Category "Photography Books"

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

This Week In Photography Books: Tomoki Imai

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

 

I almost wrote about a different book today. I thought about it, but decided not to. The putative subject was an area in Central Asia dominated by countries that end in “stan.” Flipping through the pages, I was taken by the generic-ness of it all.

People don’t like it when I use this space to be critical. For book reviews, I’ve learned to keep the gloves on. (And take the brass knuckles off.) So I chose not to write about that book, even though it was interesting, in the manner in which it looked like so many other projects I’ve seen before.

If you look at photo books (partly) for a living, eventually you’ll see just about every place on Earth. That I’m doing this in one of the more remote locations in the US is at least a little bit ironic. I look out my window, and I see horses, hills and mountains. I look down into the illusionistic space of a book, and I can tell that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are more than a little similar.

So when I opened up “Semicircle Law,” a new book by Tomoki Imai, (published by M.27,) that was my state of mind. The desire to suss out a locale, as quickly as I can, is something of a game these days. Given the artist’s name, my first thought, obviously, was Japan.

But there was no way to know for sure. The mountainscapes were as generic as landscapes can be. No Himalayas, these. The scrubby jutting land could be anywhere. Keep turning the pages, and no real hints emerge. When the snow comes, I feel better about the obvious guess: Japan. I close my eyes and see the snow monkeys sitting in their natural hot springs.

Are we in Hokkaido? That is my guess, now. And then I wonder if people ever get into the springs with the monkeys. Can’t you just imagine some dumb tourist getting his willy torn off by a savage monkey? That would be horrible.

Eventually, the pictures stop. Your guess is as good as mine. And then the text starts. The very first page, post-photos, shows a map of the area surrounding the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. BOOM. We’re going there.

Yes, this is one of those books that doesn’t tell you what the f-ck is going on until the end. An essay by Charlotte Cotton divulges the details. The photographer repeatedly penetrated the 20km forbidden zone set up around the disaster site. Not unlike the better known Trevor Paglen, he skulked into the hills to bring back secret photos for the rest of us. (And likely braved some serious radiation. Crazy bastard.)

So this book becomes a bit like a new-fangled version of “The Usual Suspects.” You can’t know what’s going on until you do. And then it changes everything about your perceptions of what you just saw. The two written pieces focus on the brilliance of the post-post-post modern, post-human nature of the project. It’s genius, they imply.

I’m not sure I agree. The pictures are graceful, but boring, in a way, and meant to be. It’s a smart project, and perhaps an important one. But to me, it says more about our own expectations of the drama linked to disaster. Banality is probably a better way to go about telling these stories. Because those of us who live in safe places would likely be shocked at how commonplace horror can become.

Bottom Line: A very smart, brave, and probably dangerous project

To Purchase “Semicircle Law” 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: Guillaume Simoneau

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Without intending to, I suppose I’ve become a real journalist. Were we to go back to my first APE post, in the summer of 2010, I suspect we’d find the writing a good deal less evolved. I was faking it until I made it.

I knew I was doing the job properly when I recently interviewed a slightly addled 94 year old man in his nursing home bedroom. I drove 3 hours to Albuquerque, just to get the story right. (And three hours back, obviously.) The conversation was enlightening, as the man reminisced about his experiences in World War II, seventy years prior.

His son, who followed his footsteps as both a doctor, and a conscientious objector, mentioned how differently we view war in the United States, since the abolition of the draft. When it was the law of the land, almost anyone could be absorbed into the fight for freedom. Everyone knew someone who had suffered.

Now, we have what he referred to as a “warrior class.” People who we pay, (and not well,) to do the fighting for the rest of us. I can’t speak for you, but I don’t personally know anyone who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. I suppose I don’t mix with the warrior class. What I know, I know from the media.

Occasionally, though, one does come across a narrative that cuts through the emotional exhaustion. Dr. Cobb’s tale was one such circumstance. Or the time I talked with Ben Lowy about the way bombs function very differently in real life than they do in the movies. (Light travels so much faster than sound.)

This week’s book is another such example. If you want to feel personally invested in things, if only for a little while, I’d heartily recommend Guillaume Simoneau’s new, aptly titled book, “Love and War,” recently published by Dewi Lewis in England.

I’d heard of this project at Review Santa Fe in 2011, but hadn’t seen so much as a photo. Buzz is a real phenomenon, like momentum, and lots of people were talking about this work at that festival. Still, I never got around to Googling it. (Thankfully. I would certainly not have enjoyed the book as much without the surprise factor.)

Apparently, the artist met a young, beautiful girl at the Maine Photographic Workshops in 2000. It was a different era, as we all know. Nobody gave a shit about Osama Bin Laden, who’s since turned the world upside down, before sinking to the depths of a forgiving sea.

The object of his (and our) affection, Caroline, eventually joined the military, and served in Iraq. She also married someone other than Mr. Simoneau. Eventually, they reunited. It’s implied, though never explicitly stated, that they conducted an affair. I suspect it was a complicated relationship.

The book tells the story in a non-linear fashion. They were together in Goa on 9/11/01, and then another photo shows a newspaper from 9/12/01, photographed ten years later. The headline speaks of George Bush bringing the culprits to the book. Is that a Canadian expression?

Caroline is visually compelling, and all of these photographs are superb. I can see why my colleagues were taken with this tale two years prior. The photos, like the subject, have charisma.

There is an essay at the end, which she wrote, that is like a kick in the gut, by a mule in a foul mood. It hurts, for a little while, but makes the preceding beauty stand out that much more.

I’d bet this is one of those books that will make all the year end “Best Of” lists that will start to pop up before you know it. (Has anyone seen a Christmas tree yet? I wouldn’t be shocked if someone somewhere is trying to kick off the shopping season in September.) It’s a great book, and will deserve the forthcoming accolades.

Most of us will never know what a charred body smells like. Or peek into an exploded tank filled with melted flesh. That’s for the best. Because I now know of at least two people who have nightmares about such things, and I’m glad my psyche was spared.

One last thing, because I forgot to mention it before now. There are photos in the book that show communications, between the lovers, in the form of photographed text messages. I’m sure this has been done before, but it’s unlikely to have been done so well.

Bottom Line: Beautiful photos, innovative story-telling, great book

To Purchase “Love and War” 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: Palíndromo Mészáros

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve made a huge mistake. Of course, you’ll assume I’m quoting Arrested Development. But I’m not. I haven’t even seen the new episodes, as my ass-backwards slow Internet is not good enough for Netflix streaming service.

I’ve actually made a huge mistake. Last week, I told you about my voracious neighbor, who is re-shaping nature to fit his whims. He has the money to do it, and that’s all that matters. But I used that intro a week early. Should have saved it for today.

Such a bummer.

Now, I don’t have an opening rant worthy of the book I’m about to discuss. I already talked about the fact that we manipulate the Earth’s environment at our peril. So what am I supposed to open with today? The Beatles? Chemical weapons in Syria? Why Tony Romo sucks, despite the fact that the Cowboys beat the Giants Sunday night?

F-ck it. I’ll just talk about the book.

“The Line” is a new soft-covered publication by Palíndromo Mészáros, published by the Universidad de Cádiz, in Spain. In case you’re wondering, I’ve always had fantasies of being an old, crinkly retired dude, sipping sherry in Cadiz, staring out at Morocco. Does that have anything to do with the book? Of course not. But since I cut the intro short, my personal narrative is creeping deeper into this week’s book review.

The book includes a tan band that sits snugly across the bottom, like a band-aid covering a bloody wound. Were that the simile were less appropriate. Alas, it is.

Remove the partial-slip-cover, and you’re faced with a photograph of a forest, with the bottom of the trees covered in ochre. (I love that word. Makes anyone who uses it seem smart. A lesser mind would just say red.)

What’s going on here? You’ll have to wait to find out. Next comes a piece of translucent, Rioja colored paper that’s partially blocking a somewhat-cliché photo of a road, receding into the distance. Yes, we’ve all seen that picture before. But at the beginning of a book, it’s obviously being used to lead us into the narrative. Nice device, I say.

Soon, we see a beautiful, flowering tree, covered, to a point, with that same ochre dust from the cover. The architecture screams Europe, but what’s happening here? Has Christo gotten loose with the paint again? Is it a large-scale performance piece that we just haven’t heard of yet?

If only.

The line of dust continues, through the eerily empty, mostly bleak landscape. Ominous vibes are building, for sure, but not until we find some text, in the middle of the book, do we know what is going on, and where in the world we are.

Apparently, on October 4, 2010, a horrible industrial accident befell a couple of villages in Hungary. 35 million cubic meters of toxic waste swept through the area, killing some, and ruining the environment. Perhaps forever, but it is not specified. The text is originally presented in Spanish, and the subsequent English translation is a bit Googly for my taste, but I suppose it is kind-of endearing. (And the Roger Fenton, Atget and Bill Owens references are right up my alley.)

From there, the line winds through the rest of the book. The photos are uniformly well-made, and contribute to the overall-very-high-quality-nature of this publication. Really, it’s just so well-thought-out.

It closes with what we assume to be the factory itself, then a big pile of the red stuff, and then a second sheet of the see-through elegant paper. Fantastic, if tragic. (How many times have I echoed that sentiment, as so many photo books deal with difficult subjects?)

The book accompanied an exhibition of the work, and both, presumably, received public financing in Spain. That the brokest country in the world is supporting artistic documentation of an environmental disaster in another European country is enough to get you out of bed in the morning. (That, and good night-dreams about waking up to cafe con leche and churros, before switching to sherry and tapas. Man, those guys have it good, even if they do have 25% unemployment. Not a bad way to spend a job-less day.)

OK. We’re done here. Yes, I’ve shown you most of the photos in the book, because there aren’t that many to begin with. But don’t be a mooch. Buy the thing, and support some Spaniards while you’re at it.

Bottom Line: Exceptional production of a far-too-common occurrence

To Purchase “The Line” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Asako Narahashi

by Jonathan Blaustein

My next-door-neighbor spent most of the summer erasing a hill. Even now, as I sit and type, enormous machines are cranking and clanking away. They dig the dirt, gather the boulders, and then large trucks come and cart the land away.

He’s building a road a few hundred yards up the valley, so the hill has slowly disappeared, while the road takes form. Though humans are at nature’s mercy, we do our best to deny that reality. Foolishly, we think we’re capable of more than we are, simply because we know how to design and build things.

Most of the time, we only scratch the surface of this enormous orb. Occasionally, as we’ve seen in photographs of mining operations, we bore down a bit further. Either way, we rarely consider that the Earth is thousands of miles deep. There are rivers of water, and then lava flows, beneath the concrete on which you tread.

Wherever you live, it is difficult to get a fresh perspective on things; to be reminded our precious turf is a small fraction of the planet. Aerial photography is often used for this purpose, and it works. And we can all conjure the image of Earth taken from space. Close your eyes and try. (It’s not difficult.)

Asako Narahashi has come up with a different methodology: photographing land from the perspective of water. Wade, swim, photograph, and everything will look different. I know this, having just put down “Ever After,” the artist’s new monograph put out by Osiris. It is one beautiful production.

That’s the word that kept popping into my mind: beauty. How often do we dismiss that term as not-significant-enough? How many of you have that as your simple goal; the creation of beautiful, well made things? Were you to read the lengthy interview with Ms. Narahashi at the end of the book, (which I admit I only skimmed,) you’d see that she has loftier ambitions.

But I’m not sure they’re met, and I’m not sure they’re necessary. Looking at the photo of light gleaming off the ocean waves, with Mt. Fuji looming in the background, I wonder whether I could ever want anything more? Wow, is that a gorgeous picture. Though I haven’t complained until now, I’m actually feeling rather crappy, laid up with a cold. That photograph made me forget about my temporary troubles. I could look at it forever, withering to dust.

Flipping through, I briefly considered that the photos represent the view from inside a Tsunami, barreling towards shore. But they lack the sense of violence, so the thought was quickly discarded. And I was surprised when I recognized Amsterdam, seen from the vantage of a canal.

Only then did I realize the book moved beyond Japan’s shores, with photos taken in Dubai, Santa Monica, Brooklyn, and other places. It made for a nice diversion from my virtual Japanese vacation. Less successful was the later interspersing of land-based images. Certainly, though, the artist is free to mix up her pictures as she chooses.

That’s about it for today. I’ve got to go take some cold medicine, and put my sorry ass to bed. But this book is a keeper, and I’d heartily recommend it for your Fall Season Shopping List.

Bottom Line: Gorgeous photos of (mostly) Japan, taken from the sea

To Purchase “Ever After” Visit Photo-Eye

 

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Sebastião Salgado

by Jonathan Blaustein

Do they still eat people in Papua New Guinea? Apparently so, I read. But I’m not about to hike up into some jungly mountains to find out for certain. N.F.W.

Whether they still practice cannibalism there or not, we can all agree that people have come up with some seriously weird shit along our evolutionary history. You’re obviously reading this on some sort of digital device, so you’ve progressed beyond subsistence living.

You likely own an Apple product. If not, certainly Samsung. Worst case, you’ve got an LG something-or-other, as those Koreans are making good products these days.

Whatever you think of our 21st Century, First World lifestyles, we’ve come a long way from hunting animals with spears and eating alligator meat. Right? People don’t live like that these days?

But of course they do. (I tricked you with my rhetorical genius.)

Those folks are out there. We just don’t interact with them, unless we’re on some sort of safari/favela tour. (Hey Marge, get a look at the saggy boobs on that old Abo.) Naked savages exist in fantasy worlds. They don’t feel the crunch of cracked dirt beneath their callused feet. Do they?

If you doubt me, check out Sebastião Salgado’s new coffee-table book “Genesis.” Is this the first time I’ve reviewed a coffee-table book? For sure. Is it the type of work I normally proffer on a lazy Friday? Not really.

But I always, always preach that we need to get out of our comfort zones, and experience new things. That applies to me as well. No edgy-little-art-book-number today. No sir. This here is a genu-ine Taschen publication, meant for the masses.

What can I tell you about it? Are there a lot of boobs, presented in a manner that will make you feel a smidge awkward? Yes. There are. But I’m not showing them, as I used up my August boob quota last week. (Right, Rob?)

Set that aside, and it is a fascinating collection of images, by any measure. The artist has labored and trekked across this planet, many times, just to create this group of images. We see jungles and deserts and snowpack, oh my. There are indigenous groups who live in every extreme climate you can imagine.

It’s a powerful reminder there are people who exist as if it were 10,000 years ago. Poison darts. Drinking cow blood. That kind of thing. Mr. Salgado has photographed them for us, and if you don’t find this interesting, there is something very wrong with you.

The animals are here too: penguins, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, monkeys, jaguars, you name it. Some of them are dead, festooning the backs and outfits of the natives who ate them. That might not even be the strangest body modification in the book. I’d go with the gourds or bones stuck through the chins of the Amazonian folks within.

Whether or not you appreciate the slightly ironic tone with which I am discussing this book, I must stress that the project is a massively impressive undertaking. This book is clearly meant for all of us. Mr. Salgado wants everyone to remember the world is infinitely less virtual than we realize, and I commend him for the effort.

Bottom Line: Massive coffee-table book with broad global vision

To Purchase “Genesis” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Jane Hilton

by Jonathan Blaustein

Boobs sell books℠. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again. (Because it’s true.) But they also sell cars, coffee, cake, coffeecake, kielbasas, and anything else you can think of.

Wow. Sex sells. How original. Tell us something we don’t know.

OK.

Most people are out in the world, looking for companionship. We pair off, two at a time up the gang-plank, because it’s in our embedded code to reproduce ourselves. Right? Sex is nothing more than a pleasurable way to create the next generation, according to some.

But that doesn’t explain why single people get cats, dogs and birds. Don’t we all know someone who treats an animal like a person? Or at least creates a lasting, meaningful relationship with a pet? Of course we do, and it has nothing to do with sex. (We assume…)

No, people are social creatures. Like horses, we need the company of others. We need to tell someone what happened during our day, even if we know it was boring, because we just lived it. (For example, this evening, I will tell my lovely wife that I stared at a dirty computer screen for hours on end.)

The need to share our lives with others drives our actions far more than we think. For every dollar you’ve ever spent in an overpriced bar, throwing back watered-down drinks, I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t just about the potential booty call. We need each other.

Which is why I was so intrigued by “Precious,” a new book by Jane Hilton, offered by Schilt Publishing in Amsterdam. (Where the lights are always red, and the coffee shops sell lots of green.) For all the times I’ve mocked artists for including a few naked photos to boost sales, you might be surprised that I’m writing about this today.

But books are meant to be opened, and ideas are meant to be spread. (The good ones, anyway. I wish someone would put that stupid Justin Bieber haircut out of its misery.) Yes, this book features a bevy of naked women, but it’s not what you think.

Ms. Hilton has spent fifteen years among the brothels of Nevada, where prostitution is legal. She knows the culture, and the women who populate it. She seems to understand the vagaries of human nature that would lead someone to work there, and others to pay a lot of money to touch their bodies. This book gives us a glimpse inside, and it costs a lot less than a “party,” that’s for sure.

A statement, early on, suggests that the subjects were photographed naked, as their clothing made them look like stereotypical hookers. That was not the point of the photographic exercise, so off came the clothes. The emotional walls came down, too, in some images. Other pictures depict guarded women, who perhaps trust the photographer more than the process.

There are a wide range of body types and ages on display. For the most part, these are actual women; not people who’ve been scarred up by cheap plastic surgeons who’d use scotch tape to seal up the implants, if only they could. Some of the women are nearing sixty, and it’s a strange sight to behold. (A compliment for a photo book, no?)

The real treat here, beyond getting to look at boobs without feeling guilty, is that the artist includes testimonies from the women at the back of the book. Their voices come through, and make it impossible to just huck metaphorical tomatoes at their faces. Many are married. Many are proud. One girl, 18 and pregnant, has to do the work because she can find nothing else. She said it hurts to get f-cked while she’s knocked up, and that is hard to read.

We learn that black prostitutes make less than white ones, which is incredibly wrong, but not totally surprising, given what we know of racism. One woman is writing a book about sexual sub-cultures, and decided to do her research the old-fashioned way. (We’re reminded, several times, that it is the world’s oldest profession.) Apparently, the brothels are safe and clean, but take a massive 50% cut. (Just like art galleries.)

Above all, a one message was consistent: clients come for the companionship, far more than the sex. They build relationships, and the money-exchange keeps everything honest. So next time you giggle when you drive by the Chicken Ranch, if you happen to be in Nevada, just remember: people will pay a lot of money to have someone listen to their problems.

Bottom Line: Up close and personal with some Nevada prostitutes

To Purchase “Precious” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Aaron Huey

by Jonathan Blaustein

My mother was sitting in her home, recently, minding her own business. Suddenly, she heard a loud thump, and was shaken and concerned. (Obviously.)

Mom looked out the window and saw a majestic, brown and gray raptor. It was lying on the ground, just outside. As she peeked, its last breath escaped into the atmosphere. It was beautiful, she thought. So beautiful.

Later in the day, she invited me over to see it. I arrived, and realized I was looking at a Peregrine Falcon, meant to be the fastest creature known to man. It was perfectly still, lying on the brown dirt, but flies and ants were crawling on the corpse, preparing for a large meal.

“What should we do with it,” my Mom asked?

A fair question.

Immediately, I thought of our good family friend, a Native American artist, who lived less than a mile away on the Taos Pueblo. After a brief call, she agreed to take the bird, honor its spirit, and make sure the feathers were harvested properly to be used in ceremonial attire. Problem solved.

I roughly shoveled our dead, new friend into a garbage bag, and entrusted it to my almost-six-year-old son. He was entranced, holding it carefully, and kept saying, “I like it so much. I like it so much.” He wanted to keep it, so we discussed the taxidermy process, and my belief that the bird’s soul would be sad, trapped on a shelf until we moved or died.

We delivered the cargo in short order, and were promised it would be treated with respect. My son asked for the talons, as it was clear the Falcon was now his spirit animal. (Mine used to be a coyote, then an eagle, but now it’s a snake.) Needless to say, as crazy as the two previous sentences might sound to you, out here, they’re commonplace concepts.

Our collective fascination with the religion and culture of Native America will never abate. It is a permanent fixture in global consciousness, one that enables us all to focus on the majesty that remains in a set of communities that have been ravaged beyond belief. Our collective shame, so much less pleasurable a sensation, gets buried under our obsession with magic and mystery.

Whether or not you forever brand me as a new-age hipster, I’m speaking the truth. Having been around Native American communities since I was a teen, and written my first essay excoriating US policy as a freshman in high school, I speak with confidence. The vestiges of conquest have yet to lift from the broad shoulders of Native America, and the resulting alcoholism, drug and sexual abuse, and internecine violence are max-level-tragic.

I wish things were different. Would that I could make it all better. Would that anyone could. As photographers, image makers, and media manipulators, it’s hard to imagine anyone capturing that spirit of desperation, misery, beauty, and cultural pride. Even if it could be done, would it make a difference? In an age of infinite distraction, if a tree of truth falls on a plain, will anyone be there to listen?

Fortunately, this is not a thought-experiment. Aaron Huey has put in the requisite time, and spent years among the Oglala Lakota in South Dakota. You might have heard of the Pine Ridge reservation before, but you’ve never seen it like this.

The project, which has received much acclaim, is now in book form, called “Mitakuye Oyasin,” published by Radius. Like last week’s offering, this one speaks for itself. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Mr. Huey’s work on the Internet, and admired from a far. But now, I’m officially blown away.

The photographs contained within are supremely excellent, and drip with tension and emotion. It’s a big, well-crafted book, and there are many photos, (and a few inserts,) so I’ll only be able to share a small sample, unfortunately. You’ll have to buy it to get the full impact.

With my eyes closed, I can see a little girl bathing in the filthy kitchen sink, surrounded by dirty dishes, a boy playing atop a trash pile, pockmarked faces and swollen noses, and another boy, leaning out his window, talking to a friend on horseback. There was a graffiti tag that said “All my heroes killed cowboys,” or something like that. I recall a cavalcade of people carrying a fallen tree, a masked gunman, a child pressed against the rear window of an overstuffed car, and a bison in someone’s back-yard.

I’m sure I come off as an ethnocentric American, at times. (I do love this country, though I live in a spot that is far from typical.) Love it or hate it, the fact remains that this continent was stolen, and most of its inhabitants were killed. We cannot change this, so we choose to forget.

The depth of poverty experienced on many, if not all, Native American reservations in this country is a national disgrace. Can it be improved? Is there any hope at all? I don’t know.

I can tell you that if you want to see for yourself what an in-depth reality looks like, this is the book for you. That Mr. Huey is a Caucasian-American has no bearing on this story. He may have a spirit animal, as I do, or he might believe that such babble, out of the mouth of a gringo, is disrespectful and bourgeois. I have no way of knowing.

But I have come to see this weekly column as an opportunity to shine light on the best work out there. Some weeks I’m funny, and some weeks I’m not. Today, I’m just doing whatever I can, small as the gesture might be, to claw back some of our collective ignorance. No matter what you’re doing today, or how pitiful your paycheck has become, there are people out there in far worse shape than you are. And they were here first.

Bottom Line: A brilliant book that honors a culture, and exposes our national disgrace

To Purchase “Mitakuye Oyasin” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

This Week In Photography Books – Vanessa Winship

by Jonathan Blaustein

The fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. I heard it first from the other end of the house, where the children sleep. It’s loud like a jet engine is loud: in a painful manner that will damage your hearing.

I was doped up on two Benadryl, as my allergies kicked up the other day. I never had them before last summer, but now I suffer like so many others. (From allergies, not fire alarms.)
Aggravated, I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but my muddled mind was afraid the BEEEEEEEEEPING might return.

I knew there was no fear of fire; only that the tired batteries were giving way, having been changed this time last year. My anxiety crested, and then it BEEEEEEEEEEEEEPED again. Before I knew it, a door creaked in the distance, and a crying child soon crept into bed. A good night sleep was not to be had.

So I sit here, now, trying to force my brain to think properly. Deadlines wait for no man, and books need to be reviewed. After three double-espressos, I felt now was as good a time to try as any other. Forgive me if I’m less-than-profound.

Fortunately, I picked a great book up off the stack this week. It should help alleviate your concern for my lack of witty banter. “she dances on Jackson” is a lovely publication, by Vanessa Winship, recently put out my MACK. (I have a love-hate relationship with those guys. Some books are poetic and perfect, like this one, while others stretch my credulity. At least they don’t play it safe.)

The book cover depicts an image of birds and trees. The color is as close to a “Burnt Sienna” crayola crayon as I’ve seen since I was eight. It’s a beautiful color, and yet the only one we’ll see. The rest of the book is in black and white.

I must have mentioned before that I came to photography on a cross-country road trip in 1996. Does that make me a sucker for this type of work? You bet it does. But given that we all still talk about “The Americans” as if it came out last week, I’m surely not alone in this preference.

So many artists are out there at a given time, pointing cameras at anything that moves. Or doesn’t. And yet, how often do we feel that someone has actually added to our overall body of knowledge? How often do we look at a photograph and think, I’d like to meet that person and visit for a while? Surely, I’d learn more about the human condition if only we could chat for a few minutes.

These are such pictures. I loved that all specific references to place were erased. It made me curious where she’d been. At first, it seemed like a Southern-based project, with drippy trees and lots of overgrowth. But, as I turned the pages, I saw mountains, and then desert that looked like here in New Mexico. Soon, Northern cities appeared, and industry followed.

The people within are mostly young, and don’t seem to be on top of the world at present. The landscape photos, devoid of people, share that sense of worn, warm comfort. The bank-type-office built into a dirt berm was a favorite, as was the tree stump adorned with shoes, and the abandoned subway cars sitting still on overhead tracks. Your favorites, invariably, will be different.

At the end, we get a taut, brief story, in French and English, that alludes directly to the otherwise opaque title. A list of locations is also provided, ending the confusion: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. (A pretty solid sample of the US of A, IMHO.)

I’ve been to all, save Montana, hence the sense of familiarity. One photo of some cotton growing along a dirt stretch took me right back to my own big adventure, in the previous century. I remembered a day in Mississippi, and how free it felt to be so unencumbered.

Bottom Line: Excellent, poignant B&W photos across contemporary America

To Purchase “she dances on Jackson” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Patrik Budenz

by Jonathan Blaustein

Tourists just love Times Square. They flock, as if someone was giving out free, all-you-can-eat ice cream. Hordes of people drive, train or fly across the country, just so they can eat in a Fridays. (Or Sbarro) Depending on your personality type, you either find that ironic and hysterical, or poetic and sad.

The reality is, most people prefer to know those things that reenforce what they already believe. It’s easier to fit new information into the tidy, empty folders of a well-organized mind. Juggling juxtaposition and hypocrisy is best left to professional bloviators like me. Most folks from the heartland, therefore, are happy to hit Times Square, take in a Broadway show, and then hop a cab back to Newark Airport.

I mention this, because I recently had occasion to view several versions of Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise over Hernandez,” which is meant to be the world’s most famous photograph. It reads differently here in New Mexico, as we locals always giggle that Mr. Adams hornswoggled everyone so thoroughly. Majestic and magical as the photo might be, it depicts the massively edgy Española Valley.

Española, or Espa, as we call it here, is among the most hardcore places in the New Mexico. It sits along an important drug trafficking route, so heroin is always a massive concern. (Probably an epidemic, but who am I to say.) Mostly, Espa is a rough, tough, La Raza-style place, filled with bumpin’ low-riders and tinted down, jacked up trucks. It’s like a mini-East LA, surrounded by mountains and desert cliffs.

As I was approaching Espa from the South last week, I noticed a billboard that almost made me laugh milk through my nose. (Which is tricky, if you’re not actually drinking milk.) Some poor sap was advertising cremation services, right next to the local movie theater. Honestly. Cremation billboards? $1200 to pre-plan the vaporization of your bodily remains?

Of course, I found it ironic and amusing. (That’s the way I roll.) Perhaps someone else would have found it tragic; that the best way to get people to engage with the inevitability of death was with a roadside advertising message. It’s possible, even, that some old lady drove by, dialed the number, and gave up her credit card info on the spot. (Operators are standing by now. Our fires are the hottest around, so you don’t have to worry about any pesky bones rattling around the urn.)

Joke all you like, Blaustein, that still doesn’t change the fact that death is sad. Right? Well, I suppose so. I’d love to say that I’m so enlightened, I’m anxiously awaiting my chance to decompose into the waiting Earth. But it’s not so. I’m hoping to get as many good years on this planet as I can. (Aren’t we all.)

What comes next is not pretty, at least for the shell that houses our soul. We might not know where our spirit is headed after we die, but there is little surprise about where the corpse goes next. Which is why it’s surprising that I’ve never seen a book like the aptly titled “post mortem,” by Patrik Budenz, recently published by Peperoni Books in Germany.

*Spoiler Alert* Don’t look at the photos below if you aren’t prepared for a little gruesomeness. After last week’s Summer Vacation column, I came at you hard this week. Mr. Budenz’s book is literal, and looks at a succession of human remains at a funeral home. (Could be multiple homes, maybe even a morgue, but does it matter?)

Gray skin, suture marks, pursed lips closed forever, toes wrinkled like they’ve been in the bath too long… it’s all here. The open chest cavity was a bit much, but mostly, the book delivers on the title’s promise. The camera even follows the corpses into the cremation chamber, which is interesting, technically, but also provides a glimpse of something we were not meant to see.

It’s a fantastic photography project, embedded in a well-made, spartan book, that basically shows us something we work really hard to avoid. That’s as good a definition of excellent art as I’m likely to muster up today, sitting on my trusty green couch. Forgive me if I’ve upset your appetite, but there is always time to get hungry again. Until there isn’t.

Bottom Line: Powerful, excellent, morbid photos of dead people

To Purchase “post mortem” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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

 

This Week In Photography Books – Martin Parr

by Jonathan Blaustein

“Oi. Lad. You’re in my sun. Move your arse.”

“‘Scuse me?”

“I said you’re in my sun.”

“Your sun? It’s not your sun, mate. It belongs to everyone.”

“Does it now? And will the sun come and save you when I bash
your skull in? Move your arse or you’ll find out.”

That must have happened countless times over the years,
on the endless beaches around the UK. Right? Where I grew up, on the Jersey shore, it might have gone something like this:

“Hey, asshole, you kicked sand on my blanket.”

“Aaaay. Oh.”

“You heard me. You kicked some f-ckin’ sand all over my girlfriend’s towel. Clean it up.”

“Take it easy. It was an accident. Deal with it, meathead, or go back to Staten Island.”

“F-ck you!”

“F-ck me? F-ck you!”

Ah, the beach. Given that we are now smack in the middle of summer, you knew I was going to pull out a beach column. Right? Last year, around this time, I reviewed a book about some blue lakes in the Czech Republic. (Summer-y, yes, but it lacked a certain sex appeal.) So let’s bring back the Summer Vacation column, but do it right this year.

Martin Parr is a photographer who’s made many a book, yet I’ve never managed to review one before. Today, that changes. “Life’s a Beach,” published by Aperture, has a pink cover, dotted with flowers and leaves. It looks like a photo album you might pick up in an overpriced grocery store on Kauai, (along with some $4 flip flops) in anticipation of all the great memories you were planning to record. (When people still did such things.)

The photos within are cheeky. Witty. Fun. Take your pick of positive, light-hearted adjectives. The images were made of and in beach cultures across the world, thereby giving us a look at the similarities and differences. (A saggy tush on the beach in Miami, a cow prowling the sand in Goa, a woman sucking down a crab claw in China, sausages on the barbie in Australia, a tuft of back hair in Spain…you get the picture.)

It wouldn’t be a Summer Vacation column if I didn’t wrap it up quickly. (Thank god, they say, as they chuckle into their Iphone screens.) Too many words and it will seem like work. So, to recap, this is a super-fun book by a photographer renown for his wit and sense of humor. It’s very cool, and if you buy it, Aperture will give you one free beach pass at Spring Lake, Point Pleasant, or some other spot on the Jersey Shore. (I just made that up.)

Bottom Line: Martin Parr at the beach. Need I say more?

To Purchase “Life’s a Beach” Visit Photo-Eye

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

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