcolm Gladwell has mused, have it worse than others. Cultures of revenge and blood lust. Guatemala is such a place.

So let’s end this now, shall we. After all, I guaranteed you a short piece. This book is worthy of your attention. Mr. Arcenillas is laying out the gory bits for all to see. It’s up to you if you feel like looking. I won’t judge you either way.

Bottom Line: Super-hard-core book, not for the faint of heart

To purchase “Sicarios” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

This Week In Photography Books – Donald Weber

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

My father reads this column each week. He enjoys it, though he’d probably read even if he found it boring. He’s proud, sure, but he says that he learns things about me and my life that he wouldn’t otherwise know. I suppose that’s a solid, 21st Century definition of irony, as the two of us live in the same town.

He mentioned the other day that he likes the style I’ve slowly adopted. A few paragraphs that initially seem random, or perhaps self-absorbed, then a sexy segue, and finally an actual review of an actual book. My first thought was to burn the house down, if my tropes were so obvious, but he advocated for stability. People, he felt, appreciate the mix of repetition and renewal. Perhaps that’s true.

But I don’t mention my father simply to conduct one more meta-riff on the absurdity of writing about myself and photo-books at the same time. He’s in a tough spot right now, my old man, currently battling the triple-whammy of tooth infection, shredded-knee, and ruined back. He can’t have surgery on the knee until the infection clears, and then needs an operation on his back, but not until the knee heals. He’s gritting his teeth (Sorry, horrible pun,) and dealing the best he can. Not-quite-stoic-suffering runs in the family, a genetic chain back to ever-miserable relatives in the ghettos of Eastern Europe.

Humans, incredibly resilient, have adapted different solutions to the problem of terminal misery. Heaven. Meade. Weed. Video Games. All share the common denominator of distraction. Look at the pretty red cloth, Mr. Bull, and ignore the sword heading right into your neck. Whatever the coping strategy, people keep pro-creating, and suffering persists.

Donald Weber seems to know a thing or two about suffering, and its lack of inherent nobility. People eat shit everywhere, every day, and do the best they can to aid in its digestion. With dignity. When possible. His new book, “Interrogations,” was just released by Schilt Publishing in Amsterdam. Pop it out of its intentionally generic cardboard shell, and its pink cover will surprise you immediately. As does its calender-like vertical orientation. (And its “poor”, or at least “not-slick” publication quality. Proletarian sensibilities and all.)

The photographs inside, along with a truly well-written essay by Larry Frolick, (In the Epilogue) were made in Russia and the Ukraine earlier in the decade. After a slew of establishment photos in the Prologue, bleak snow, junkyard dogs and the like, the main meal consists of a series of photographs of sad, terrified, and forlorn men and women in generic rooms. Given the title, they seem to be reliving or recounting tales of beatings, bitch-slaps and bedlam. One imagines the emotions to be real, regenerated upon reflection. But I suppose it’s never totally explained. Not necessary. Point taken.

I’ve reviewed several books already, and one MOMA exhibition, detailing life in former Iron Curtain. I think I even mentioned, last time, that it seemed to be one seriously ubiquitous subject, of late. No matter. Whether it’s mindless horror movies at the Mega-plex, dramatic dragon paintings in a British Museum (more on that later), or bleakly violent Eastern European photo-books, people will always, always be fascinated by the dark.

Bottom Line: Creatively made, striking publication

To purchase Interrogations visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books – Vivian Maier

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Unless you’ve been locked away in a pretend spaceship, like those Russian astronauts, you’ve likely heard the name Vivian Maier in the last year or so. It would be almost impossible to have avoided her name entirely, though you might not be exactly sure who she is/was, or why her name stuck in your head. So allow me to clear up any confusion.

I can’t think of a parallel really. It’s almost like when Nintendo first came out back in the day. (Oh Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, where have you been?) One day, no one had heard the name Nintendo, and within a few months, every one of your friends had one. (Except me. I was the dunce that bought Sega, pre-Sega Genesis. Ouch.) But, clearly, I digress.

Ms. Maier was a prolific street photographer who lived in Chicago, and spent time in New York as well. She died, an unknown, in 2009. (Thereby pulling a Van Gogh part Deux, what with the exclusively post-humous fame.) A local Chicago historian discovered her archives, and the rest, as they say, is _______. Now that this work has been everywhere, (an exhibition opens today in Santa Fe at the Monroe Gallery,) it’s finally been released in book form by powerHouse. Apparently, there were something like 100,000 negatives to digest, so before you even open the book, you’re impressed by the sheer editorial effort.

Once you open it up and get started, it’s an odd experience, though thoroughly pleasurable. So many references popped into my head. Some expected: Frank, Arbus, Winnogrand, Callahan, Levitt, Strand, Evans, Ray Metzker, & Weegee. Others, totally fresh and surprising: Chris Jordan, Roger Ballen, Frederick Sommer. It’s almost like you’ve seen this group of photographs before, while at the same time, you’ve never seen any of the individual images in your life. Does that make sense? As little is known about the artist, it’s hard to say if she was riffing on masters, or just stumbled into this mash-up style. (Which is excellent, through and through.)

The plates are well-produced, with plenty of grayscale range. The pacing is taut, and the juxtapositions fantastic, particularly for their narrative quality. An example: Three kids on the street, one putting a small mattress into a baby carriage, another stout little blonde kid staring straight up, his look saying, “Huh?” That’s followed directly by an image of an African-American young man riding a horse down a city street, under an elevated train. After which we see a cowboy walking down the sidewalk, all duded up. (I’ve got to believe she was directly riffing on the Frank image from “The Americans,” though I suppose we’ll never know.)

Empathy, humor, respect for her subjects, a keen eye for detail, a mastery of texture, it’s all there. The gradation of light on some tough looking old guy’s face illuminates the pores of his skin, while his eyes look just above the camera. He must have cracked a heap of skulls in his day. It’s juxtaposed with a nun, resting up against the corner of a building, lost in thought. I could write about the contrasts all day if I wanted to. But then this would be a dissertation, rather than a book review. (And then no one, anywhere, would ever read it.)

So let’s wrap this up, shall we? This is an excellent book. I love it, and any fan of B&W street photography likely will as well. One oddity is the lack of information about the exact dates and places in which the images were made. (Nobody knows…) But a little mystery isn’t such a bad thing, is it?

Bottom line: Wonderful book, worth the hype

Vist Photo-Eye to purchase Vivian Maier, Street Photographer

Submissions are not accepted. Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

This Week In Photography Books – Friedlander

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

The sun has yet to rise on the first Monday of the year. It’s ten degrees outside, and I’m sitting on a green pull-out couch in my gray cotton boxers. I’m also wearing a fifteen-year-old brown flannel shirt, unbuttoned. My hair, washed before bed, is standing in six directions, like the drummer in a band that you’ve never heard of. Like Lee Friedlander.

I feel naughty just for writing about how silly I look right now. None of us wakes up like someone in a TV Show. Seriously, have you ever noticed that people always kiss each other with morning breath in the movies? Please. So here I am, just rolled out of bed, and the very, very last thing that I would do is take a picture of myself. No, scratch that. The very last thing I would do is to show a photo of myself, looking as I do now, to anyone. No, wrong again. The very, very, very last thing I would do is to publish said photograph in a book. Yes, that’s the last thing I would do.

So it’s a good thing that Lee Friedlander is a braver man than I. Or crazier? Edgier? What’s the right word? (Other than better, which is too obvious.) I’ve written about the man before. Twice in fact. Last time was for a book of previously unreleased images of some cars in Detroit in the Sixties. Nice book, but mostly interesting because no one had seen the particular photos before.

Today, I’m here to talk about “Lee Friedlander: In the Picture. Self-Portraits 1958-2011,” which was recently published by Yale University Press. I’m pretty uncomfortable with the fact that Yale Press now co-exists in an article with a description of my underwear. It’s quite possible I’ll live to regret it. So why would I do such a thing? Because I’m writing about an artist who was far more fearless than that. Let’s call it a tribute review. Next thing you know, I’ll put on tight jeans and bandana, round up some friends, and start shimmying on stage to “Dancin’ in the Dark.” No. More likely it would be “Blinded by the Light.” Great song.

Ah, the book, you say? It’s black and thick, but not too large. The cover text colors, blue and florescent magenta, are jarring, but less so than the diptych of self portraits by Mr. Friedlander, which seem to bookend the temporal range covered inside. Rarely do I discuss things such as font color, but the inside of the flap is a day-glo lime, so clearly they were trying to make a statement right off the bat. With color. In a book of black and white images. Nice. Slowly flipping the pages, and the second photo in the book shows Mr. Friedlander, shirtless, in Taos, New Mexico, 1958. Thereby giving a little context to my half-clothed ravings. (It’s all good, bro. Clothes are for squares, man.)

OK, enough about me. The narrative is linear, the kids are born towards the beginning, and the woman I can only presume to be Mr. Friedlander’s wife looks like a be-speckled beatnik betty. Right away, the shadow comes in as a stand-in for the artist. Straight out of Jung, yo. Deep. But not quite so deep as the artist’s penetrating gaze and fantastic use of neck-fat. So unflattering, so brilliant. Really, it’s a lesson that jumps off the page here. Take more risks. Be less afraid. Push yourself. Take chances.

Last week, in the fabled comment section, a fierce debate arose over whether readers have the right to complain about my choices of things that I like. Others claimed that negative criticism is undervalued in the world of photography and art. I beg to differ. The entire critique process is based upon the concept of criticism, only it’s taught that one ought to respect others, and choose one’s words wisely. It’s best to balance a negative critique with a dose of positivity, and to use language that does not denigrate. But at the core level, the critique is about awakening deeper levels of self-awareness, so that we know, in our hearts, when a photo is not good enough. Or when we need to try harder. Or when we’re simply too derivative. So be negative all you like. But how about having the guts to turn that critical eye upon yourself? Like Lee Friedlander.

Back to the book. I swear I didn’t choose this week’s selection as a counterpoint to last week’s article, but now that I’m looking at it closely, the connection is clear. Growth. Change. The passage of time. It’s all here. A very well-made group of photographs, along with some insider references that people will love.(Robert Frank, Nick Nixon…) Most of the most recent images definitely lack the spark of the earliest pictures, but then again, no one listens to the Rolling Stone’s last album. I’d say I’m not surprised, but I saw Mr. Friedlander’s show at the Whitney in 2010, so I know he hasn’t lost it.

After the celebrity section, which at least has a few laughs, you arrive at the inevitable conclusion. The doctor’s office. The tubes. The glazed eyes. The chest scar. Heart Surgery? Probably. Does it matter? Time gets us all in the end, and it’s rarely pretty. But this book, and the artist’s career by extension, are two lessons in the value of investigation and examination, of ourselves as well as the outside world.

Bottom Line: Profound

To Purchase Lee Friedlander: In the Picture visit Photo-Eye.

Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Top Photobooks Of 2011

- - Photo Books

A great photobook will distill a greater truth out of the photographs inside, a truth that requires careful looking and reading, a truth that might not even be fully true. Redheaded Peckerwood does this masterfully and beautifully.

via Conscientious.

There’s been a ton of best photobook lists this year and I was thinking it would be interesting to see which books are common to most lists. Well, it turns out someone actually went out and did it. EyeCurious has “pulled together 52 lists” of book published in 2011 and the top books are:

1st Place (19 votes)
– Redheaded Peckerwood, Christian Patterson (Mack)

2nd Place (14 votes)
– A Criminal Investigation, Yukichi Watabe (Xavier Barral/Le Bal)
– Illuminance, Rinko Kawauchi (Aperture)

3rd Place (10 votes)
– Paloma al aire, Ricardo Cases (Photovision)

4th Place (9 votes)
– Gomorrah Girl, Valerio Spada (Self-published)

5th Place (8 votes)
– A, Gregory Halpern (J&L Books)

to see the complete list visit eyecurious. Also, an interesting comparison with the list of best selling photobooks:

1. Simply Beautiful Photographs (National Geographic)
2. The Great LIFE Photographers (Little, Brown & Co.)
3. The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (LIFE)
4. One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001, 10 Years Later (Little, Brown & Co.)
5. Portraits of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House (Abrams)

This Week In Photography Books

- - Photo Books

It wasn’t until this morning, a few minutes ago, that I noticed the connection. As you might imagine, I take a big stack of books from photo-eye each time I visit, and make my selections later on, at home. Sifting, I noticed the link. Two books, sharing half a name. “Half Life,” By Michael Ackerman, and “The Half-Life of History, by Mark Klett. Strange.

Given the constraints of a book review column, it seemed like a connection worth investigating. Perhaps my curiosity was aroused, as a 37 year old, having lived half a life. Perhaps not. Perhaps I was thinking about how the Buddhists believe everything is connected. Perhaps not.

“Half Life” was recently published by Dewi Lewis in London. I don’t read the essays beforehand, in these books, just like I don’t bother with wall text, right away, when I go see an exhibition. It’s easy to double back, but one only gets a single chance to see the images fresh, without pre-conceptions. It’s not a perfect system, but it allows me to read and react, to guess at symbols, patterns, and deeper meaning.

I’d never heard of Mr. Ackerman before, but it was immediately obvious that his intentions were serious. The initial images are small, grainy, black and white, and have the look of old, found images. Head shots of forlorn, wasted looking men, this was not to be a fun ride through photo-book-land. Soon, train-tracks, blurry, snowy fields, European architecture. I thought of the Holocaust, as most people would. Then, images of naked people would appear, and hotel rooms. I thought of the sex trade. Next, Hebrew-covered headstones, and I was back to the Holocaust all over again.

I guessed the images to be current, and a subsequent cursory glance at the photographer’s bio said as much. So the images are not historical, they just reference that impossible era. Showers, even. But the nudes returned, and the power of the random single image resonated as well: a tranny penis, an elephant, an egret? I liked the embedded photo-homage as well: a sign saying Franks on one page, a big American flag on the opposite spread. Together, it’s a winding narrative with many references, but the end result is unique.

I’ve always thought it was easy to make creepy work. Either way, this book is definitely meant to disturb. It speaks of ghosts and visions, memories of the dead and the lost. Yet it has an undeniable beauty to it, like Anne Frank’s Diary. Why do people continue to read that book, when the ending is foretold? Because they enjoy the ride, I suppose.
Bottom Line: Haunted, in the best possible way

To purchase Half Life visit Photo-Eye.

The partner publication, in name only, “The Half-Life of History,” is more straight-forward, and in large part, color. Which surprised me, as all of the past work I’ve seen from Mr. Klett has been some shade of gray or sepia. Beautiful Saguaros that finally made sense the last time I set foot in Tucson. The new book, offered by Radius, is subtitled “The Atomic Bomb and Wendover Air Base,” whence the Enola Gay originated. Boom. Back to World War II, again, like it or not.

The style varies, from tightly-composed images of abandoned barracks, to sweeping vistas, and a four-page spread inside a airplane hanger. 50 caliber bullets are handled sculpturally, history is depicted gingerly, and a short trip to Hiroshima is made towards the end. The essay is by William L. Fox, a very bright scholar whom I heard lecture in Reno recently. I haven’t read it yet, but will speculate that he did a good job. (Lazy journalism, right there. For sure.)
Bottom Line: Interesting, a must for Klett collectors

To purchase The Half-Life of History visit Photo-Eye.

This Week In Photography Books

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Sometimes, art can change our lives, or at least how we relate to the world around us. Writing in The New Yorker last week, Peter Schjeldahl mentioned that when he emerged from a recent visit to the new Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he felt like a slightly different person. Other times, though, it’s just nice to look at photographs that depict a different way of life in a foreign culture, far far away. It’s simple human curiosity, really: travel, for the recession age. So this week’s books are unlikely to give you an Earth-shaking epiphany that makes you to quit your job, or give up your life to Jesus. But they ought to satisfy an inherent desire to look outward towards chaos of humanity, and come back with a shade more context about your own little world.

“Zapallal/Yurinaki” is a new hardcover monograph by Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann, published by MA+GO Concept, and distributed by Misha de Kominek Gallery in Berlin. It’s kind of a funky production, as the blue, cloth-bound spine melds into a cardboard cover with a photograph glued to the top. It has the feel of a high-end arts and crafts project, but not in a bad way. (The text is presented in English, Spanish and German, so we know the audience is meant to be Global.) Inside, the first few pages are cut to different sizes, so it opens up bit by bit, You can see right away that the book depicts village life in Peru, with it’s attendant ducks, chickens, pigs, sheep and cats. Mr. Winkelmann apparently photographed in two different communities in Peru, but it’s not particularly evident in the images. Instead, you get a spate of well-seen, flash-driven contemporary documentary photographs of a place that doesn’t look like where you live. Dirty walls, dirt roads, junk in the backyard, meditative still lives of produce, that sort of thing. A particular favorite was a photograph of a young girl, the pink scrunchy on top of her head just peeking out above a kitchen table, while a generic, framed photo of a Caucasian grandfather kissing his grandson haunts the upper left hand corner of the composition. (It’s got to be the picture that came with the frame, right?)
Bottom Line: Peru
To purchase Zapallal/Yurinaki visit Photo-Eye

 

“The Brothers,” recently released by Dewi Lewis Publishing, is a black, hardcover book by photographer Elin Hølyand. Two, shirtless, bug-eyed old dudes stare out from the cover, one with a rifle slung over his shoulder. The brothers, I presume. Harald and Mathais, both now deceased, lived together as bachelors on the family farm in rural Norway for their entire lives. It was an old-school, hardscrabble existence, by all appearances. The project was shot in grainy black and white, yet never feels like it was done a long time ago. The photos read modern, for some reason, which could just be that there are enough temporal signifiers to get the point across. There are several double paged spreads where we see both gentlemen, ever so slightly different, like multiple versions of the same guy residing in parallel universes. All bushy eyebrows and plaintive stares…it’s almost enough to make me sad these men are gone, despite the obvious fact that I never met them. Ms. Høyland’s sensibility is odd and strange, but never veers towards creepy or cliché. It’s a terrific collection of photographs, and well printed too.
Bottom Line: Norway
To purchase The Brothers visit Photo-Eye

 

Finally, we come to “The Submerged,” by Michelle Sank. It’s a smooth, hard cover book recently offered by Schilt Publishing in Amsterdam. (Insert random stoner reference here…) Ms. Sank, peripatetic through a slew of artist residencies, apparently spent a few months in Wales, and this book is the result. Wales? It reminds me of that Wayne’s World joke where they mocked Delaware. Wales is not the first place I would salivate to go, but that’s part of the fun of looking at these books. What does it look like? What kind of people actually live there? I could tell you, but then you’d have no reason to browse the photos below. The whole selection of images is just the slightest bit weird, but in a subtle way. Like the Beauty Queen in mud covered boots, the Hasidic Jews frolicking on the beach, or the pudgy, dough-faced metalhead in the Ozzy Osborne T-shirt. Not to give away the best part, like a Hollywood preview, but the image of a forlorn, abandoned hilltop barn with “Twat” spray-painted on the side is a keeper. The more I look at it, the more I see a funnier, less genius, contemporary take on August Sander.
Bottom Line: Wales
To purchase The Submerged visit Photo-Eye

 

Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this feature useful.

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

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase “More Cooning with Cooners”.

 

 

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

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase “Tokyo Compression Revisited”.

 

 

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

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase “Burke + Norfolk”.

 

Full Disclosure: Books and scans were provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Please support Photo-Eye if you find this new feature useful.


Martin Parr’s Best Books of the Decade

- - Photo Books

Ryan McGinley – The Kids are Alright

Rinko Kawauchi – Utatane
Geert van Kesteren – Why Mister Why
John Gossage – Berlin in the time of the Wall
Christien Meindertsma – Checked Baggage
Leigh Ladare – Pretend You’re Actually Alive
Sakaguchi Tomoyuki – Home
Simon Roberts – We English
Paul Graham – A Shimmer of Possibility


Doug Rickard – New American Picture
Dash Snow – Slime the Boogie
Miguel Calderon – Miguel Calderon
Viviane Sassen – Flamboya
Miyako Ishuichi – Mother’s
JH Engstrom – Trying to Dance


Jules Spinatsch – Temporary Discomfort: Chapter 1-V
Daniela Rossell – Ricas y Famosas
Uchihara Yasuhiko – Son of a Bit
Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs – The Great Unreal
Donovan Wylie – Scrapbook
Archive of Modern Conflict – Nein, Onkel
Stephen Gill – Hackney Wick
Susan Meiselas – In History


Florian van Roekel – How Terry likes his coffee
Michael Wolf – Tokyo Compression
WassinkLundgren – Empty Bottles
Nina Korhonen – Anna, Amerikan Mummu
Alessandra Sanguinetti – On the Sixth Day


Hans Eijkelboom – Portraits & Cameras 1949-2009
Alec Soth – Sleeping by the Mississippi

PhotoIreland Festival announces Martin Parr’s selection of the 30 most influential photobooks of the last decade. The selection, on show at the National Photographic Archive of Ireland until the 31st of July, is featured in the exhibition catalogue, limited to an edition of 500. The catalogue includes Martin Parr’s comments on each book, together with illustrations and ‘Author’s notes’. These are mostly unpublished texts by the photographers, publishers and curators of the works – personal statements on the process and raison d’être of each book.

More: PhotoIreland Festival 2011.