Category "Photography Books"

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

To Purchase “Yonkeros” 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: 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.

This Week In Photography Books: New Irish Works

by Jonathan Blaustein

I love a good paradox. We photographers relish rare moments alone, prowling a foreign land with a camera in hand. (Maybe another in the pocket.) The lone wolf roams, hunting for pixels.

But no one gets very far these days without a good team. Success is impossible without friends and colleagues. In order to get more time by yourself, you have to play well with others.

I was reminded of that when I visited Photoville on my trip to NYC in late September. I might have mocked the MoMAPS1 art-world-hipsters last week, but at least they showed up to represent. So too were the crowds in evidence at Photoville, a photo festival that practically kisses the East River from it’s waterfront perch in Brooklyn.

“Rent some shipping containers, and they will come” is not the kind of quote that launches popcorn blockbusters, but it does seem to sum up Photoville’s premise. There were plenty of metal-clad photo exhibitions on display, along with other containers showing off new Ipad apps, or offering to take your tin-type portrait. It was like a county fair for photo-geeks, and I was thrilled to see so many people out in public, interacting with art and each other.

The festival was founded and is run by Sam Barzilay, originally from Greece, and his wife Laura Roumanos, of Australia. Nothing like Brooklyn to bring people together from all over the world, right? (Where’s Marty Markowitz when you need him? Can I get a shout out?) The festival is free, and the largest source of funding was from the Dutch Government, I was told. (As if we needed another reason to love the Dutch.)

Again with the paradox.

This week, we published an interview with Chantel Paul, who recently curated a California triennial at MOPA in San Diego. Do those artists really have something in common, just because they live in the same roughly defined land mass? I heard there was a show of Texas photography in Houston recently as well. Was it all about pictures of cattle?

I know that’s a dumb question, but it masks a better one: is regionalism actually dying, as John Gossage suggested? In a world in which culture moves at the speed of light, and information is no longer subject to the ravages of time, are we all just plugged into the same machine?

If you’re curious as to whether there’s even an answer to that question, why not check out “New Irish Works,” a book published this past summer by the Photo Ireland festival in Dublin. (Did you actually doubt I’d wind my way to a book review? Is the Pope Catholic?) It contains imagery by 25 young Irish photographers, including Paul Gaffney, whose book I previously reviewed.

I’ll spare you the trouble of guessing: I couldn’t learn much about Ireland through this book, but I do like it a lot. The practitioners have vastly different processes, though two photographers were shooting the television screen. (Barry W. Hughes and Muireann Brady.) I saw buckets of blood, (Patrick Hogan) wisps of minimalist nothing, (Roseanne Lynch) and light from a flash illuminating a sheep’s fuzzy ass. (Miriam O’Connor) Ms. O’Connor also took the perfect photo of a cheap motel bedspread, so good for her.

You might question why I’m highlighting this book, if we don’t learn anything about Ireland in the process? I laud the collaborative effort and community spirit that good festivals embody. Plus, there are cool photos inside, and you’ll definitely get a sense of what this young generation of artists is contemplating. Is that enough? If not, go buy yourself a Guinness and drink it.

Bottom Line: Cool book with work by a slew of young Irish artists

Purchase “New Irish Works” here.

This Week In Photography Books: ECAL

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I don’t buy a lot of books. Perhaps that makes me a bad book reviewer, but there it is. I live in a minimalist house, with little storage, and I do get to look at more books than just about anyone. (I just have to give them back.)

So when I found myself at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMAPS1 last month, I definitely didn’t expect to buy anything, even though the fair was more a packed marketplace than an engaging exhibition space. It’s hard to say how much money changed hands, because I was too busy trying to figure out how to navigate the crowds. (Of obnoxious hipsters. Is anything more uncomfortable than watching a bunch of artsy types lined up ten deep outside a schoolhouse bathroom? Talk about a stink vibe. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

I’ve been called a hipster before, and it will likely happen again. Having lived in San Francisco’s Mission District, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I suppose the moniker was inevitable. But I’m the last guy to walk around with an ironic mustache and a sour look on my face, so there are limits.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself obsessing about a super-cool black hard-cover book I found on a simply adorned table. It sat there, alone, topped with a yellow post-it note that read: last copy, $10. $10? Are you kidding me?

Whether it was the ridiculous price that made me reach for the book, or the fact that the air surrounding this particular booth didn’t reek of insecurity, I cannot properly say. But reach I did, and I soon fell in love. What was it, you ask? A typography book put out by a Swiss art school. (ECAL/ University of Art & Design Lausanne, Switzerland.)

Does anything sound less sexy than a book about typography made by a country famous for watches and banking? I doubt it. (But it might be a fun game to try. What could be less sexy? How about a sweater knit from wet dog hair? Or a six-day-old hamburger?)

Right. The book. It does contain interspersed photographic images, which often come from magazine covers or exhibition posters. But the photos are there as supporting examples of high-end typography. Page after page of just the alphabet, rendered differently. It might take an expert to suss out the expectations of intended impact, but any layperson can see that when shown together, the effect is a bit hypnotic.

Must. Have. This. Book.

That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, I was faced with a day of running around NYC, and the kind-of-large object would not fit into my green, Brooklyn Industries manbag. (Yes, I bought it in Williamsburg. Make of that what you will.)

What was I to do? Believe it or not, our friends at photo-eye had a booth in the fair, and they kindly agreed to ship it back to New Mexico for me. (Thanks, Mel and Vicky.) Therefore, I’m writing this review of a book only nominally pertaining to photography, and we’ll see what you think.

I’m not entirely sure why I love this book so much, but the ineffable beauty is part of what I enjoy. If you find that typography can be fascinating, what else is there to learn from this big, spinning planet?

We really do take this facet of communication for granted. As photographers, we always think about the quality of the pictures. As writers, we worry about the words we conjure, whether they’ll be good enough to get the job done. (Or whether they’ll be edited outside of our control.) But how often do we consider the structure of the letters themselves?

It’s obviously a lesson we can apply to the wider world. If typography is more interesting than previously thought, what else is out there? Bird watching? Particle physics? Soduku?

Bottom Line: Super-cool book about an esoteric subject


This Week In Photography Books: Lori Nix

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have I ever told you that I live in a horse pasture at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? Of course I have. Like, a million times. I say it constantly.

Is it a nefarious part of my personal branding? (That Blaustein. Always makes it about him.) I suppose it’s possible, if you believe me that much of a cynic. But I think it’s something else.

Writing for the global Internet is a strange job. Technically, you know you’re reaching a lot of people. But that reality is abstract, like a cloud that looks like the European Continent. Knowing readers are out there is nice, but it has no bearing on my daily life.

It’s very remote here, which is why I bring it up so often. Most of you are living in the urban world, where things run smoothly, and you can get decent takeout almost anywhere. Never before, in the history of time, could we have this sort of asymmetrical dialogue. Without the Internet, I wouldn’t be able to live the way I do. (Which includes having to fire up the wood stove on this, the first un-official day of winter. Snow outside already?)

That I can remain connected and removed enables me to have the perspective that I do. Sometimes, things work out perfectly. Take this morning, for instance. I just swiped through Twitter, and saw a few people saying that the Lori Nix exhibition at ClampArt was a must see. Cool, I thought. Good for her. But what the f-ck does that have to do with me?

Good question. Because not three minutes later, I reached into my book stack, and “Voila!” There it was. A new monograph, “The City,” by Lori Nix, just published by Decode Books in Seattle. (I love that the credits mention the color correction was done domestically, before the printing transpired in China. Lest we be confused…)

I’ll say it straight off. Totally fantastic book. Amazing work, beautifully printed, and I even like the way they constructed the narrative. (A few photos, for the uninitiated, then an essay to explain and contextualize the project, and then all the gorgeous plates, with a few detail shots thrown in to make sure you realize the labor involved.)

Are we done now? Of course not. I forgot to tell you what Ms. Nix’s work is all about. I think my cold bones are clouding my intelligence. Is it possible to lose IQ points when it’s cold outside?

The photographs in “The City,” and presumably on the wall in NYC, are supremely intricate dioramas of interior scenes in a post-apocalyptic world. (Thank god for spell-check. I butcher post-apocalyptic every time I type it.)

Whether it’s the zombie fetishists, the nuclear war junkies, the climate change fantasists, or the Jesus freaks, there are lots of people out there convinced we’re going to end ourselves shortly.

We certainly possess the means to do it. Personally, I think our survival instinct is such that it would be very difficult to eradicate humans off the face of the earth. Terry Gilliam’s underground fantasy from “12 Monkeys” is far more likely, if the shit hits the fan.

The photographs owe a debt to James Casebere, whose brilliant work I saw in Washington DC a few weeks ago. (A description of which will have to wait for a subsequent article.) The craftsmanship of the scenes is mind-boggling, as is the photographic construction. Great color, great light.

The sad beauty is melodic, in that you enjoy it, while still understanding that it’s prophesying your own doom. (Or that of your grandkids. Hard to say.) The dead mall photo, which was like a Play-Do version of Brian Ulrich’s “reality” picture, was superb. As was the control room image, which I preferred to Thomas Demand’s Teutonic version. That there is a conversation with contemporary art Easter egg-ed inside is just a bonus treat.

I hate to give away surprises, but there is a photo of a Natural History Museum late in the book, (Sugimoto reference) and the roof has been blown off. I had to look several times, but up in the sky, one can clearly make out a Pterodactyl. (Or is is a Pteranodon. Given that I have a six-year-old, I ought to know the difference by now.) So what does that mean? Do the Dinosaurs come back? You’ll have to ask Ms. Nix.

OK. Now we’re done. Fantastic book. You should buy it if, like me, you’re far away from NYC, and can’t see the prints for yourself.

Bottom Line: Brilliantly constructed scenes of what it looks like when we’re all gone.

To Purchase “The City” 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: Cristina Nuñez

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just tried to write the opening of this column in Spanish. I was trying to be funny, but it didn’t make me laugh. Trying too hard never works. (Except every now and again.)

Books, at their best, are experiential. I suppose that’s why we love them so much. Think of your favorite novel. How old were you when you read it? What did your hair look like?

As we grow, we change. It’s the necessary way of things. But is there a part of us that’s always there? Do our young, angsty, stupid selves still remain down deep, a few levels above the reptilian brain?

Photo books, especially the ones I’ve been writing about lately, can manipulate your experience to give you two versions of the same thing, if done correctly. Clever use of text, at the end, can allow a viewer to go back and look at the photographs again, relating to them in a completely different way.

The pictures just need to hold your attention the first time, when you don’t know what the f-ck is going on. This week’s book is no exception. “But Beautiful” is a new publication by the Spanish artist, Cristina Nuñez, recently published by Le caillou bleu. It’s a strange little piece of work. I’ll tell you that much.

The book doesn’t give you any details until the end, as I alluded. Going through naked, as it were, you aim to put things together. A historical photo? Looks like a dictator. Is that Pinochet? No, definitely not him. Who is it? (Later I learn it’s Franco. Shouldn’t I have known that? How come he’s been depicted so much less often than his Fascist brethren?)

Some cool historical photos are mixed in here and there. We see some guys are lined up along the upper reaches of a clipper ship, like suicidal birds on an airplane’s wing.

A woman begins to recur. She obviously looks different as she ages, but it’s still her. (The big lips are the giveaway.) Then we see her, glammed up, on the cover of a magazine. It mentions Madrid, so we are in Spain. She used to be a model?

Then she’s older. Mannish. And ripping out some seriously “unsubtle” emotions. What was that again about not trying too hard? Sometimes, maximum effort in front of the lens works rather well, thank you. She is gripping to look at, who ever she is. (We can assume she’s the artist? Right?)

On we go, and there are the obligatory nudes, some of the main character, some not. And more portraits, most of them razor sharp and cool. Throw in a few more super-uncomfortable looking self-portraits, a couple of beautiful water and sky shots, one last bout of historical photos, and bob’s your uncle. You’re done.

Who is she? What’s going on here? How does it all connect? You wonder all these things. In the back, each image is described in enough detail to clue you in. So you return to the beginning, and look at each image again, while reading the caption.

A family association with Franco. Drugs and prostitution. Multiple lovers. 3-year-old child self-portraits. It’s as fascinating as your imagination made it out to be the first time. We end with another historical shot: this one has some serious mad dogging going on, and a shoeshiner to boot. And then a final portrait, of the artist’s senile mother, staring daggers through your now emo-braised heart.

Bottom line: Odd but well-done book, very revealing

To Purchase “But Beautiful” 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: Paul Gaffney

by Jonathan Blaustein

For the first time ever, I ran out of books. It’s been a while since I’ve been to photo-eye, and I’m due there tomorrow. But that doesn’t help me today.

Frankly, I wrote a column yesterday based upon a book I’d previously rejected four times already. It was all I had, and the resulting effort was tepid at best. What to do?

Fortunately, earlier this morning, my wife rustled up a package from our overly-messy mail pile, and showed me that someone had sent us a book. It’s begun to happen more often, lately, as the word has gotten out that I review photo books. So I slit the cardboard, and took a quick look at what was inside.

“We Make the Path by Walking” is a self-published effort by Paul Gaffney, a photographer in Ireland. I’m happy to report that it’s such a cool book, we’ve made a one-week exception to our photo-eye only rule. My book stack will grow again tomorrow, so today we’ll have ourselves a rule-breaking fiesta.

Really, the only reason I’d choose to write an entirely new article is that good books prod good writing. And boring books bring you the kind of reviews that make you wonder if there isn’t someone better for the job. (The line forms in the rear…) Mr. Gaffney has put his soul into this book, and I’ll aim to do it justice.

The delicate, gray, soft-cover book is slipped into a colorful, pink and yellow half-cover. It sends the message right off that muted colors and vivacity can co-exist. It’s not an easy pairing, or more would attempt it, but it works well here.

Begin to leaf through, and immediately we notice the beauty of the color and light. I suspect it’s Ireland, given the artist’s provenance, but eventually it doesn’t matter. The title is instructive, so we take it for what it is. Each photo gives us the sense of a flaneur out and about, albeit one with Zen sensibilities.

If an artist is going to make one more book about lonely wandering, the maker ought to have a pretty interesting perspective on the whole venture. No worries here. Again and again, the misty light seduces, or the pop of earthy color, the luxurious nature of green, or a depression made by a sleeping animal.

Natural structures in the woods are paired off with animal burrows, and man-made over-passes that look like large-scale sculptures leading to nowhere. I busted out the nature walk just yesterday, to clear my mind for writing, and yet these photos make me long for a more humidified environment. No wonder why all those Irish folks have un-wrinkled skin.

Finally, we reach a beautiful poem by Antonio Machado, in Spanish and English, which tells us nothing the photos don’t. (But it does class up the joint a bit.) Only in an accompanying PR postcard did I learn that Mr. Gaffney spent a year walking 3,500 km to make the pictures.

It was the rare case of that extra info being purely extraneous. The photographs communicated the practice, and its purpose. How often does that happen?

Bottom Line: Very beautiful, thoughtful, self-published book