Category "Photography Books"

This Week In Photography Books: William Christenberry

by Jonathan Blaustein

Colin looked away, unable to meet her eye. Shame has many tells, and this one was screaming louder than an infant at the witching hour. He’d wanted to tell her the truth for months, of course, but couldn’t bring himself to speak the words.

Now, it was too late.

Maddy had opened a letter addressed to him. She’d never done that before, but he understood why she’d done it. They’d been married for nigh on 30 years, and he was sure she’d noticed the change in his behavior.

First, he started drinking more heavily. When they could afford the extra whiskey, it hadn’t been so noticeable. But as fortunes faded, it became more obvious that $5 a week mattered elsewhere.

Colin thought he’d be able to pick up some extra day labor, but, honestly, he knew it was as illusory as magic. The economy in rural Alabama, such as it was, did not allow for extra anything, much less work or money.

Soon enough, his sex drive began to abate. Men need confidence to feel good about themselves, and a no-job-having, no-money-making, lie-around-the-house-and-drink type of man doesn’t feel desire like he used to. When he was younger, and the future held promise instead of a slow decline into ruin.

That’s the part they always gloss over in the history books. For all the talk of progress, and ideas building to the future, like the march from horses to trains to automobiles. That’s what people like to talk about.

It’s easier to forget forgotten places. They die slowly, like a malnourished child. There’s no bloody mess, and no one there to hear you scream. Though most lack the energy at the end, for screaming.

No, Colin wasn’t surprised that Maddy opened the letter from the bank. If anything, he was embarrassed not to have the guts to tell her to her face. But if he couldn’t meet her eye these days, how was he to summon such courage?

They were to be out in 30 days, even though no one in their right mind would want the house. It was falling apart as it was, and wouldn’t be standing for long, without some money and TLC. Outside of him and Maddy, there was no one who’d care about one more slanting shack. No one at all.

Except for William Christenberry, of course. Thankfully, he’s been out and about, cruising the back roads and dirt lanes of Alabama for many, many years. I’ve always loved his work, dramatic and subtle at the same time.

If you’re unaware, Mr. Christenberry has visited and revisited the types of falling down, incredibly nostalgic, romantic little shotgun shacks, and taken their pictures over many years, as they slowly succumb to entropy. Books are great for these sorts of projects. All you need to do is turn the page, and another year, or 5, has passed. No need to wait.

Should you care to see such work in a beautifully made book, you’ve come to the right place. The Fundacion Mapfre in Spain has just released an eponymous monograph, in conjunction with a pair of major exhibitions there. I will show it to you in the snapshots below, because that is what I do.

I was unaware, actually, that Mr. Christenberry also made sculptures. It’s very common in the art world, for artists to work in multiple media, but less so among more traditional photographers. I’ve been encouraging experimentation for years, as my long-time readers know, and this work can provide inspiration.

The photos of these churches and BBQ joints are amazing, but then, rendered in miniature as sculpture, the feeling changes. It must. Expressing similar, important ideas in varying ways is the sign of a genuinely engaged mind. Brilliant stuff.

Bottom line: Big, beautiful monograph by a deserving legend

To Purchase William Christenberry 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: Paul D’Amato

by Jonathan Blaustein

Last week I claimed I was tired and listless. Poor Blaustein, you must have thought. All worn out from galavanting around the mountains. Crying because it’s gray a few days a year. Boo hoo.

You’re probably hoping I’ll come back strong this week, and write one of those columns that starts out like a story. (“Colin looked away, unable to meet her eye. Shame has many tells, and this one was screaming louder than an infant at the witching hour.”)

Sorry to tease, but it’s not going to happen. I spent most of the last week running around New York City like a miner headed towards the claims office with a hunk of gold. It was intense, but worth it. Especially as I was able to see some genuinely excellent photography at the NY Times Portfolio Review, which I will share with you in the coming weeks. (As always, I am but your almost-humble proxy.)

One of my favorite things about plugging into the NYC nuclear reactor is how much you can get done in short amount of time. It’s the adrenal equivalent of paying it forward. Extra juice, so you can pull insanely productive 18 hour days, but then…

That’s the part you always forget about while you’re living in the glory. The crash. All that extra juice had to come from somewhere. NYC may inspire activity, but it doesn’t actually fill your blood with surplus protein and such. It has to come from somewhere: your future self.

So here I sit, my muscles twitching like a horse in labor. Wondering if I fell from ten feet into a pile of rocks. Cursing the city for its seductive qualities. Among them, the chance to hang with people from all over the world, and to revel in ethnic diversity. It’s a drug of its own sort.

On the flip side, no sooner did I get on the A train in Howard Beach than I realized it was only running in sections, so I’d have take 3 trains instead of 1. (If you’re counting, that’s a bus to a train to a train to a train to a train to get from JFK to Upper Manhattan. 2.5 hours to go what, 10 miles?)

And that was just the ride into the city, after taking a 3.5 hour redeye from ABQ to NYC. Which is to say, given how I’m feeling, it’s time to segue to the book.

Here we go.

As soon as I got home, still vibrating with NYC pollution on my skin, a friend who was raised in Brooklyn Heights said on Facebook that he likes Chicago better than New York these days.

What now? Chicago?

I was only there once, coincidentally with this same guy, nearly 20 years ago. I don’t know anything about the place, as that quick trip was a blur for many reasons. It’s almost like I wasn’t there.

And he up and says Chicago is the better town? Big words.

Wouldn’t you know the first book I picked up off the pile was of African-American culture in Chicago: “We Shall,” photographs by Paul D’Amato. (Another Guggenheim winner. Two in a row. And wouldn’t you know the 2014 Fellowship winners were announced today. Co-incidence, or Taos Hippie Juju? By the way, let’s give a shout out to a really, really great photographers list this year.)

This book of photos is excellent. No two ways about it. Or three ways, I should say, as the artist uses the technique of multiple images more viscerally than his contemporary Paul Graham. The triptych pictures in particular, which show delicately how different a few similar photographs can be, based upon the subtle energy in a set of eyes.

But my word count is getting higher than my IQ, which means it’s time to wrap it up. I implied in the beginning that I wasn’t planning to bring it this week. Maybe I pulled one out in the end, but I don’t have as much to say about the book itself as I ought, what with all the whining and pontificating.

Let’s summarize. I like this book very much. I suspect you would too. Despite the fact that I live in the hinterlands, I’m glad the great cities are out there, attracting people and ideas, thriving and allowing folks to live in any style they’d like. Bastions of creativity. Long may they prosper.

Bottom line: Taut book of African-American stories in the Windy city

To Purchase “We Shall” 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: Osamu James Nakagawa

by Jonathan Blaustein

I could never live in Portland. (No offense.)

Setting aside my distaste for humorless hipsters, it would never happen: there’s just not enough sun. I don’t care if they have the best coffee in the world, and a beautiful girl in chunky glasses fitted me with an IV drip that dosed me with caffeine, constantly, day in and day out.

It just wouldn’t work.

Why? Because I’m addicted to sunshine. Without a near-daily fix of Vitamin D, I become as surly and listless as a drunk walrus. Like today, for instance.

We get 330 days of sunshine a year here in Northern New Mexico, but come April, the high clouds move in and the wind whips more fiercely than Harrison Ford practicing for Indiana Jones Part 5. (Note to Mr. Ford: ditch the silly earring, and we might take you seriously again.) As I write this, it’s actually snowing outside, and my bones are colder than Han Solo’s blood when he shoots Greedo in the Star Wars bar scene.

As such, I would not have fared well in the old days. I mean the very, very old days, when humans lived in caves, taking protection wherever they could find it. Bears, saber-toothed tigers, homicidal assholes from other tribes, all could cause trouble, if you weren’t careful. So the dark became associated with safety. Dank air was precious, as it represented home.

Occasionally, fast forwarding millennia, there comes a time when people retreat back to those old ways. Deep within natural fissures in the Earth, one can hide for a long while, provided food and water are stockpiled, or, at least, available. (Fresh water in underground streams, and plenty of barbecued rats. Deeee-licious.)

Such a situation occurred during World War II, on the island of Okinawa, in Japan. We’ve seen photos of the place in this very column, as I reviewed a book by Daido Moriyama a couple of years ago. (Yes, that was the book where I mistakenly called him a woman. I only bring it up so you don’t have to.)

Then, we saw things above ground, and witnessed the remnants of American occupation. Burger joints, in particular. (As cows undoubtedly taste better than rodents, when cooked carefully above an open flame.)

Today, though, we’ll burrow beneath the island cliffs, and enter a world not meant to be seen by cameras, which so dearly love the light. Osamu James Nakagawa is our guide, and his book, “Gama Caves,” published by Akaaka, is our opportunity.

I didn’t intend to go on a run of Pacific Rim photo books, but there you have it. Like I said last week, show me something I’ve never seen before, and I’m likely to pontificate here and now.

The caves were utilized during the War, and many civilians called the Gama home, along with military types. I can’t imagine anyone had any fun down there, and according to the text, Americans used all sorts of killing techniques to either root the people out, or destroy them where they were. Flame throwers, bombs, all sorts of nasty endings for the people who fled to the seeming safety of stalactites and mites. (Never could keep those two words straight.)

These pictures are haunting and beautiful and horrific and awesome. My favorite kind of art, the type that hits all notes together. Ironically, they were on the wall in Houston when I visited FotoFest in 2012, but I didn’t know they were there, as I was holed up in the metaphorical cave known as a portfolio review.

I’m fairly certain you’ll like these pictures, though my snapshots don’t do the subtlety justice. The writing within, in Japanese and English, is uniformly excellent. There’s a poem with the obligatory reference to pubic hair, and a few essays, including one by the legendary MFA,H curator Anne Wilkes Tucker. I believe the artist received a Guggenheim fellowship to support the project, so the high-art-street-cred will likely back up the value of your purchase, should you choose to buy the book.

To continue with all the cinematic references, I heard they’re re-making Mad Max with a less racist, homophobic, Anti-Semitic protagonist. That’s the big fear we all have, right? (Especially when you have kids.) That we’re ruining the world, and our descendants will live in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, where many will be forced underground again.

I’m guessing the artist is smart enough to know that metaphor will pop up in your mind, as it has in mine. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. OK?

Bottom Line: Creepy photos inside Okinawan caves

To Purchase ”Gama Caves” 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: Anne Noble

by Jonathan Blaustein

Speaking of Australians, I re-watched “LA Confidential” the other day. Really great film. Noir through and through, but with California color and light. What more could you ask for? How about some serious Russell Crowe action.

What’s that you ask? Haven’t I mocked the faux-Aussie on at least one prior occasion? Yes. Yes I have. But in this film, as he broke into the living room of a global audience, the guy had charisma. He was hulking and visceral. A movie star in the making.

He parlayed that into “Gladiator” a few years later. I saw that one too, back when I still watched studio blockbusters. What was his famous line? “Are you not entertained?” Jon Stewart glommed onto that at some point, because it’s so good.

I could ask the same question here, but I won’t. Because that’s not my point today. Whether or not I’m trying to entertain you, this column is built upon a situation that never ends. I look at a book, and if it catches my fancy properly, I tell you about it. Year in, year out, that’s happened. Which means with every passing week, there’s less out there that I haven’t seen yet.

That’s the real question I want to ask. Can a photo book show me something I’ve never seen? If so, you can bet I’ll write about it, because then it might be something you haven’t seen either.

Honestly, I don’t know where I heard that Russell Crowe is actually from New Zealand. It’s true, though. He’s a Kiwi.

As is Anne Noble, the photographer responsible for “The Last Road,” a new book published by Clouds, in New Zealand. The photos were made during a frigid residency in Antarctica. Better her than me, I say.

This is one of those books that has really excellent writing, but you’ll be hard pressed to have the patience to read. The pictures are witty and new; thoughtful in a manner that suggests she didn’t approach her tenure with pre-conceived notions. Rather, I’d guess she actually investigated the place.

What’s so new? Well, the opening salvo of images was made of piss poles. The kind of poles that made Bill Murray exclaim “It’s in the hole” so intensely in “Caddyshack” are hereby employed as targets for streams of urination. (As opposed to streams of consciousness, in which I occasionally engage.)

Piss poles in a frozen forever? Pee targets, so you don’t get lost in the eternal snow? Awesome. As are the pictures of snow billowing in the air, set against snow and more snow. They’re called “White Noise,” in a shout out to Don DeLillo, which I also enjoyed.

There are some documentary-style pictures that are just OK, with the standout being the truck crate full of Halloween decorations. Later, we see a set of pictures called “Bitch in Slippers,” which I’m guessing is the nickname for the industrial machines that follow. All of which have nicknames of their own. It’s the kind of detail you only think of as strange when you come from somewhere else. (Anywhere else that’s habitable for humans.)

The names are mostly of women, but others are silly, like Basket Case, Wild Thang, and Shagnasty’s Nightmare. (Of which I’d rather know nothing. If Shagnasty lives there all the time, he can keep his suffocating nightmares to himself.)

Anyway, I like this book a lot. You might find piss poles in poor taste, or “Spool Stonehenge” as too cheeky for your liking. I thought it was downright refreshing.

Bottom Line: Antarctic book of things I’ve never seen before

To Purchase “The Last Road” 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: Trent Parke

by Jonathan Blaustein

I used to have an Aussie friend named Pappy. We met when I was still impressionable, and were the best of mates for nearly 15 years. He looked like a pirate and drank like a Marine, so I did too.

Having an Australian wingman is kind of like having a criminal for an accountant. You might feel proud of yourself, for putting one over on the powers that be, but in the end, it’s not likely to work out very well. Australia is a culture in which drinking, partying, fighting and meat-binging are the norm.

Think about that for a second. All cultures have their oddities. Like the French and their extra-marital affairs, or the Puritans with their hatred of dancing. That’s part of what makes a culture distinct, as we’ve discussed here previously.

But an entire country, nay, Continent, filled with the descendants of law-breakers, all of whom like to get wasted and crash motorcycles? Can you imagine? What would that look like?

I’m so glad you asked.

I’ve just put down “The Christmas Tree Bucket,” by the Australian photographer Trent Parke, so we have a good chance to peek in on things. The book was published by Steidl, which does make me wonder what the production meetings might have looked like. (Perhaps some pursed German lips at the sight of such class-less behavior?)

The title refers to the bucket kept around, presumably, to be grabbed by the next person to vomit on Christmas. At the very least, we do get one photo of the putative subject filled with vile goop. (Has anyone started a satirical Gwyneth Paltrow blog with that title yet? Vile goop?)

One can only imagine the subtitle, “Trent Parke’s Family Album” is a truthful moniker. In which case, the many excellent photos within give us an inkling of what life is like at that time of year. The dude in the Borat suit in front of the open swimming pool reminds that Christmas comes in summer Down Under, and that’s enough to make your head spin. (As opposed the the bed spins. Which I’m sure were in evidence here too.)

Meat on the grill, dead mice on the floorboards, screaming kids, oddly placed blow up dolls, denuded Christmas trees: it’s all here. The run of pictures where everyone’s sleeping was a particular favorite. Great rhythm.

There are a lot of photos in the book, and they all have that hipsterish-off-kilter vibe. The awkwardness of a record store clerk who knows so much about esoteric music, but can’t quite figure out how to ask a girl out. So what does he do? He downs a bottle of Jack Daniels and drives to her house, where he sits in the driveway, idling the car, and scaring the bejeezus out of her dad, who comes out with a shotgun after 45 minutes of wondering who the asshole is on his driveway.

Sorry. I got off topic. That doesn’t actually happen here. But if it did, I’m guessing the father wouldn’t wait 45 minutes to see what’s going on. He’d come out after 90 seconds, with a baseball bat, pull the dude out of his car, beat him senseless, and then ask what the hell he was doing there anyway. Goodonya.

Bottom Line: Absurd Aussie take on Christmas in summer

To Purchase “The Christmas Tree Bucket” 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: Linda Fregni Nagler

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever seen “After Life,” the Japanese film by Hirokazu Koreeda? If not, you probably ought to slap it up on your Netflix queue. Or go to the video store, if such things still exist in your neck of the woods.

I saw it some time ago, and it has stuck with me ever since, as its premise bores down deep into your soul, like a groundhog. The idea is that we all get to choose one memory to re-live, forever, in the afterlife. Good movie, sure, but once you hear that concept, who wouldn’t begin to contemplate?

Now that my daughter is beyond the baby stage, there are far more opportunities to stare in wonder at her beauty, as the initial stress chemicals have mostly receded. My son’s a looker too, so I often find myself trying desperately to cherish the time, as it recedes from my grasp.

I often ask myself, might this be the moment?

We all know what I should be doing, right? I need to document the crap out of the next few years. Photos, videos, audio clips. You name it. That’s the done thing. Try to defeat time by selecting moments, culling them from the herd, and permanently enshrining them in binary code.

But I don’t do that as much as I should, because I secretly hope that if I pay enough attention, as it’s happening, I might have the chance to relive one of these brief periods of intense happiness. That blasted film really stuck.

This urge, or impulse, has existed at least since we’ve had cameras. And likely before.

Close your eyes, and you can almost see a bearded man with spectacles looming above you, entreating you to hold still. He smells like a mixture of sweat and tobacco, with a hint of peppery bacon. Then he disappears under a black curtain, and POOF, there is smoke everywhere. You begin to cry, and reach for your mother, who is conveniently beneath you, enveloped by a different black cloth.

What?

That’s the rub, when you look at “The Hidden Mother,” by Linda Fregni Nagler, a new book published by MACK, in conjunction with the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. From what I could tell from the end notes, it might have also been the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. (In case you were wondering.)

There is no text to set up the premise, except the title. They saved the essays, by Massimiliano Gioni and Geoffrey Batchen for the end. To contexualize what you just saw. But is it necessary?

I’d say no. Page after page gives us images of anonymous children, perched upon their hidden Moms. Ghosts, phantasms, KKK figures too stupid to know the proper sheet color, all those ideas pop into your head. But you always know what’s going on. The mothers are there to help the children hold still, as the exposures at the time were most certainly not 1/8000 of a second.

Will the book hold your attention? I can’t really say. It is fascinating and chilling at the same time. All those babies, gone forever. All those memories brought together by a futuristic stranger, so it can be called “Art.”

Is it? Undoubtedly. A compelling project too, if only for the manner in which it so clearly subverts the intentions of the long-dead shrouded sitters. All they wanted was a piece of paper to help them remember what their dear children looked like, when they were little.

I’ve got pictures of my own too. Don’t you worry. You do to, I’m sure. But the act itself, the desire to will something into a memory that will last a lifetime, is the part that makes us human. Because Elephants can’t operate a camera. Right?

Bottom Line: Very interesting archive, creepy and smart

To Purchase “The Hidden Mother” 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: John Divola

I gave a whopper of a lecture the other week. I tied together the Bering Straight land bridge, the Big Bang, the Lascaux cave paintings, and Mayan creation mythology. Unfortunately, I was too distracted to bring the tape recorder.

C’est la vie.

I like to dive into the idealism of art making, early in the semester, as my high-school-aged students are suckers for the big picture. Teenagers and idealism go together like teenagers and drinking. Or sex.

High School kids love a good rebel. It’s why James Dean and Kurt Cobain will continue to age well; their attic portraits never falling behind the real thing. I’d further venture that America is just one big rebellion factory.

Don’t tread on me. No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Fight the power. (Seriously, though, has anyone made the connection to black leather gloves and major events in African-American history?)

Our program at UNM-Taos, in which I teach college level fine art to younger students, goes over well in general. We talk about how the spirit of rebellion inhabits art practice. What is the conventional way of doing things, and how can we subvert it?

If eye-level dominates reality, why not put the camera on the ground? Or in a mail-box? Or how about photographing your Uncle behind his back, because you’re not supposed to have your phone while herding cattle?

It was fun to talk with them last week about the latest Ai Weiwei controversy. Have you seen the story? Some dude in Miami that no one ever heard of smashed one of Ai Weiwei’s re-purposed Han Dynasty urns, in the middle of an art museum. Right in front of the photos of Ai Weiwei smashing a different Han Dynasty urn.

The meta-worm ate its tail that day. Without a doubt.

How would the great Chinese artist react? What would he say?

Apparently, he differentiated the acts by the fact that he owned what he crashed, while the public smasher destroyed someone else’s property. He found flaw in the logic, but he seemed sanguine about the whole thing, saying “I’m O.K. with it, if a work is destroyed. A work is a work. It’s a physical thing. What can you do? It’s already over.” (Vulture, 02.18.14)

Where were we? I think I’ve even lost myself for the first time. Right. The perfectly-snarled-Elvis-Pressley-lip curl, or the dead-eyed-Eastwood-crows-feet squint that is the ultimate brand of American rebellion. What are YOU looking at?

I just got that sense out of a photo book, and am excited to share tales of its innards with you now: “As Far as I Could Get,” a new book by John Divola, published by Prestel, and organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Boy, did I not have a sense of this guy. In my head, I thought of the lone house series. Single structures surrounded by our under-appreciated Western natural resource: empty desert space. Cool, but nothing I hadn’t seen with my own eyes many times, out here.

This book is of the career-arc sort, to go along with an exhibition, so you get to see a range of interesting divergences. Or maybe a set of randomly chaotic and irreverent dalliances with the California style? It’s funny and surreal and literal all at the same time.

It seems Mr. Divola was a contemporary of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and those guys, and studied under Robert Heinecken at UCLA. So there is a similar progressive spirit embodying these pictures. They’re genuinely excellent, so leafing through the pages was like discovering that it was Mike Nesmith who was the creative heart of the Monkees all along. (Or that Bon Scott originally fronted ACDC. If that’s out there, what else might be out there?)

In one series, from which the book gets it title, the artist put the camera on timer and sprinted as fast as he could into the landscape. What? Hilarious and poignant. Rare double double.

My favorite, should I care to choose, was definitely “Zuma.” These odd, discomfiting interiors in a shit-box abandoned house on the California Coast are juxtaposed against the perfection of the Pacific. Wow.

I’ve never done a lick of graffiti in my life, so these pictures made me feel a bit of the joy in destruction. Was there any urination involved? What would you wager?

In a smart interview with the Tate’s Simon Baker, Mr. Divola admits his black orb graffiti paintings descend from Kazmir Malevich. It’s a fantastic and appropriate connection, the California vandal and the Russian Suprematist.

OK. It was a long one this week. I’ll wrap it up tight. Excellent book. Great work. And another lesson that no matter how much art we’ve seen, there will always be something new to discover. You just need to keep your eyes open.

Bottom Line: Excellent exhibition catalogue, very cool work

To Purchase “As Far as I Could Get” 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: Henry Wessel

by Jonathan Blaustein

Despite what you might have heard, I’m not a real Buddhist. (I just admire many of the precepts.) When it comes to meditation, I’m lazier than I’d like, but do find it very helpful for managing stress.

Walking meditation is a practice I’ve never gotten the hang of, as my mind races whenever I’m out and about. But put a camera in my hand, and it all makes sense. Life slows down, and the pleasure of observation can be overwhelming.

I make my work in the studio these days, but can easily remember the joy that street photography brings. It’s almost intoxicating. Strike the almost.

We often hear people say that reality is stranger and fiction, and I’m not sure I agree. Most good fiction is based upon reality. They’re jealous twins, rather than the type that finish each other’s sentences.

Look around, and you’ll notice some strange shit, no matter where you are. Endless cornfields in the Mid-West might seem boring to a native, but take an urbanite out there, and the miles of rows look like the Roman army.

Drop a devout teetotaler into a seedy dive bar on the Lower East Side, and I’m sure they’d make reference to the nether regions of Hades. (Do they still have dive bars down there, or has everything been gentrified into a fake-speakeasy?)

Where am I going with this? If one looks hard enough, and shoots the proper ratio of frames, the genius of poetic moments will emerge from the patternless chaos. It’s a fact, and probably not one that will ruffle your feathers. (As you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t already have a passion for the lens-based arts.)

That said, I don’t often espouse the tired cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The proof is that this is something like my hundred and thirtieth column, and it’s only just come up. Why, you ask?

Because I’ve just put down the sublime and perfectly titled “Incidents,” by the under-appreciated New Topographics badass Henry Wessel. The slim, periwinkle hard-cover book was recently published by Steidl, and of course, they are known for good taste.

This book has no words. No titles. No essay. No explication whatsoever. Just the artist’s name.

While in lesser hands, that might seem arrogant, here, it proves the tired maxim I stated three paragraphs ago. (And the earlier one about reality and fiction too.)

Within, we see a set of black and white photographs that were clearly taken in California in the 70′s and perhaps early 80′s. That’s a conclusion any educated American viewer would reach. They are uniformly excellent pictures, and only two lack the human narrative.

Many were taken from a moving car, and one from the inside of a public bus. Those photos use the interior structure as an excellent framing device, as Lee Friedlander would come to do in his 21st Century “America by Car.” (If not earlier. If he did, I’m sure someone will correct me.)

This book is all about the quiet drama of insignificant moments, plucked from the space time continuum and frozen forever in celluloid. In that respect, it’s about as idealistic a book as you’re likely to come across, and one I’d heartily recommend.

As there are not so many images within, I’ve politely decided not to photograph them all. But we do see things that force us to stop and look carefully. A woman enters Harry’s Bar, maybe the most overused bar name of all, and she wears a jacket with the establishment’s name on the back. (Lean in, and you see it’s in Pismo Beach.)

A nudie bar has an official looking sign on its door: an application for a theater license. Through the car window, we see one boy astride another, seconds away from pummeling him. (Been there.)

What else? Some muscleheads shop for sunglasses on what is surely Venice Beach. Two young people lean against a wall, dressed for the sun, but above them we see a Christmas decoration.

The geometry of the constructed environment is ubiquitous, in fences, buildings, tennis courts, you name it. And then it all closes with a very poignant moment, as a young woman raises her skirt to show off a bruise. How did it get there? (You’re bound to wonder.)

OK. That’s enough of my wordy blabber. (Ironically about a wordless book.) Somehow, this is the first time I’ve written about Mr. Wessel’s work. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, spare book that reminds us why we love photography

To Purchase “Incidents” 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: Jacques Henri Lartigue

by Jonathan Blaustein

The Winter Olympics are in full swing at the moment. Do you care? Are you watching? Probably not.

I make that assumption because most artsy, creative types don’t bother with sports. It’s too normal. Too suburban.

As to the Olympics, it doesn’t mean much to me. Except the TV does seem to find its way to NBC each night, if only for a few minutes. They’re so good at hooking you, with the carefully edited backstories, replete with string accompaniment.

You think it’s just a schmaltzy production, and then a couple of ridiculously tough female skiers share a gold medal and jump around like frogs in a hot pan. Did you see that downhill course? It was nastier than Vlad Putin’s temper.

Similarly, we published an interview with Jeff Lipsky this week, in which we spent a great deal of time talking about skiing and snowboarding. (Probably too much time for some of you.) It might have seemed random, but there was a method to my madness.

Jeff described what he does, as a photographer, to put his celebrity subjects at ease. He shared how he chats with them, in a relaxed manner, about a point of connection. And that’s exactly what I was doing with him. I tried to make him comfortable by talking about something we had in common.

Eventually, we got to the subject of photography. Surprisingly, Jeff admitted to daydreaming about snowboarding, as a way of taking a mental breather when things get too stressful on set. So my gambit made sense in the end. You might say I got lucky. (Or perhaps you just skipped straight to the shop talk, as is your prerogative.)

Let’s face it. Sports and art normally don’t mix. The athletes are the cool kids, popular and fit. The artsy types wear glasses, smoke cigarettes, and generally keep to themselves. Right? That’s the perfect John Hughes stereotypical version, anyway.

Luckily, I figured out a way to inject a bit of jockdom into our weekly mix. But you’re guaranteed to like it. I swear. It won’t seem threatening in the least.

How can I be so sure? Because I’ve spent some time with a new book called “A Sporting Life,” by French legend Jacques Henri Lartigue, published by Actes Sud and Hermes. Who doesn’t love old-school black and white photographs by a master? No one. That’s who.

So I’ve got you on a technicality. The skis depicted look like antennas on a big alien’s head. If one of these dead Frenchmen came back to life and glimpsed a carbon-fiber-shaped-ski circa 2014, he’d probably assume it was a sculpture made by Marcel Duchamp.

There are equestrian images, biplanes, tennis, golf, gymnastics, hang-gliders, car racing, shot-putting, diving, boating, swimming, cycling, and, of course, a woman named Coco. The full-bleed image of a tight-curve-dirt-road in the 1928 Tour de France blew my mind, as it made the blood-doping-Lance Armstrong years seem so futuristic.

The technology is old school, true, but the vision is fresh. It might not make you pine for a five-hour-Olympics marathon, during which you scarf chicken wings and pizza while quaffing six steins of beer. Or it might.

But I’m sure you’ll enjoy the photos below. You must. If not, I hereby declare you less than human.

Bottom Line: A very cool book of nearly-ancient sports photos

To Purchase “A Sporting Life” 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: Malerie Marder

by Jonathan Blaustein

Roxanne. You don’t have to put on the red light. Those days are over. You don’t have to sell your body to the night.

I can’t imagine how many times I sang that song, back in the 80′s. It’s simply too big a number for me to bother guessing. I sang it as loud as I could, in that phase before I discovered things like Zenyatta Mondatta. (Voices. Inside my head. Echoes. Of things that you said.)

Can you imagine what my parents must have thought. All those parents, rather. Ten year old kids going on about prostitution. Oblivious.

Personally, I was just glad to be able to enjoy a few songs by the same band, rather than having to remember a new strange name every time I heard a song on the radio. (Men Without Hats. The Human League. Etc.)

I didn’t have a clue what the song meant. Obviously. It just sounded cool. Those Police riffs are still magical today, though repackaged/stolen by Bruno Mars, for the 21st Century audience.

But the subject retains its eternal fascination as well. The oldest profession. Paying for sex. I’ve never done it myself, but there was one night in New Orleans, many years ago, when I might have, had the opportunity presented itself.

I have spent a good deal of time in Amsterdam, though. I’ve written about it on several occasions, and always take the chance to say how brilliant that city is. In fact, I just read in Time that Steve McQueen (the alive one, who lives there,) said it’s “full of hardworking, down-to-earth people who don’t really give a damn.”

They have lots of prostitutes there. Sitting in windows. Staring laconically. I’ve never stared back. The Puritanical nature of my NorthEast American roots creeps up not-so-often, but I tend to give the ladies a wide berth.

Even through my peripheral, (and possibly altered) vision, I could see that they were regular looking, sometimes heavyset ladies. Maybe a little worn out. No Showtime/Cinemax lipstick softcore porn goddesses these ladies. No sir.

But that only means that reality is real, and fantasy is not. Which we all knew. Right? It’s not like my former-neighbor Julia Roberts sold an even bigger bill-of-goods a few years after Synchronicity came out. Right? As if George Costanza could ever make a convincing villain. Please.

But what do the ladies really look like, I wonder. We featured a book showing the employees of chicken ranches in Nevada a while back. True. But this is Amsterdam, we’re talking about. With the red lights and all.

Fortunately, Malerie Marder and Twin Palms have given us “Anatomy,” an over-sized, razor sharp, pitiless but charismatic look at the hookers in question.These are terrific, discomfiting but honest photographs. (Honest how? Were they arranged and staged? Probably of course. But are these women authentically who they appear to be? I’d say so.)

There is a photo of a woman of African descent, holding a picture frame. It doesn’t work out right. Two hands holding it, but then another arm right there. I’m still trying to figure it, and how often does that happen?

The latex-on-the-face older vixen repeats towards the end, but that’s the first time I’m sure I’ve seen the same woman before. Had I, though? Given their everywoman-at-Walmart-in-Oklahoma physicality, might I have just assumed they all look alike?

The cover of the book, where another reviewer might have began, has an incised quote that sets up the premise. And that’s all the text you need (or get) until the end. Just a slew of excellent and powerful photographs, which sometimes shift orientation. The print quality, plus the action of shifting the book back and forth, make you slow down with it. (And also make you feel, perhaps, like you’re getting your money’s worth out of a purchase.)

There are some stories that never get old. I recently read that President Obama described his time as Commander-in-Chief as “his” paragraph in a continuing Epic tale. One that often repeats. As human nature, writ large, does not change easily. If at all.

So people will continue to pay women to have sex with them. And men. And children. There are elements of this larger narrative that involve slavery and all sorts of horrors.

But there are also hard working women and men out there who pay for sex, and hard working men and women who pay to be sexed. It’s true, and I’d imagine there are many “real” relationships around the world that are built on that foundation. I’m sure of it.

A book like this, which gets right up in there, and does it with style, feels like a metaphorical financial transaction. Where we’re the John. Except buying photobooks. Get it?

To Purchase ”Anatomy” 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: Michael Wolf

by Jonathan Blaustein

Don’t you just love it when things pan out? It doesn’t happen all that often. There are so many things that can muck up the works, when one strives for synchronicity.

Last week, we showed you early work from an acknowledged master: Martin Parr. Wasn’t it fun to see his youthful vision? How sympathetic and romantic were those pictures?

And then this week, we ran an interview with Aline Smithson, who recently published some projects from the 70′s on Lenscratch. Apparently, what’s old will forever be new again. I’m sure there were Pharaohs going on about “ochre is the new black,” but of course we’ll never know. (Unless time travel gets invented one day. And then, I’d probably just ask a Pharaoh why he tried to keep the Jews as slaves. Didn’t he know we were the Chosen People?)

Given the path I’ve unwittingly followed this week, of course the very first book I picked up off the stack, “Bottrop-Ebel 76,” would be a publication of early work from 1976 by Michael Wolf, another of contemporary photography’s darlings. I’d suggest that it was destined to happen, but then I’d probably lose 10% of our readership. (I can only be so much of a new-age-freak before the New Yorkers stop reading in droves.)

Yes, this book even features an amazing photo of a dude with a ladder, just like last week. (Only this time, they were smart enough to put it on the cover.) So, what’s this one about then?

For a university final project, Mr. Wolf hung around the coal miner’s neighborhood of Ebel, in the town of Bottrop. (Hence the title.) Just as I can recall the joy I felt at pointing a 35mm camera at everything that walked, when I was 24 and in Europe, these pictures also reflect a less specific eye.

They’re really good photographs, for sure. The anticipation of a pig’s slaughter, contrasted against the jimmy-rigged football being kicked around in the background. The intensity of a fu-manchu mustache, or the cold eyes of a 12 year old smoking a cigarette. There’s a dude getting naked in his kitchen, and a little girl swinging in a doorway.

All are cool to look at. For sure.

But the closing essay ties these pictures directly to Mr. Wolf’s current work: faces pressed against the cold glass of a Tokyo subway, or the artist’s camera pressed against the computer screen, documenting Google’s world domination.

I don’t see it that way. Just as I was fascinated when I once saw a show of William Eggleston’s first B&W pictures at Cheim and Read, I love looking at where a really good artist comes from. Aline Smithson also referenced how differently we see the world in our 20′s, relative to the wisdom we accrue thereafter. Pushing 40, I’d have to agree with her.

So you might find these pictures brilliant. You might even buy the book. Cool. Enjoy it. But by now we know that’s not why I highlight a photo book each week. I do it because I’m pretty sure you’ll find it interesting, and seemingly, you’ve all learned to trust me. (Suckers.)

Bottom Line: Another look at young work by a famous photographer

To Purchase “Bottrop-Ebel 76,” 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: Martin Parr

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was just watching the oddest film. It’s a Western called “Paint Your Wagon, made in 1969. The movie features two of the best faux-cowboys who ever lived: Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.

What’s strange about that, you ask? Fair question. Two infamous tough guys in a Western. That’s what most people would call normal.

Except this Western was also a musical. And both of those badasses were singing their hearts out. Can I get a WTF? (Though one might rightly mention it’s not much weirder than Russell Crowe belting melodies as Javert in the film version of Les Mis. Maybe he salvaged his performance, but I couldn’t make it past 15 minutes.)

Where was I? Right. Clint and Lee. At one point, early on, Lee Marvin admits to having melancholy. Which seems like an olden-days code word for depression. But I can see how they would have preferred the former moniker, as it has a sense of romance to it.

Lee Marvin was telling Clint that solitary mountain men, on certain cold, wet days, could get lonesome in a way that was more like a disease. It hit home, as I’d seen those same weary eyes just this morning, as I drove my son up the hill to school.

We haven’t had much snow here in Taos lately. It’s been discomfiting, but also pleasurable, to bask in the 48 degree days, flush with sun. Until yesterday. When a sorry-gray-haze descended from the North. It’s cold now in a way that makes you sad. No two ways about it.

I tried to explain that to my son, but, as he’s only 6, he was dubious. He blamed it on the fact that he didn’t like his substitute kindergarten teacher. But I knew better. He merely had a case of melancholy. (As do I, at the moment. Truth be told.)

Which is why “The Non-Conformists,” a new Aperture book by Martin Parr, is perfect to share with you today. It will allow me to disseminate some bleary sorrow around the planet tomorrow, when this article will be published. (Does that make me a wintry-grinch? An emo-scrooge?)

The book, which features a fair bit of well-written text by the artist’s wife, Susie Parr, was made in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge in the North of England. Now, I don’t know if the East Midlands counts as the North of England…but if it does, I can personally verify that it’s the bleakest, coldest place I’ve ever been. So these photos made a lot of sense to me today.

The project should be super-interesting to you, as it was made in the mid-70′s, very early in Mr. Parr’s career. In fact, you may never have seen these pictures before. And they do capture the idealistic spirit of the youthful eye, I’d say. They’re nostalgic, and almost sentimental. The scathing wit and prodigious use of color, for which Mr. Parr is so-well-known, had not yet emerged in his style.

The pictures are stark, yes, but they’re very respectful. Mr. and Mrs. Parr, who were not-yet-married at the time, spent a year or so documenting the parts of the local culture they were sure would soon disappear. Things like a family-run mine, a cinema with a projector run on carbon, and a beautiful brick chapel in Crimsworth Dean, that has since been converted, we are told, into a private residence.

The pictures are really good, for the most part, and a few are downright brilliant. An early image, just before the title page, shows a man perched one-footed on the top of a step-ladder, mending a door frame. If I were to ever select a photograph as perfect, this might be the one.

Later, we see a traveling hairdresser, and two white mice adorning a man’s hand, as a part of a “mouse show.” (Obviously. Hasn’t everyone been to a mouse show before? Not me. I just kill the bastards whenever I get the chance.)

Back in the day, when I was growing up, schools used to be into making time capsules. You know, burying something in the ground to be dug up at a later date. That’s what this book feels like to me. More than anything, it’s an effort at cultural preservation.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to tend to my fire, and think up some other ways to put a smile on my face. Since I’ve just passed along the melancholy to you, I’m beginning to feel better already.

Bottom Line: Some fascinating, early B&W work by Martin Parr

To Purchase “The Non-Conformists” 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: Pepa Hristova

by Jonathan Blaustein

The French have laws to protect their culture. Films. Cheese. What have you. It’s embedded in the legal code; a bulwark against rampant McDonaldStarbuckWalmartization.

Similarly, the Romans insist a good tomato sauce can include garlic or onions. But not both. Try to mess with a traditional recipe there and you’ll be met with either shock and horror, or anger and gesticulation. It’s not the done thing, messing with their bucatini all’amatriciana.

It’s these little, idiosyncratic elements of human existence that differentiate one society from another. Culturally speaking. We all need food, water, shelter, family, and a way to provide for ourselves. These are non-negotiable elements of human existence.

On the big stuff, almost all human societies have come to an agreement. A roof over you head is better than a cave. Toilets are preferable to outhouses. Cell phones are better than smoke signals. And guns and ammo are more efficient than bows and arrows.

Yet in some places, black is a funerary color, while elsewhere it’s white. Which is the proper bridal color at weddings in some places, while elsewhere it’s red. Rotten shark meat is a delicacy in Iceland, but you couldn’t get me to eat it for $50. I’ll tell you that much.

These details have fascinated photographers for as long as we’ve used cameras. Why? Because we’re observers, and the camera is the ultimate recording device.

With respect to the weird stuff, in the 21st Century, if something eccentric is going on in any part of the world, the global photo community has heard about it. Last summer, for instance, I saw a project about a small community in the Albanian mountains. There, unlike everywhere else, (except Northampton, MA,) there is a group of women who live their lives as men. They take an oath, swear to be asexual, and are left to walk the earth as if they were Adam rather than Eve.

I mentioned the project to one of my editors, who told me he’d seen photos of the sub-culture before. Everyone knows about it already, it was suggested. So I was not exactly shocked when I picked up “Sworn Virgins,” a new book by Pepa Hristova, published by Kehrer Verlag, which presents a thorough portrait-based examination of the women/men. (The narrative is introduced by a set of establishment shots with a serious cinematic bent.)

I’m not sure you’ve seen this world before, though, and the book is very well put together, so I thought I’d share it with you today. To be clear, I’m not suggesting the artist is derivative; rather that it’s just really hard to find something new to observe these days.

What most interested me about the book was its seeming anonymity. The title and artist’s name are incised into the spine, but were not legible. And there is no title page, or authorial information in the front of the book at all. So it wasn’t until I scoured the end credits that I even found the artist’s name.

Lacking that knowledge, I was left with only the story to parse. The book is divided into segments that are separated by a few pages of small, pink paper. Each contains the subject’s name, and a brief bit of info about each of them. (Great use of a paper change to keep the viewer interested.)

You’ll be enchanted by the weathered lines in each woman’s face, and scratch your head in wonder at the veracity of their biological sexuality. A woman? Really? Can it be?

Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just think they’re sequestered lesbians living in a world that created a convoluted way of explaining human sexuality. Further text suggests that the tradition evolved out of a dearth of men, as so may Albanians died at the hands of violent vendettas. (Albanians being to Italians, gangster wise, what Russians are to Jews.)

OK. You get the point. This book will provide a window into one more way of understanding the absurdity of the human condition. Is it for you? I don’t know. I guess that depends upon what your definition of is is.

Bottom Line: A well-made book that explores Albanian transvestites

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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: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

by Jonathan Blaustein

A couple of years ago, I noticed a pattern. I’d throw my back out every year, during the first week of December. Every. Freaking. Year.

I realized it was not a coincidence. A year is a natural cycle, and come December, we’ve all hit the wall. It’s been eleven months worth of work, drama, and all the other things that slowly sap our life-force. By now, we’re all feeling weak and wobbly. (But my back has held up this year…knock wood.)

With the New Year just ahead, we limp into the holidays. Little problems loom larger. We find ourselves distracted and worn down, like a football player in extra time. I’m here to give you the good news: it happens to everyone.

You are not alone.

Just the other night, for example, I bungled badly while answering the phone. We’d just put the kids to bed, after a very long day. I’d sat down a minute earlier, thrilled to finally be “off-duty” for the day.

Then the phone rang.

At that time of night, it’s almost always my mother-in-law. Almost always. So when I pressed the button, I had some clear expectations.

Instead, I was met by a strange voice. A solicitation call. “What do you think about same sex marriage rights,” asked the unnamed caller? In a flash, I was angry. Just leave me the f-ck alone, I thought, so I can watch some vapid television.

What I said was, “It’s none of your business what I think.” Then I hung up.

Thirty seconds later, I cringed. Not only was I impolite, but I realized there was a decent chance the call was made by an organization supporting same sex marriage. Oh shit. They might put me on the homophobic list. What if anyone found out?

I actually thought that. What if people suspected me, the super-liberal-art guy, of secretly hating gay people?

Yes, we’ve come a long way here in the US in a short span of time. “Will and Grace” might have seemed revolutionary ten years ago, but we have officially entered the Gay-Mainstream phase of American culture.

Barack Obama’s election obviously did not erase 200+ years of institutionalized racism. So I’m not here to suggest that homophobia has been conquered, only that it is no longer an acceptable position, in most of society. (Again, thank goodness.)

Because one only has to look back to “Hustlers,” the seminal photo series by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, for a reminder of how far we’ve come. It’s waiting for us, conveniently enough, in a new large-scale, hardcover, yellow book from Steidl.

This is one of those books where there’s only so much I can say. It’s a masterful project that has been revered, rightly, through the years. Now, you can own it, in an exceptionally well-made object. But it costs more than PLdC paid each of those lonely boys and men, back in the day. (To take their photo. Not for a quick hummer in the alley behind MickeyD’s.)

The photos are titled by the name of the subject, where he came from, and how much the artist paid to take the picture. But that last piece of info is not provided until the end. A viewer might guess that it was the amount the “sex worker” charged for some actual action. (The closing statement reveals that the two prices were meant to correlate. It also states that the project is a tribute to the artist’s brother, who died of AIDS. Not something I knew beforehand…)

It goes without saying that these hustlers were down on their luck; plying their trade on Santa Monica Boulevard, one penis at at time. The pay was poor back then, and I doubt it has kept up with inflation. They just grab the coin, and use it to buy some booze, or drugs, or maybe a date with a higher class sort of fellow.

The pictures are so excellent that at first, they do pass for “taken,” rather than “made.” Then you reach the page where the guy is draped ever-so-gently across the sidewalk, covered with a blanket. Even a guileless viewer, who knew nothing of the artist’s meticulous set-ups, might question that reality.

Throughout, while flipping, I would be temporarily floored by the lighting in a certain image. Or the interplay between bodies, when more than one subject was present. Truly fantastic photographs.

Now, we see them as artifacts of a time that seems ancient. But it’s not. Sometimes, culture moves so quickly that decades can seem like centuries. Do you really remember what it was like not to have a cell phone in your pocket? I don’t.

We’d like to think that with the battle for equal rights on the upswing, we’d turn our thoughts to immigration issues, or prison reform, or our antiquated drug laws. All of which do intersect with this book, as well.

But sometimes, on a bleak December day, it’s nice to remember why you feel so tired. (B/c it’s the end of the year. Remember?) And it’s also nice, occasionally, to be happy with the progress we’ve made. Such as it is.

Bottom Line: An instant classic. Get one if you can.

 To Purchase ”Hustlers” 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: Jaime Permuth

by Jonathan Blaustein

Welcome to my third annual Thanksgiving column. Once again, we celebrate our forefathers: the ones who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to take over a continent blessed with untold natural resources. Yes, we Americans eat turkey to honor a genocide.

As you know by now, I love this country. (Despite being aware of our blood-drenched creation mythology.) People throughout history have done bad things to one another. Once word got out that there was land for the taking, and trees for the felling, it was only a matter of time before shit got real.

Sure, we can be cynical, and dismiss the entire American experiment as one of rapacious greed. But what’s the fun in that? Isn’t it better to mock the Puritans for their lack of humor, obsession with witches, and fastidious yet spartan fashion sense?

Even today, their name is evoked as a pejorative term. Puritanical. We only thank them for founding our country once a year, because that’s about as much time as we can stand to think about their no-dancing-no-fun-having lifestyle.

Our Manifest-Destiny-ness is counterbalanced, of course, by the narrative of a nation of immigrants. We are a new society, and have proved a haven to those seeking a better life, though we rarely greet them with open arms. They come anyway, and many generations have been able to ensconce themselves, forging a safer future for their offspring. (Big ups to my now-dead-great-grandparents for making the move. Staying in Europe would have been very, very, bad for my bloodline.)

Ever since our Siberian ancestors, 15,000 years ago, Americans have been walking, swimming, sailing, floating, driving, and even riding bicycles to the land where the streets are paved with gold. This country is the perfect embodiment of the imperfection of the human condition. We do some things really well, and fail at least as often as we succeed. (Could Obama really not find anyone in the whole country who knew how to build a freaking website?)

No matter what changes in America, people continue to move here seeking a fresh start. Just like the auto mechanics and scrap metal traders at the heart of Jaime Permuth’s new book, “Yonkeros,” published by La Fabrica in Spain. (The country for whom the Italian, Cristoforo Colombo, forever altered the course of history by discovering Hispañola.)

The title refers to a nickname for those types of businesses, which are found on a small peninsula called Willets Point, in Queens, NYC. The place is charmless in a way that’s charming, and gritty in way that allows for the subtle observation of beauty. In other words, it’s the ideal place for a long-term photography project.

Mr. Permuth is himself an immigrant from Guatemala, and it’s not hard to see why he was drawn to the place. The inhabitants come mainly from Mexico and Central America, so we don’t have to wonder if their conversations were carried out in English. (Que tal? Me llamo Jaime. Soy fotografo. Podria tomar su foto, por favor? No, no soy immigracion. Es seguro.)

It’s a perfect symbol for America, and the contradictions we can never escape. We killed a bunch of people and took their land so that we could set up a country where are men are free. (But not the slaves, of course. Or the women.)

We have a big statue in the New York harbor that offers to accept the tired, poor, and huddled masses. Unless we build a huge fence at the border to keep them out. We don’t want to pass immigration laws, because if we don’t, it’s like the 11 million illegal immigrants don’t exist. Our laziness converts them into phantasms; ghosts that are really good at fixing cars, cleaning houses, and picking fruit.

The book, the nominal subject of this diatribe, contains many pictures, so it’s likely you’ll have your favorites. I love the ones that are razor sharp and slightly surreal, like the deflated soccer ball, perched atop a car, reflecting clouds in the shiny painted metal. The few color images are a bit out of place, until you see the glowing pink sky above a snow-covered world. (Gorgeous.)

I also found a highly-pornographic image embedded on a small TV, which caught me by surprise. There is enough image diversity in the book that it entices you back, confident you won’t have seen it all just yet. Which is a good metaphor for the human condition, I’d say.

Yes, we’ve seen many things before. Almost everything, in fact. But that’s the keyword, isn’t it? Almost.

Bottom Line: A cool book about immigrant culture, perfect for Thanksgiving

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

This Week In Photography Books: Richard Misrach

by Jonathan Blaustein

Last week, I wrote about conflict of interest. Or at least I mentioned it. Which was a first.

These days, when everybody is connected to everyone else, it becomes much more difficult to speak the truth. We become co-opted by our relationships, occasionally, and I do wonder how often I’m affected.

I’ve worked hard to write with honesty in this space, and I hope it’s branded me a straight shooter. (Or more likely a big-mouth. So be it.)

Where am I going with this? I’m currently in the second article of a short series about the Medium Festival of Photography. It was founded by a very good friend of mine, and I went to review portfolios for APE and Lens, and to deliver a public lecture about my work.

As I’ve already written, the festival was truly exceptional. Will you believe me, knowing I’ve got a personal connection? Medium certainly invited me knowing I’d write about my experience there. (Which was overwhelmingly positive.)

But what about the bad stuff? Will I be critical, or will I keep my mouth shut? I’ve been asking myself that very question. What to do?

It’s funny, but the one dark mark on my time there had nothing to do with Medium, per se. And still I feel awkward sharing. But I will. (Can’t. Stop. Fingers. From. Typing.)

I almost-met a fellow artist and blogger at Medium, and was seriously put off by his boorish behavior. I’ve already written about his book, and reviewed it very positively. So there was no prior bad blood.

Doug Rickard, who appropriated and photographed images of poor people on Google Street View, gave me the velvet-rope-ignore-treatment, on three separate occasions. I was taken aback, as it had been a while since anyone pretended I didn’t exist, from such a short distance. (18 inches. I could practically smell his breath.)

Mr. Rickard lectured directly after me, and came very close to shoving me out of the way to get to the podium. He didn’t even muster the obligatory head nod, or half smile, that most civilized people would. It was like a microcosm of high school. He was the burly jock, and I was the black-clad artsy kid, not significant enough to acknowledge.

I write this knowing many of you will read these words as vengeful. I’ll show him! (Shakes fist.) Who does he think he’s dealing with? It’s inescapable, that you’ll think this.

I should add, Mr. Rickard was a pretty big guy, like a Sacramento version of an amateur SoCal motor-cross racer. (Replete with a flat-brim, bro-style baseball hat.) He might genuinely try to kick my ass. So that’s another reason to keep my moth shut. In addition to looking petty, and disappointing my friend Scott.

So why dish? Because I think the mere fact that I feel this uncomfortable telling the truth, after years of bragging about my propensity to do so, makes this a worth-while endeavor. And it’s also a hugely teachable moment for the rest of us.

There is no privacy anymore. It’s gone. Mourn it as you will, but it’s not coming back. Our behavior is a reflection of our brand, and our reputation. No matter how successful you are, you need to treat people well, or it will come out. Whether it’s Terry Richardson facing boycotts, or this dick Doug getting outed on the Internet.

My lecture, just before his, focused on the genuine effort necessary to see symbols in the world and embed them in art. To recognize connections. To choose to make meaning from life, whether you believe it resides there inherently or not. We say it every day, right? We’re all connected. What does that even mean?

I’d mentioned Mr. Rickard’s work in my lecture, as I showed a project I’d done in 2006-7, in which I photographed the computer screen. The resulting photos were absurd and random pixelated portraits, fragments from jpegs I’d stolen from various dangerous parts of the Internet. I don’t typically show the pictures, as I felt the series was too derivative of Chuck Close’s aesthetic. I gave Mr. Rickard a shout out for getting it right.

And of course, Mr. Rickard was also a member of Richard Misrach’s young artist salon. We reported on that after Mr. Misrach’s lecture in Tucson last year, when he’d shown work by several younger Bay Area artist friends of his. I felt awkward telling you guys about it, as it seemed like the epitome of the incestuous behavior at the heart of this now-rambling article.

My pixelated portraits might go over well one day, or I might keep them in a drawer. Regardless, I haven’t seen that many things quite like them.

So you’ll appreciate my shock at reaching into my book stack, and discovering “11.21.11 5:40pm,” a new book by Richard Misrach, published by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. (Whose Gallery Director I know from his days in Santa Fe.) If you’re ready to hear about a book, congratulations. You made it. And what day is it now? (I delivered the article to Rob on 11.21.13)

This book is strange, and you likely won’t want to buy it. It’s conceptual enough that it might seem too narrow for a collection, given the price. (Or perhaps it’s meant mostly for collectors. What do I know?) But it also happens to be one of the most interesting books I’ve seen in my time as a book reviewer.

It opens with a view of a couple down on a beach, seen from a terrace above. I was immediately reminded of Mr. Misrach’s other ocean-and-beach-based projects. That’s where the similarities end.

We notice that the young couple is taking a dual-selfie. Or joint- selfie? A couplie? What’s the proper nomenclature here?

No matter.

Each subsequent page turned reveals a closer version of the previous photo. It devolves to pixels, and then the black of a presumably singular pixel. (Like the deep black of that awful Sopranos ending. David Chase: you’re better than that.)

Then. A surprise.

The image begins to resolve again. Pixels. And then a pixelated portrait. Finally, the image is sharper still, and we see that we’re looking at the portrait of the couple. The one that they actually took of themselves.

What? How did he get that? What the f-ck is going on here?

Awesome. A little worm-hole gem. So odd and smart and surreal. I love it. But will you want to actually own it? That’s another question.

It’s taken me almost ten days now, since I returned from San Diego, to get my head together. It’s forced me to ask some hard questions.

You’ve got to make up your own mind about how much you think I’m holding back, these days. I’d like to think I put my integrity out there each week, but this is one big icy-yet-twig-strewn slippery slope. It’s new territory, and through this column, you’ve come along for the ride.

So I hope to continue to earn your trust, and I’ll endeavor to keep it real. But there are now layers to be parsed, and I accept that’s going to happen. Medium expected I’d be me, and I’m sure they’re now thinking that if the worst thing I can say about them is that one of their lecturers was rude…they’re doing pretty well.

It’s helpful to be reminded, though, that we need to take a hard look in the mirror. In a networked world, in which we all become beholden to one another, it’s good to be conscious that it’s happening.

We need to be willing to speak its name. Like Voldemort. Or Beetlejuice. Or Ron Burgundy. Who’s now shilling for Dodge. You dig?

Bottom Line: Fantastic, conceptual book by a major art star

To Purchase “11.21.11 5:40pm” Visit Photo-Eye

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: #Sandy

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ll be honest with you: I’m spent. Last week, I visited the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego. We interviewed the founder last year, my good friend Scott B. Davis, so it will come as no shock that I attended this year.

It was a pretty phenomenal experience, and I’ll recap the best work I saw in an upcoming article. Regardless of my potential bias, I have to tell you I can barely string together clauses to make a sentence right now, much less build an intelligent article out of disparate paragraphs.

Not. Going. To. Happen. Today.

Why, you ask? Why have I not recovered in 5 days? It wasn’t a hangover, if that’s what you’re thinking. I barely had any booze at all. No, what happened caught me by surprise, like a wisp of wind in an airless room.

Medium functioned on a level that re-awakened my dormant idealism. There were so many wonderful people bouncing around, and the resulting conversations were both deep and long. (Insert random dick joke here.) The spirit of creativity was rampant.

It reminded me why I got involved in photography to begin with, and encouraged me to give and share, rather than take and want. I reviewed portfolios, and even broke the sacred 20 minute rule. All my sessions went 25, and I was happy to offer the extra time and energy. It just felt right, under the circumstances.

I promise to share more about what Medium is doing right at a later date. Today, tired and emotionally drained as I may be, I still have to review a book. No vacation days in my line of work.

I thought I’d carry through the spirit of Medium into this review. “#Sandy” is a new book of IPhone photography made in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, edited by Wyatt Gallery. Like many others, I helped support the book’s publication, and received a small credit in the back. Hopefully, this will not count as my second conflict of interest in one article. (If so…you might want to lighten up.)

That the book arrived here the same week that another Superstorm killed people and ruined lives is not a shock to me. We were told these events would happen with more frequency, and it has come to pass. I may not live near the ocean, but one of these days, I’ll have to worry about “SuperFire Felicity” burning my house to the ground. No one is immune.

This book is getting a lot of press, and rightly so. A bunch of photographers banded together to put their work out there for a good cause. (100% of the book’s proceeds go to Occupy Sandy.) Their intentions were noble, and the pictures are harrowing. You will likely have seen some of them before, because folks like Ben Lowy got their images a lot of air play during last year’s protracted misery.

It’s easy to look at ventures like this and dismiss them as attempts to co-opt the spirit of giving with the insatiable desire for publicity. It’s a savvy way to build positive street-cred. For sure.

But as I re-learned last week, thinking in such ways can be counter-productive. Sometimes, one just has to be willing to spread the positive energy with full force. Sometimes, we have to put others before ourselves. This is a part of the social contract. And this week, while others are suffering on the other side of the world, I thought I’d leave you with something to think about.

Bottom Line: Collaborative book project in the face of tragedy

Go Here To Purchase And Support #Sandy

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

This Week In Photography Books: Jo Röttger

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was lying in bed the other night, trying to fall asleep. Dreamily, I asked my wife a question. What are the five places you’d most like to visit? She named them, but I couldn’t follow along. By the time she turned the question on me, I was already unconscious.

I thought about it the next day, when I awoke. I whittled down to Germany, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. As I recited the list, I realized I had chosen the former Axis powers, and two Communist countries.

OMG. What does that say about me? Am I a less-than-patriotic American? Or a horrible Jew? And what about Africa and South America? Does their Continental omission mean I’m also secretly racist? Or do I just really like asking absurd, rhetorical questions?

Frankly, I haven’t been to Italy, the artist’s paradise, in a decade, and I’ve never been to Asia. So that covers 4 out of 5. As for Germany? I was in Lübeck once, very briefly, about 15 years ago. The people in the North were very nice. They kept buying me beers, incredulous that I’d come to their part of the country, rather than Bavaria. And the currywurst was super-delicious.

I’d like to go back, because who wouldn’t want to visit Berlin these days? But there’s something else, and it has far less to do with WWII than you might imagine. I just seem to groove on the German aesthetic. I love that they are so serious about their formalism and craftsmanship. And they’re eternally curious, without ever seeming to believe they’ll hit upon an answer.

Take this week’s book, for instance. It’s called “Landscapes & Memory: Thirty photographs” by Jo Röttger, published by Peperoni Books. Does it consist of exactly 30 photographs? Of course it does. Are they exquisitely composed, and built as well as a Maybach? Did you have to ask?

This book is excellent on multiple levels, but really excels at reminding us why iPhones are cute, but will never replace a large format camera. And why journalists and artists are…not exactly the same thing. (Much less citizen journalists.)

I’m not here to disparage the growing number of amateurs out there. Hell, if they’ll call me a journalist, they’ll clearly let anyone in the club. It’s an important job, sharing the news, but it’s not the same thing as making art.

This book gives makes the difference very visible. The artist was seemingly embedded with the German military, and made photographs in their company. He shot them while they were training in country, and also while they were active duty in Afghanistan.

The formalism is impressive, as I mentioned, but so too are the beautifully drained colors seen at dusk. The mid-day-desert sun leeches desire from the world too, and that blister-bright palette is on display as well. These pictures beg to be seen at 40″x60″, and I wouldn’t doubt that they’re built that large for exhibition purposes.

I was certainly reminded of Simon Norfolk’s work, but then Mr. Röttger kicks the whole thing up a notch. (My first, and last, Emeril Lagasse reference. Bam!) At the end, he photographs the German soldiers while they’re training in some Alpine landscapes that are straight out of “The Sound of Music.” (Which I’ve never seen, but am more than happy to reference here.)

Where are the lederhosen? Where is the alpenhorn to summon the shepherds home for strudel? I don’t know, and I don’t care. These pictures are so damn good, I want one for my wall. Hell, I want to build a bigger wall, and then put one of these bad boys up.

This project offers what I wanted, and then rejected from the Luc Delahaye photograph in the War/Photography exhibition I reviewed at the beginning of the year: the size, sharpness, clarity and patience that a big camera offers, without the knee-knocking sense of exploitation. (i.e., profiting off of a dead Talibani soldier. Delahaye might not have stolen his boots, but what he did take was worth $20,000 a pop.) Regardless, I do hope you enjoy the book.

PS: I’d ask you to share your top five list in the comment section, but when’s the last time that worked?

Bottom Line: Exquisitely crafted photos in Germany and Afghanistan

To Purchase “Landscapes & Memory: Thirty photographs” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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