Category "Photography Books"

This Week In Photography Books – Alec Soth

by Jonathan Blaustein

I signed up for Instagram a few months ago. As ridiculous as it sounds, I use my Ipad to shoot the photographs. It’s a crappy camera, but what I love most is that I see something, reach for the tablet, and make a picture. It’s perfectly unprecious, and I appreciate that the platform engenders occasional creativity in me, nothing more.

Normally I stay away from the day-to-day controversies in cyberworld, but this Instagram Term of Service kerfuffle is too good to pass up. We can all be as outraged as we like, and feel free to think that way. (Which comes first, I wonder, the liquor or the pitchforks? Wouldn’t you have drink first before you went out to hunt Frankenstein’s monster?)

Can we not acknowledge the silliness of trying to commodify the random, meaningless little compositions we create? If there are billions of these things (photos) getting made every day, how much could any one of them truly be worth? Value is traditionally derived from scarcity, for heaven’s sake.

How much money do you expect to lose when Instagram charges some dumb company $.00037 to put their ad next to your filtered photo? Does anyone actually think they’ll be denied untold riches from Mr. Zuckerberg’s secret vault? (I’ll have the rubies, thank you.)

Rather than focus on the news cycle, though, I wanted to write this last column of the year with a more important message. In the time I’ve been writing here, (2.5 years,) it seems as if the publication industry has started to stabilize, as has the American economy. So, many of you are off the proverbial ledge, worrying about how to pay the mortgage. At least, I hope that’s true.

So, for 2013, as we all emerge from perma-fear-mode, why not take a risk? Try something new. Learn a new skill. Make a conscious effort to improve yourself, and your knowledge base. Embrace the New Year with a sense of opportunity, rather than fear. (And of course I’ll try to do the same.)

Why am I off on this rant today? Why no mention of the wife and kids? Because I just finished looking at Alec Soth’s “Looking for Love 1996,” published by Kominek, and it seemed like the perfect catalyst for a “stretch yourself” message today. (Plus, that was the year I graduated college and took up photography, so I couldn’t resist the chance to wax philosophical.)

According to the text, Mr. Soth began investing in his photographic talents while working at a commercial printing facility in 1996. He would print other people’s birthday photos all day long, and then go out at night to drink and photograph away his misery. He also admits, after the statute of limitations has probably run its course, that he would make his own prints and sneak them out at night, wrapped around his legs. (Cue vision of the robot dance.)

I know Mr. Soth has many, many publications on the market. I don’t know if you should buy this one to add to your collection. That’s up to you. But his photographic style, though raw, is certainly on display here. He walks the line between pathos and poking fun at people. The photos display an eye for detail, and the ability to celebrate the awkward moment, rather than gut it like a branzino destined for the grill.

There is a bit of a time capsule feel to the book. It’s all in black and white, which is not the way we know Mr. Soth’s best work. It really is a cool little object, and ends with a dorktastic self-portrait. The artist, lacking his now-famous beard, lounges back in a tuxedo, sans jacket and bow-tie. The look in his eye is a bit doofy, but you can definitely sense the beginning of some serious confidence. (What the f-ck are you looking at?)

Let’s all take inspiration from Mr. Soth’s journey. Let 2013 be the time when you too try to build something fresh. I’m not advocating theft, per se. But my New Year’s wishes for you are clear. I hope, this time next year, that you find yourself fulfilled, and capable of new and dynamic things.

Bottom Line: Very cool collection of the artist’s early work

To Purchase “Looking for Love 1996″ 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 – Itai Doron

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s late at night, and very dark. The street lamps around you are half-broken. You could be anywhere in Eastern Europe. Let’s say it’s Warsaw.

The rain comes down, cold and painful. It’s half-frozen; not quite snow. The worst. You feel the wet chill deep in your bones, and the slick cobblestones beneath your feet. The tread on your boots is worn, so you have to walk less quickly than you might like. Is this neighborhood dangerous?

Up ahead, a shadow takes form. Just a person, walking in your direction. Nothing to worry about. Two blocks becomes one, and suddenly you can make out some details. It’s a white dude with a nose that’s been broken. He’s big. 6’2″? His jangly leather jacket is tight, so you can see that his muscles are enormous.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Do you feel threatened? Are you afraid of getting mugged? Or is your blood flowing for another reason? Is he cute? Does he look like he wants to hook up? Wait, what’s going on here?

Exactly what I was wondering when I looked at “Fifteen Minutes With You,” a new small hard-cover book by Itai Doron, from Omoplata in Japan. The jacket image, of a muscly white guy taking off his wife-beater while staring threatening daggers at the camera…that’s the gist of it. (Honest to god, I just wrote Ass instead of All as the first word of the next sentence I was about to write. Freudian slip.)

The whole book is a series of thuggish, Eastern European-looking white men, mostly half-naked. They’re taking off items of clothes, holding weapons, or punching, while wearing boxing gloves. What? There’s little overt nudity, just one butt at the end of the book.

But what the f-ck is going on here? The guys look like they want to beat the shit out of the photographer most of the time, but sometimes like they want to make out. As the eroticism is not meant for me, I find it ironic and campy and intelligent. Like images from some 1981 KGB-Christmas-calender-gone-wrong that got its maker dropped in the gulag. Forever.

The pictures are ambiguous and strange. There is no text, no explanation of who these guys are, or where, or why this whole book was published, for starters. Just these weird, thug-porn-meets-MMA-fighter-pseudo-documentary photographs. Only at the end do we get a title sheet, with the names, locations and dates. (Of course it’s Eastern Europe.)

Meager context, but that’s what makes the thing fascinating for me. From the minute I opened the cover, I was constantly trying to figure out the puzzle, while also thinking about all the weird ways that masculinity can be symbologized in 2012. So next time you bump into Miroslav from Bulgaria, keep an open mind.

Bottom Line: Weird, compelling, homo-erotic Polaroids

To Purchase “Fifteen Minutes With You” 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 – Chema Madoz

by Jonathan Blaustein

Last night, my wife trudged to bed in her green bathrobe. At 7pm. She looked at me, forlorn, and said, “It feels like it’s always time to make the donuts.” Then she continued down the hall.

Much as I wished to say something witty or helpful, I was at a loss. Our lives are pretty wonderful, all things considered, but she hasn’t slept right in six months. Every day, from wakeup to bed, she’s responsible for helping someone out of a mess, or cleaning one up from the kids.

Some day, she’ll sleep through the night again. Schedules will develop, allowing for some planned “downtime.” Fun will return to her life, and someone else can make those blasted donuts instead.

Drudgery is a part of the human condition, as much as fun. Death never happens without the sex first, right? But Art is one of the best ways to try to cheat said mortality. And when we make it, we preoccupy those parts of the brain otherwise used for neurotic self-criticality, or constant to-do-list-making. (And the prints we leave behind will outlast us, we hope.)

Those negative thought trains are silenced while the hand draws a line, types a phrase, or clicks a shutter. We all know how much fun it is to be focused on both the present, and the matter of creation at hand. Looking at Art does much the same thing, with the additional benefit of giving us new information about the world around us.

When we’re exclusively literal, we miss out on many of the best parts of life. Photography is a literal medium, but we all know it can be cheated. (I was fooled by a fake shark-in-a-Long-Beach-Island-Front-Yard photograph. Even tweeted it.)

Literature and painting are all better known for delivering abstracted realities. Hence the love for writers like Murakami and Garcia Marquez. And Spanish painters like Picasso, Goya and Dali. (Not to mention the not-quite-Spanishly titled “El Greco”.)

Personally, I love the blending of absurdity married to reality that we see in Spanish culture. I speak from the experience of the bastard son. New Mexico has deeply Spanish roots, but our particular kind of lunacy is homegrown.

As anyone would tell you, life is crazy. But that need not be a sorry assertion. Absurd humor can be cathartic and profound, and is rarely seen in modern photography. Much rarer still in Black and White. So I was happy to find a new soft-cover book from Chema Madoz, a Spaniard, published jointly by PHotoBolsillo and La Fabrica.

I’d never heard of the artist, but that’s not unusual for this column. The pin-through-the-cloud cover gives a quick and not subtle nod to surrealism, and probably Photoshop. The pictures within are excellent. Formally, they’re super-tight. The tonality is always well-crafted too, as is the use of light. The subjects are sculptural as well as whimsical.

We see a chair wearing suspenders. A burned match in the center of a thermostat. A set of plates, stacked in a storm grate instead of a dish rack. A cactus made of stone. Scissors with eye lashes. Shoelaces made of braided hair.

Surreal images like these are ideal for expressing the dreamlike world of the subconscious. And for reminding us that life is not all about punching the time-clock.

Given my own work, and my taste, it was almost assured that I’d love this book. But I think most people would. Once you’ve flipped through it, you’ll likely feel a bit better than you did before. I should probably show it to my wife when she gets home from work.

Bottom Line: Formal, Surreal, Black & White photo gems

To purchase PHotoBolsillo 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 – Cara Phillips

by Jonathan Blaustein

My Dad told me a strange story the other day. Then he tried to tell me again, the next day, sitting in the same chair. Seemed like a great metaphor for Thanksgiving. Same day, same meal, same people, every year.

He read the tale on the Internet, so I immediately assumed it untrue. According to Dad, there’s a guy in China who sued his wife for giving birth to an ugly baby. Once paternity was established, everyone figured he’d lose. But then they discovered his wife had undergone massive plastic surgery, and used to be butt-ugly-heinous. He won a settlement from the judge, so the story goes.

Fortunately, my new baby daughter is totally gorgeous. For now. We’ll see what develops. If she ends up with a grand and Roman nose like I have, we might have to visit the plastic surgeon’s office in 2028. (Happy 16th Birthday, honey. Enjoy your new schnozz.)

Just as we haven’t yet digested how insane and unhealthy it is to be digitally connected to everyone else, all the time, the plastic surgery epidemic is equally absurd and troubling. One can only imagine the daily damage done to impressionable young girls by the cavalcade of fake everything on display in today’s myriad media. Fake boobs on Perez Hilton, fake skin in the fashion mags, fake lips on Top Chef.

People can now, for a fee, cut and paste their bodies, molding flesh like anthropomorphized DNA. That’s pretty nuts. Phil Toledano showed us the freaks, in all their Caravaggio’d-out horror. Great stuff. But mocking the loonies doesn’t exactly lead to subtle iconography.

Cara Phillips’ new monograph, “Singular Beauty,” published by Fw: Books, offers a serene and insightful look inside the scalpel industry. I must say, the book is curiously made. After unwrapping the plastic, one opens the solid, minimalist, white cardboard box-cover, and finds a color-copy-paper-ish, stapled catalog inside. Strange and super low-tech, it seems intended to subvert our desire to aestheticize everything. It also references a catalog in a waiting room, where a fancy lady might peruse herself some boobs.

I was off-put at first, as I’m used to leafing through so many of these expensively crafted productions. But I do give props to the structural metaphor, and it’s in evidence here. The pages are also quirky, as each is an inseparable double-fold, with the titles wedged in between. Black text emerges from beneath the white paper. (Again with the outside/inside dialectic.)

The photos are really well seen: medium or large format, lots of studio lights, banging away in high-end plastic surgery consultation rooms. With tight formal construction, Ms. Phillips shoots the fancy-leather-reclining chairs, the liposuction pump machines, anesthesia stations, metal pokers, and nasty tools of the trade. It’s cooly done, clean and meticulous. That enables the viewer to supply the mental details, like blood seeping into a plastic syringe. (Or liquid fat sucking into a lexan cylinder.)

The photos were all shot in LA, New York, the OC, and DC, so we’re probably only seeing inside the exclusive joints. Not sure that matters much, but it’s definitely not Bakersfield. (Hola, me llamo Dr. Reyes. Quieres un nuevo estomoco? Venga a nuestra officina para un grand discuento. Solamente esta semana.)

I like the work a lot. And for once, I don’t have to chastise the creator for exploiting the Boobs Sell Books℠ phenomenon. Whether as doctorly doodles, or in a sexy-type montage photo, they definitely belong. Couldn’t tell this story without them.

Bottom line: Conceptual book, killer photos, flimsy innards

To Purchase “Singular Beauty” 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 – Chris McCaw

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America. Today, belts will loosen around the fifty states. Cholesterol levels will rise faster than the sea in the six years since Al Gore’s Climate Change movie was released. And we’ll see “A Christmas Story” pop up on cable any day now. (You’ll shoot your eye out.)

It’s hard to imagine a movie achieving cult and classic status as quickly as that one did. I remember going to see it with my now-dead-Jewish grandma in South Florida when it came out back in the day. (Big ups to Nana, wherever you are.)

“A Christmas Story” endures because it contains so many memorable moments. It left us with one scene, once seen, that remains in your neuron-memory, forever. I’m talking about the bit where a dumb kid name Flick gets his tongue stuck on a frozen pole after a triple dog dare. (And I double dog dare you not to laugh when he starts crying.)

Despite the film’s popularity, that type of adolescent humor seems anachronistic in a Post-Jack-Ass world. Just the other night, I was watching the 3rd installment of the Harold & Kumar series, and the Korean dude got his penis stuck on a frozen pole while trying to escape from Ukrainian hit men. Like I’ve said before, the 20th Century seems like a long time ago.

Will this prosthetic penis be burned into my brain like the Flick’s frozen tongue? Probably not. It’s just harder to shock people these days. (Unless you choose not to caption photos of dead people in an interview about War photography.)

Perhaps the key to mental resonance is rooted in simplicity? I will spatter paint, instead of apply it. I will film a Western in Spain, instead of America. I will let the sunlight burn through a paper negative inside a view camera. Had no one ever thought to do that before? I don’t know. But when San Francisco-based-artist Chris McCaw stumbled on the technique, he was probably pretty f-cking psyched.

I just got to look at “Sunburn,” Mr. McCaw’s new monograph from Candela Books. (Richmond, VA.) It’s a beautiful new hard cover, and they even took the trouble to burn through one of the intro pages. (Amazing what they can do with lasers these days.) There are a couple of essays at the beginning, including one by New Mexico’s own Katherine Ware. The other was written by Allie Haeusslein, the gallery manager at Pier 24, thereby closing the loop on our San Francisco series.

The first time I went through the plates, I found myself just a wee bit underwhelmed. My eyes naturally went to the landscape subject matter, and I didn’t catch the emerging patterns of the Sun. Kind of like it’s hard to watch the crowd in a sporting event on TV. Your eye keeps tracking the ball.

Even so, the pictures of the Sun’s path caught my attention enough to decide to come back to the book again today. Good sign. The closing text, written by the artist, gives some more context as to where he’s gone to get the images, (the Galapagos, Alaska, and around the American Far West,) and the titles share specifics about the exposure type. He’s like one of those old Mayan shaman guys, charting motion to harness the power of light.

Upon the second viewing, I began to tune out the ocean and bay vistas, and just watch the lines, dots and dashes appear up in the sky. Code. The sunrise to sunset arch is a basically the portrait of a spinning planet. Wow. By the time I saw the vertical sunpath that ends the book, I was hooked.

Mr. McCaw has had a lot of success with this work over the last few years. Deservedly so. You might want this book, you might not. But the lesson in the power of reductiveness is one I’ll leave you with, now that you’re regretting yesterday’s binge-eat-turkey-fest.

To purchase “Sunburn” 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 – Doug Rickard

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I like to mix things up. It’s a must for this column. Week in, week out, I’m going to write about a book. If I can’t sustain quality commentary, this venture disappears.

Last week, I cut out the personal narrative, and wrote about a book that proved controversial. Mostly because it didn’t look like the things I normally proffer. It was highly commercial, and not exactly original. But it also managed to create a maelstrom in the comment section. I won’t push my luck and say the work was brilliant, because it was not. But I have found that neat and tidy, safe projects do little to promote discourse.

Great art, or at least important art, need not be pretty. In fact, moving into anti-aesthetic territory is an easy way to distinguish “art” from “decoration.” Ugly doesn’t sell as well, until it’s branded “Genius,” but it does get people to rub their chins and fidget awkwardly in a museum context. Tweaking people’s expectations of attractiveness is a good way to get them to think.

Furthermore, as I discussed in the Boris Mikhailov review last year, when examining difficult, exploitative scenarios, it’s disingenuous to try to make things gorgeous. Or to avoid exploitation in one’s process. Difficulty of subject matter, rendered as metaphor through difficulty of concept and image structure, is a good way to take the carpool lane to MOMA.

Just ask Doug Rickard. Despite the fact that there are multiple artists that have come out with Google-street-view-themed projects in the last few years, Mr. Rickard is the one who made it into MOMA’s coveted “New Photography 2011″ exhibition. Why?

He managed to take all the messy, uncomfortable strands that jut out of Google’s immaculate quilt, and tie them together in a coherent and edgy way. Mr. Rickard looked at a situation in which a major corporation was invading people’s privacy to an unprecedented degree, and he chose to take that exploitation one step further.

Is this a book review? Of course it is. Because Mr. Rickard’s new monograph, “A New American Picture,” published by Aperture, turned up in my book stack recently. The book is well-produced, with an essay and an interview with the artist. Aperture never scrimps on production quality, so you can trust that the book is well-built. The images themselves, however, will not match up with your expectations of quality and good looks.

The artist spent countless hours exploring dirt poor urban and desolate rural regions of the United States. All via Google’s street view interface. He slowly “wandered” the streets of some of the most crime-ridden, dangerous, and bleak spots, all without leaving the comfort of his Aeron chair. (OK, I made that last detail up.)

The plates are muddy, compelling, and not particularly attractive. On several, I could even spot banding. It appears that he output prints, which were then re-photographed for the book. Clearly, they’re meant to look “poor” on purpose.

And as to the subject matter, Mr. Rickard sees his exploration as a 21st Century version of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange rolling, in physical form, through the same types of poor places, looking for photos. Documenting poverty. Shining light on the disenfranchised.

The big story here, though, is how the artist shamelessly exploits the poor folks in the photographs. It’s safe to assume they won’t see a dime, mostly because he couldn’t track them down if he tried. He’s not the one who took the source photos to begin with. Google did. He’s just doubling down on the capitalistic land grab. If the suckers didn’t know Google stole their “image”, how will they ever afford the plane ticket and admission fee to go see the prints on the wall at MOMA? (Or for free at Yossi Milo, through November 24)

The answer is, of course, they won’t. This is smart work, and Mr. Rickard is a smart artist. He knows his pictures won’t change a damn thing about poverty in America, and he also knows that none of his subjects are ever likely to even hear about his project. Most of them might not even have access to the Internet.

It’s a dirty, wicked system. Some folks are born with money, get a great education, live in city sky-scrapers, and travel the world. Other folks live in middle-class suburbs, inured from the “fear” of gang violence, but engaged in more-than-ever-before diverse communities. And some folks just get the shit end of the stick. Like I said, difficult art for a difficult situation.

Bottom Line: Smart and well-conceived, but you might not like it

To purchase “A New American Picture” 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 – RJ Shaughnessy

by Jonathan Blaustein

Initially, I hated it. Today’s book: “Stay Cool,” by RJ Shaughnessy. I picked the thing up off my bookstack, attracted to the bright yellow color. (Mmmm, yellow.) Then, I set it down a moment later. It seemed insanely cynical, like a mashup of Larry Clark’s “Kids”, anything by Ryan McGinley, and an American Apparel ad. (No offense.)

But wait, you say. Isn’t he supposed to start off with either a self-referential or quasi-philosophical hook? He never just writes about the book. That’s for squares, man.

Well, today, we’ll (kind of) make an exception. There’s been a lot of my voice on APE this week, and I really don’t want to burn you out. I thought it more appropriate to cut to the chase. (Sort of.)

As I was saying, I didn’t care for the book. I put it back on the stack, and forgot. Today, I peeked again, because, you never know. Opinions, left alone without adult supervision, have been known to change.

Do you remember what it’s like to be a teenager? I mostly recall the endless supply of insecurity that pumped through my blood daily. Yes, I was an angst-ridden youth. Quelle surprise?

Fortunately, having taught photography to high schoolers for seven years, I learned to appreciate the combination of energy, intelligence, passion, creativity and curiosity that so many people display at that age. Fire and brimstone. Piss and Vinegar. (Insert one last random cliché here.)

This book has little text, beyond the ubiquity of “Stay Cool.” Only an intro paragraph that speaks to the desire to tell the “story of youth.” (Naive, or refreshingly earnest?) It ends with an entreaty to pirate, copy, and share these photos any way you like. How Millennial.

The photographs represent a series of very-good-looking kids, in LA, goofing off, being very-good-looking kids in LA. They kiss, climb on top of cars, slap five with the PoPos, climb on some more things. Then they kiss each other again. Release some balloons. And walk around with signs that say “Stay Cool.”

Is this an ironic review? I’m not sure. Because as silly as it sounds as I’m writing about it, (and the first time I saw it,) the book kind-of does capture the spirit. In a world where everyone can’t stop talking about the obnoxious chick from “Girls”, and 20somethings living in their parents’ basements, this captures the phase, just before, when kids do stupid shit just because it’s fun. Not because they want HBO to option their life story.

Teenagers really do the sorts of things we see here. (Though I have no doubt this was thoroughly staged.) And in LA, of all places, I’m sure they’re not shy about showing off their trendy jeans and tight posteriors. No artifice, because it’s all artifice. (Wait, are we talking about LA now, or the kids?)

Bottom line: Fun, in a vapid kind of way

To purchase “Stay Cool” 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 – Jonathan Hollingsworth

by Jonathan Blaustein

Here in the United States, we are a nation of immigrants. And yet, we have always demonized them. Does that make us self-hating Americans? Simply ridiculous. Do you know anyone who traces his lineage back to the Mayflower? I don’t.

Of course, those blasted Pilgrims were immigrants themselves. As were the brave, thoroughly crazy men and women who trekked across the Bering Strait land bridge 15,000 years ago. Can you imagine? How hard must life have been in pre-historic Siberia, (or Mongolia,) that it seemed prudent to walk across the frozen ice, into the great unknown? (And then to walk all the way to Argentina? I know people here who drive to the next door neighbor’s house.)

As you probably know by now, I live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. In my town, the Taos Pueblo claims to be the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the United States. The Spanish conquistadors, who arrived to cut off feet and f-ck shit up, came sometime around 1600. The invading hordes of white hippies and bohemians dropped in (or out) much later, in the 1970′s.

Ironically, all three groups of people have some delicious irony in common. (If I may be so bold as to stereotype.) Each wishes things would go back to the way they used to be. Before new people came to change things for the worse. The Spanish descendants, even today, decry the growth and change, but never seem to mention how their ancestors just took whatever the hell they wanted, at musket-point.

When you stack it up like that, it’s hard not to think hypocrisy hardwired into the human condition. (I do, at least.) A nation of immigrants that has never stopped persecuting itself. How strange.

In 2012, the derogated population du jour is the invading hordes of Mexican and Central Americans who face unthinkable danger when they walk across a forbidding and death-filled desert. Their purpose? To take the fruit-picking, hedge-trimming, and dish-washing jobs deemed too low-paying and thankless for America’s resident citizens.

I still remember the time I met a few Mexican immigrants at a party in Durham, NC in 1995. The idea of Mexicans moving to such a random spot made me laugh out loud. Now, of course, immigrants from points South have gravitated to almost every part of the United States, and have become a political wedge of immense proportions. (I say almost every part, because who would be surprised to find white dishwashers in Utah?)

How and when we deal with our internal conflict is beyond my capacity to speculate. But if we focus on the arduous journey, it certainly helps to contextualize the situation. Some people are actually willing, on a daily basis, to walk across a 130 degree patch of hell, for days, just to make a better life for themselves and their families. Noble, yet tragic, because someone dies almost every other day. (At least.)

They succumb to the elements. Their bones are left to slowly desiccate, in silence. No tombstone. No funeral. No way home.

Is this news to you? Probably not. But when was the last time you saw visual evidence that made your stomach tighten and your tear ducts fire up? (I know, that doesn’t sound fun. But who said art was always fun?)

Jonathan Hollingsworth recently put out a book, “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border,” published by Dewi Lewis, that does just that. It is among the more poignant and thoughtful objects I’ve seen in some time. If every American citizen had a copy, you can bet Mitt Romney would pretend he could speak Spanish. (Hola. Me llamo Mitt. Me gusta los niños, y caminando a la playa con mi esposa.) Demonizing such people should be a crime.

The book, though, lays out its case in a very straightforward and intelligent manner. The opening, short essay was written by the chief medical examiner of Pima County Arizona, in Tucson, where so many bones turn up at the end of the line. Credibility established.

There are three major sections to the project. The first set of photographs documents the sterile, fluorescent-lit confines of the autopsy locale. Sinks, tables, files, skulls, and a spine for good measure. It’s sad, of course, but also speaks to the power of our democracy. While tax rates are on everyone’s mind, it’s good to be reminded of the civil servants who toil in obscurity, day after day, to try to find the answers in these lonely deaths.

Then, we have a slightly-too-long section of images of the contents found on the possession of each corpse or skeleton. ID cards, cell numbers in Brooklyn, coyote contact info, girlfriend photos, belt buckles. Wow. The exact opposite of a dignified stone in a tony cemetery.

Finally, we have the establishment shots. Some landscape images, of course, but also a series of pictures made in a pick-up zone. Left behind shoes, water bottles, clothing. Were they to have come first, their impact would have been muted. At the end of the book, they tug the heart strings rather well.

The book closes with a very-well-written, but not-too-long piece by the artist. Once again, he does what he can to humanize a situation that normally just fumes as a set of statistics. Nicely done, Mr. Hollingsworth. Nicely done.

Bottom line: A sad, poignant, & important book

To purchase “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border” 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 – Daido Moriyama

by Jonathan Blaustein

Two months ago, I referred to Daido Moriyama as a woman. My mistake. Let this be my official apology. He is clearly a man, and I was remiss for stating otherwise. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

How could such a thing happen? Well, I’m not omniscient. Despite the fact that his work is everywhere at the moment, (Tate Modern et al) I’d not seen much before I picked up that Okinawa book. And let’s not forget Dido, that New Age singer who was sampled in that classic Eminem song back in ’99. It must have stuck in my head as a woman’s name. (Like any parent knows, accidents happen.)

But I’d love to atone, and see an easy way to do so. I will now tell you of the existence of “Labyrinth,” Mr. Moriyama’s new book, recently published by Aperture. Yes, this week is more show than tell; not quite a straight review. (Even by my absurd standards.)

Why? Because this book consists of hundreds of black and white contact sheets. Only. Thousands of images. Not even an essay, thank the photo gods. Just an endless stream of photographs, presented with the hits next to the misses. As they were shot.

I’m providing a couple of extra photos, so you can feel confident about your prospective purchase. My two cents? Dynamic imagery, innovative concept. (I’m sure if anyone has ever done this before, you’ll tell me. It’s cool nonetheless.) And to you, Mr. Moriyama, you have my apologies. Keep up the good work.

Bottom line: Excellent book, countless photographs

To purchase “Labyrinth” 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 – Yousuf Karsh

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s quiet right now. I can hear the soft hum of the refrigerator behind me. Outside, the cottonwood leaves are more than yellow. Mustard? Cheddar? Honey? Something like that.

The tips of those trees glance the tops of the Piñons that dot the rocky hill above them. (A skyline, from my vantage point.) Above the green, the sky is a confident blue, fading to powder as it bumps against the upward thrust of El Salto Peak, due East.

The light is always so three dimensional around here this time of year. I suppose that’s true many places in Autumn. Who doesn’t think their city or town or pasture the most beautiful in the world every October? (Hey Australians, does that mean April for you down there?)

Light and color. Mutual obsessions of mine, and for so many of you as well. Unless you’re a grayscale junkie. (Do you love the smell of fixer in the morning?) However we choose to make our work, I’d like to think most of us can appreciate a book of great photographs, no matter the subject, format, or style. Great is great, though terribly subjective.

“Karsh Beyond the Camera,” turned up in my book pile on the last visit to photo-eye. It’s a medium sized, soft-cover book, and really, it looks like a biography you’d find on the shelf at Borders. So unimposing. It’s like something your grandpa Morten would buy. Some biography of a general in World War II. Yes, that’s it. Churchill’s on the cover, for heaven’s sake.

Most of you would have heard of Yousuf Karsh, the Turkish-born, Armenian photographer who made his name in Canada. I had not. Opening up a book I thought would be mostly text, I was thrilled to find so many amazing, technically flawless images of so many important historical figures.

The lighting screams drama. It makes you think of old Hollywood movies. Orsen Welles, or Hitchcock. Moody, smoky, straight out of the 40′s and 50′s. Badass.

We see portraits of the aforementioned Churchill, plus Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Picasso, Khrushchev, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Edward Steichen, (twice) Truman, O’Keefe, Bogart, Castro, Frank Lloyd Wright. I could go on. When you photograph that much of history, inevitably you insert yourself.

Beyond the introduction, there are personal anecdotes that accompany each image, as well as recollections from Karsh’s long time studio assistant. I read a few, and they were amusing in the least. One message did pop out. Apparently, one secret to his success was an insistence on being polite, friendly, well-dressed, and entirely focused on the person he was meant to photograph. Great advice, no?

Bottom line: A chunk of history in an unimposing package

To purchase “Karsh Beyond the Camera” 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 – Caleb Cain Marcus

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I don’t feel very well at the moment. Last week was a mad dash through San Francisco and Denver, by way of Albuquerque. Planes, trains and automobiles indeed. I caught a nasty cold at a children’s Church carnival in Denver, so I’m surly as well as exhausted.

Ironically, my mental state has actually impacted plans for an upcoming project. Still secret of course, but let’s just say that my ambitions for a huge chunk of travel have withered. I may not be old, technically, but I’m old enough to know that my body and mind have limitations. My schedule will change to suit reality.

Tired though I may be, I’m also thankful. Travel is the great educator. We learn more about our own lives and cultures when faced with others. Not the most brilliant thought I’ve put forth here, I admit, but true nonetheless. We push out to know more about where we rest our heads each evening.

Sometimes, though, to get to the core of a story, one must stretch personal boundaries. Occasionally, an artist has to travel to the literal ends of the Earth to scratch obsession’s itch. Can’t say it’s happened to me yet, but we know the results when we see them.

This week’s book is a perfect example. “A Portrait of Ice,” by Caleb Cain Marcus, was recently published by Damiani. It’s an oversized soft cover book, with a delicacy that matches well with its subject matter: the Earth’s rapidly disappearing glaciers. (Insert random environmental statistic here.)

Mr. Marcus must have learned to love the neck pillow, and probably racked up a ridiculous credit card bill, in order to bring back these photographs. He visited Alaska, New Zealand, Iceland, Patagonia, and probably some other places I’ve neglected to mention. The resulting photographs make up the bulk of the volume.

This book goes against the rhythms I’ve extolled lately, in that there is not much of a narrative build-up. Good essays, some more nice writing, and then the plates. The production quality might make up for a lack of editorial lyricism, but, really, this book impresses because of the photographs themselves.

The pictures are uncomfortable artifacts of the 21st Century. They’re razor sharp, with a ridiculous pixel count, and are slightly over-saturated in the manner that marks the hyper-real. It’s possible that Mr. Marcus used something other than a medium format digital camera, but I doubt it. (And if so, he managed to ape the digi-aesthetic in a fantastic way.)

A sense of scale disappears, and you can’t really tell if you’re looking at actual glaciers, or well-made models in a studio. The awkward beauty mystifies a bit, as confusion and appreciation commingle. I think it’s a very smart way to approach a subject that is both topical and ahistorical. Big mountains of ice rendered by big mountains of data.

These images function as documents of objects that may well cease to exist. But rather than tug on our heart strings, like that crying-Native-American-litter commercial from the 70′s, this project pushes us away as it draws us in. And it also deigns to make the large look small, which is a great metaphor for a compressed world in an Internet age.

Bottom Line: Fascinating, topical photographs of Glaciers

To purchase A Portrait of Ice 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 – Berenice Abbott

by Jonathan Blaustein

I complicate things sometimes. With my elaborate introductions, I could be accused of stealing the spotlight from the books themselves. With the constant references to self, perhaps I am nothing more than a child of a meta-obsessed generation? Malkovich inside his own head.

If I were kind, though, I might focus on my laurels, like the desire to discuss these books in the context of a lived experience. We share more in common with each other than we don’t, I believe. And yet there are some ideas which cannot be accommodated with others. Some divides seem genuinely unbridgeable.

First on my list would be that gap between extreme religious believers, and the rest of us. Religion, taken to its limits, can be an Operating System. The code, once uploaded, can only work within those sets of instructions. No new information can infect a closed loop.

While Jewish in upbringing and somewhat Buddhist in leanings, I have nothing against the whole endeavor. Whether it’s creation mythology or community building, there is a lot of good in said holywater. But much of the death and destruction we see today is based upon either the nasty intertwining of religion and tribalism, or the inability of ancient beliefs to reconcile with a 21st Century understanding of the world.

Here in the US, we have an almost unbelievable battle waging. On one side lie those who believe that Dinosaur bones are only a few thousand years old, women are subservient to men, and the planet is not warmed by an excess of carbon in the atmosphere. Basically, they don’t believe in science.

The others, myself included, view the continuum of knowledge as a good thing. Physics and genetics and all manner of science wings pursue more and more information, while also admitting how much remains to be learned. It’s absurd and also humbling to believe we used to be Australopithecines, grunting and hirsute.

Is this going anywhere? Does it ever? This week’s book is special, and while I rarely go out and say it, this is probably a book to buy: Berenice Abbott, “Documenting Science” recently published by Steidl. Only in the end notes did I learn that this is the second in a series of books about the artist that Mr. Steidl is producing.

The book begins with a wonderfully written, obviously vintage letter by Ms. Abbott, pertaining directly to her desire to study the eponymous subject. So cool. “The artist through history has been the spokesman and conservator of human spiritual energies and ideas.” Serious intentions lead to serious work.

The photographic plates, made from scans in the Steidl studio, are masterful. (And will definitely suit the tonal range cultists out there.) Different scientific concepts, like Motion, Electricity and Magnetism, and Light and Optics are delineated through a variety of individual examples. Each idea has been rendered as an experiment, or visualization.

It’s terribly clunky in words, I know. That’s part of the point. There’s no magic in the phrase “Conservation of Momentum in Spheres of Unequal Mass.” Yet the photograph those words describe is genius. Kinetic yet Zen.

The book is solid as well as dense. If you read this column, and are a book consumer as well, this is one to consider. I’m not sure what it costs, but you’ll likely return to it again and again for years. As well as it’s built, it ought to resonate down the line, serving as proof that Science is more than just big words and thick glasses and white coats.

Bottom line: A masterpiece

To purchase “Documenting Science” visit Photo-Eye

This Week In Photography Books – Xu Yong

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Growing up hetero and male, there is nothing more alluring than a woman’s private parts. The vagina is talismanic, and leads to unhealthy obsessions. For years, in one’s adolescence, a woman’s naked body sits on top of the teen hierarchy, above even cash-money. Objectification may stem from the media’s depiction of women, but there is a genetic element as well.

Then one day, you have a daughter. The day you bring her home, and change the first diaper, the appearance of the vajayjay, as it’s now called, is disconcerting. Confusion follows repulsion, as one really doesn’t know how to recontextualize the situation. Do you look away? Stare at it? Wiping away the brown business requires focus and co-ordination.

I’m not the first man to have a daugher, obviously. We all deal with the awkwardness, and then get more competent. Now, I barely flinch at the task. But I do think, quite a bit, about how my perceptions of women were built upon that foundational obsession. And now, will it forever be different? Is this a cliché sentiment? Probably.

But it could also lead to growth. Sure, I’m an avowed feminist, but raising a girl will inevitably roll over my preconceptions, like a tank over a bicycle. Diggety, diggety, crunch, diggety, diggety.

Father, or not, though, I was totally engrossed with “This Face,” a new book by Chinese artist Xu Yong, recently published by Editions Bessard. It’s a nice follow up to last week’s book, as these images also meditate on the the intersection of boredom and repetition. (Plus daily suffering for the almighty dollar.) Or, in this case, the Yuan.

The book is soft-cover, and probably not built as strongly as I would like. But I’m not the publisher, and of course, it must have been cheaper this way. The string binding sits on the outside, and the initial essay is an insert that falls out too easily. Which is not always a bad thing, because, in this case, it allowed me to see the images without context.

Each photograph is a tight portrait of a young, Chinese woman’s face. It takes a bit of page turning to determine that it’s the same person, because our eyes must acclimate first. (Which builds curiousity and interest.) It’s a great way to add a touch of tension, and keep the pages turning.

She wears no makeup, then lots, and then none again. Her expression changes, but always maintains its guard. We see this face, and want to keep looking, but there is never the payoff of vulnerablity that we crave. Kept at a distance, yearning for the personal connection, the tension remains.

After the pictures, there is a text page, in English and probably Mandarin, that reads “The images of Zi U’s face, a prostitute were photographed at intervals through a day of her work.” Jackpot. That’s what the story is about.

From there, we’re given a dense but taut diary, written by Zi U, that graphically describes the events, and penises, that she encountered while the photos were made. Totally fascinating. And then, of course, you go back through the photos and try to read her face more carefully. The narrative is linear, so the waking up is easy to spy, as is the end of the day. The in-between? Still obscure.

People will always be fascinated by the world’s oldest profession. The allure of the salacious is hardwired. It explains so much of our entertainment habits, from action movies to MMA to pornography. Here, I believe the artist has personified it in a poignant way. It boils down to a woman, making money with her body, and hiding the rest of herself from her Johns, as well as the camera.

Bottom Line: A compelling look behind a hooker’s veil

To purchase “This Face” 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 – Florian van Roekel

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s the year 2000.

Google is a big number, but not quite infinity. Hanging Chad means the guy who’s always sitting on the couch, next to your roommate Aaron, drinking your beer. The Soviet Union is dead, China has yet to rise, and Americans feel like the world is a big apple tree, and all you have to do is grab what you can.

I’ve just moved to San Francisco, and live in the Mission District with my girlfriend, Jessie. (Now wife.) Dotcom millionaires peek their heads out of limousine sunroofs as they cruise through our neighborhood at night. I get my coffee with a bagel and cream cheese at the cafe on the corner for $1.50.

Tired of waiting tables and ready to be an adult, I get a job at a non-profit, progressive public relations firm on Mission St. The organization, since merged with Fenton Communications, was a spinoff of the famed liberal bastion, Global Exchange. My co-workers are a typically San Franciscified bunch; all colors, sexes, and sexual orientations are represented. (Yes, I’m being literal.)

We were housed within the same building as our Global Exchange brethren. Thick body-odor musk, wafting taqueria fry grease, and a lingering marijuana stench contributed to a healthy, lived-in aroma. Everyone was talking about how they were just in Nicaragua, or Guatemala, and pronounced the names with proper Spanish emphasis. Life was good.

Two weeks in, the ED announced the company was moving to the Embarcadero, right on the Bay. My commute would grow from a short walk to a 30 + minute hassle, requiring BART. And lots of rain.

We moved into a re-done, second floor office, built directly onto the pier. Nice view: seagulls, the TransAmerica tower, the shimmering reflection of the Bay Bridge on the water. Unfortunately, the space inside bore the typical corporate color scheme of gray on gray on gray. Carpets, partitions, office chairs, all gray. Immediately, my job, answering phones, helping to change the world, lost its glamour.

Sure, the higher-ups were battling to make the world a better place. But I was stuck fighting my myopic boss about which garbage cans to buy for under everyone’s desk. Foolishly, I made a rash decision, and was shamed as she slowly circumnavigated the room, interviewing each employee as to their desired preference of trash-bin-recepticle. Chastened, I promised never to make a unilateral decision on matters of such significance.

Days became weeks, and I became less happy as each passed. My naive desire to join the San Francisco non-profit community led me straight into my own, boring-ass version of Office Space. The phones rang, I answered them. The trash filled up, I emptied it. Wow, just writing about it bores me. So lets move on.

One day, I woke up and realized that the average-joe-lifestyle was not for me. Monotonous, sterile, repetitive. Gray on top of gray on top of gray. Please, make it stop.

So I quit, ready to commit to being an artist.

Here we are. It’s 2012, and this week marks my one year anniversary of writing this column. I’m sitting on my favorite green couch, my feet now wedged against my daughter’s crib. I’m headed back to San Francisco in a couple of weeks to check on the art scene, and report back. My how things have changed.

But this wouldn’t be a column if I didn’t write about a book. Today, the above musings were brought to you by Florian van Roekel, who seemingly self-published a super-cool book called “How Terry Likes His Coffee.” Some of you might have seen it before, but the 2nd Edition landed on my book pile, and I’m loving it.

The book is black, with yellow post-it-style sticker on the front. It looks like a fancy pad that you might use to take notes at the Friday Staff Meeting. Straight away, it opens on the doodles that some Terry might have made while studiously not listening to what was going on in said meeting.

Apparently, Mr. van Roekel spent some time in actual office parks in Holland, because you could never fake it so well. (And I’d guess he was influenced by Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” as well.) Even Thomas Demand’s fastidious recreations lack the soul-sucking, stultifying reality of what we see here. I’m having flashbacks. “Hello, Communication Works. This is Jonathan. How may I direct your call?”

The book follows a pattern of my current favorites, which is to include non-photographic imagery, and to create a natural progression. A narrative. A plan. It begins with with office party decorations, file cabinets, cubicle art, the water cooler, jackets on the back of chairs. All the images feature a heavy use of flash, which by now you must know I enjoy. Not everyone does.

Then we’re into the portraits, mostly backs of heads. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Too real to mock, to awesome not to appreciate.

–”Hey Terry, how was your weekend?”

–”Oh, you know, the ususal. Bought some terrific hash at the coffee shop, stared at my reflection in the canal for 45 minutes. Watched a football game on TV. That Robin Van Persie is such a wanker. How about you, Josh?”

–”Oh, you know, the same. Shannon’s mother is in town, though, and you know how that is. Hah, hah. If I’m not careful, she likes to grab my package under the dinner table. Just pour her whisky a bit heavy, though, and she’ll fall asleep before it gets to that.”

After the back of the head shots, and more portraits, the artist moves onto a set of double-images. Slightly, slightly different, but really the same. The sales pitch. The cold call. A terrific metaphor for monotony. If I use the word monotonous one more time, I will have acheieved its effect.

Next comes the office get-together at the pub at the end of the day. No faces here, just shoes, suits, & some sneakers on the ladies who got tired of high heels. Hands on shoulders, hands on elbows, coasters on the table. Routine. Finally, at the end of the book, we see some nature images. A walk in the park on Sunday? Has to be. Right?

Bottom Line: Has somebody got a case of the Mondays?

To purchase “How Terry Likes His Coffee” 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 – Miquel LLonch

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s cold and grey outside. A wet wind whistles in from the West. Summer’s sultry sun is gone, taking with it the long, languid days. (And the afternoon-delight-style naps are gone as well.) Soon enough, my nose will freeze and my toes will cry as I cram them into my snow boots. Winter is long in the Rockies.

Fortunately, I have an antidote. I fire up the teleportation machine, as it needs a few minutes to warm up. (Don’t we all.) Then, I step inside the lexan booth, enter the encrypted security code, say a prayer, and push the button. Poof.

I emerge, almost immediately, in a purple/yellow/green field. Trees sway gently in the breeze, which carries whiffs of garlic shrimp, bitter coffee, and roasting peppers. It’s quiet; the grass soft beneath my feet. At first I am alone, at the edge of the woods. Intermittently, I am joined by passing wanderers: a man and his daughter, two young-ish boys heading deeper into a tryst, a pair of gypsy children.

The light needs a camera for proper description. The colors are not natural, but only because the remnants of sun’s castoff rays commingle with the light pollution at the margins of the city. Which city? On the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, I’m not sure it matters. The teleportation device’s range is notoriously broad, like a pre-smart Navy missile, so it could be any number of places.

If only.

Fortunately, with a 5 year old at home, I’m skilled at pretend. Today, I owe my lingering daydream to a quiet, little soft-cover book, “In the fields of gold,” by Miquel LLonch. It was recently published by Poursuite, with support from the cultural board of Terrassa.

The book is slim and delicate, but not in the kind of way that makes you worry about ruining it. The inside flap has a short statement, in French and English, explaining that the artist is a child of the Mediterranean, and hopes to live and die there like his forebears. Keep the integrity of the tribe and all.

Then, we’re right into the photographs, remnants of twilight walks at the edge of the city, which remains unnamed. As I’ve said before, if an artist wants you to know something, he/she will give you that contextual information. So here, clearly, the exact locale was unnecessary. I’m guessing Barcelona. The book has Spanish thank you section, and the artist’s name seems Catalan to me.

As to the photographs, there are exquisite landscapes mixed in with dreamy portraits of the aforementioned passers by. The people shots are nice, but it’s the landscape images that sit in my brain still. Wow, are they lovely. Mystery without menace is a difficult balance.

Are the colors real? Silly question in 2012. Everything’s subjective, whether your picture is massaged in camera via settings, in a web app via filters, or back in Old School Photoshop via color correction. The more appropriate question might be are the colors expressive? Claro que si.

Sadly, I have to give these books back. My little sojourns are temporary, and then the pictures live in my head. In this case, I’m ambivalent. Sure, I’d keep it if I could, but it’s not necessary. I can taste the salt on my tongue, feel the next-day sun on my cheeks, and relish the hangover churro as it slides down my gullet into a grumbling stomach.

Bottom Line: Pretty twilight landscapes, perfect for September

To purchase “In the fields of gold” 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 – Chris Killip

by Jonathan Blaustein

Your Dad works in the ship yards. Your brother too. And your Dad’s brother, for good measure. There’s no such thing as the Internet. It’s cold often, and gray more often still. School is there just to carry you over until it’s time to get a job at the ship yard too.

Life is dreary. You get that job, when the time is right, and after work one day you like the look of the lass at the end of the bar. You offer to light her cigarette, thinking you’re suave, till you notice the guy to her left. He’s already struck the match, and they both laugh. Fairly confident of yourself, you tip your fisherman’s cap, nod, and turn back to watch the football match on the screen above. She’ll marry you yet.

I know you’re none of these things. More likely, you’re reading this over morning coffee. Or during a quick break from color correction. Or perhaps before you hit the Metro on the way to a shoot.

But if you were me, and spent some time over the last few days with “arbeit/work,” the new monograph by Chris Killip, you’d probably get where I’m coming from. The book was released by Steidl and Edition Folkwang, in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s work. And it’s one moody piece of business.

As you might have gathered from my momentary hallucination, I like the book. Not surprising. At some point, and I’m not sure when, I morphed into an Anglophile. (That’s not true. I do know when. It was the second time my wife made me watch the Colin Firth/ Jennifer Ehle version of “Pride and Prejudice.” That Mr. Darcy is so dreamy.)

Where was I? The book. It’s divided into sections, each focusing on a segment of one of Mr. Killip’s interlocking projects. They were shot predominantly in the North of England, in the 70′s and 80′s. Evocative stuff, this.

The photographs are entirely in Black and White, and feature a gruff textural sensibility that matches the cultural landscape. Graffiti, coal mounds, drifting garbage, massive waves crashing here and there. Excuse me whilst I grab a sweater.

I loved the woman hanging out her door, a massive tanker ship just outside her field of view. And the father, downtrodden and hot, holding his daughter on his lap, wedged into a corner of the sidewalk. Punks having a laugh, neck tattoos and beer cans, fishermen and grandmas. Another favorite: a suit-wearing old dude, along with his lady, lounging on a blanket, surrounded by trash.

Bottom Line: Terrific B&W images of UK bleak beauty

To purchase “arbeit/work” 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 – Daido Moriyama

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Get out of your comfort zone. Popular advice nowadays. I’ve dispensed it myself, in this very column. I must admit, though, its begun to sound like a giant cliché. Too bad.

People say it all the time, as if a comfort zone was a physical place, like an oppresively small powder room. You’re trapped, with little more than a toilet and a sink. The walls are closing in. And you must get out. Are you too big to shimmy out the window? Are you strong enough to break down the pinewood door? If not, you’ll be trapped in your comfort zone. Forever.

It doesn’t work like that. Though the phrase is admittedly overused, the meaning is profound. What do you do well? What is your behaviour pattern? What can you bang out in your sleep? Those are difficult questions. Once answered, then comes the hard part. Stop doing what you do well, and try things that you are bad at.

I push myself with my artwork, and realize that I need to do it here as well. Lately, I’ve tried to change up my writing routine by letting books germinate in my head, rather than being so quick to judge. Does it make me a better writer? I don’t know, but the point is that growth rarely happens without work.

Today, we’re going to follow up on this new trend. In fact, I’d like to discuss a book that I previously dismissed: “Okinawa,” by Daido Moriyama, published by Super Labo. If you read this column religiously, you might remember that I made an offhand comment about how even great artists can make boring books. True.

To challenge my preconceptions, I picked this one up again off the stack. And, for once, I decided to look at it back to front, which is my old habit with magazines. Reverse the narrative, as it were. Backwards book review.

Open the back, and the first thing you find is a statement by the artist. Apparently, in 1974, someone organized a photography workshop on Okinawa with Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki, among others. Wow. Talk about getting your money’s worth.

Mr. Moriyama goes on to describe a place where it was hard to tell night from day. Her senses were on high alert, as everyone scoured the Island for “photo moments.” His experience was so powerful, that he claims, “These were sensations that I could not experience elsewhere… meaning that it was as though my body had, on a celluar diension, understood Okinawa preceding my arbitrary thoughts and preconceived notions I possessed then.”

OK then.

Thank goodness we’re going back to front, because that informs everything to follow. Now, looking at the book, I can visualize a team of photographers, including Japanese masters, roaming around a somewhat-desolate Island, replete with American Military Presence. Mr. Moriyama, compelled to shoot, follows her instincts, and produces the dreamy, grainy, stylized time capsule from the year I was born. (Big ups to 1974.)

When I looked at the book the first time, it felt arbitrary and too long. Now, we have purpose. I notice that the book shifts formats regularly: some images require it to be turned on its side. Then, I see that many of the horizontal format images are diptychs. Some are terrific: an old building, it could be 200 years ago, then the companion image shows the same building, slightly to the right, and a 7UP sign brings us back to the 20th Century.

Elsewhere, we see lots of Pepsi signs, and burger joints, symbolizing the impact of the US Military, and Globalization. There are dogs, and horses, and motorbikes, and cool 70′s cars. Long dirt roads, leading who-knows-where, but always with a person far off in the distance, or close, yet walking away.

Overall, the photographic quality is very high. There are still too many images, but the narrative tightens up quite a bit, with enforced hindsight. Light shimmers off of rain slick roads, kids are everywhere, the perfect subject for the roaming photo army. This time, it’s an altogether more pleasurable viewing experience.

Daido Moriyama: An Okinawan timecapsule from 1974. Can you dig it?

To purchase “Okinawa” 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 – Mitch Epstein

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m sitting in my library. Diaper packs are stacked around me. Pink blankies peak at me from disparate piles. They mock my attempt to focus. “Enjoy it while you can, Fool,” they say. “Your precious quiet is about to DIE. This is our turf now, Fool. Move along.” Damn pink blankies. Who knew they could be so cruel?

Yes, as I shared with you a few months ago, my daughter’s arrival is now imminent. Any minute now. I sit, and wait. Which leaves a lot of time to think. I channeled much of the anxiety into a fruitless search for a new camera, but really, I was just hiding from the truth. (Big Ups to Rich Andres at Fotocare.) Change is coming. And few things cause more fear in humans than the Unknown.

Understandably, then, change has been on my mind. Beyond the obvious, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to grow as an artist. Thankfully, at 38, I’ve finally managed to have a bit of success. But my ego is healthy enough to admit that I have far to go, if greatness is my goal. We all have our own ambitions, true, but I’m not one to accept that my best work is behind me. Better to jump off the Gorge Bridge and be done with it. (RIP Tony Scott. That “True Romance” face off between Chris Walken and Dennis Hopper was a cinema classic.)

Given the scope of my ruminations, I was fortunate to get my hands on “State of the Union,” a new book by Mitch Epstein. It was published by Hatje Canitz, in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s work in Bonn. And, it is unique in all the books I’ve reviewed thusfar.

The oversized hardcover features several essays, and an insightful interview with the artist that alone makes the book a worthy purchase. It is impeccably produced; basically divided into two sets of plates. The first features a set of photos made in the 70′s and 80′s: very obvious temporal references. The photographs are big, each spilling from the right page to the left, and they are terrific. Talk about implied narrative.

Whether we see a man sleeping on a cot, next to a car, in the shadow of the former Twin Towers, or a pack of ladies scrambling to pick something up off of a Madison Avenue sidewalk. (A contact lens? A buffalo nickel?) Snake handlers, snow-cone-eaters, and children chilling in a pack-and-play while their dad pulls in fish off of a nameless pier. All are lovely, all draw you in, and force questions: What is going on here? What are they looking at? Where was this taken? How big is this freaking country?

The photographs are terrific, but definitely fit beside Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, and William Eggleston. They were contemporaries, and it shows. Each has a slightly different personality, which emerges in the work, but the similarites outweigh the differences. Here, section 1 gives us a glimpse of the best young Mr. Epstein could offer.

Then, a big jump. Bam. The next set of plates time travels to the 21st Century, each a sample of Mr. Epstein’s recent opus, American Power. Immediately, the style shifts. We get to see Mr. Epstein’s vision at a more mature stage, and his growth separates him from his other famous peers.

These photos were obviously taken with an 8×10 camera, which the text confirms. They are as sharp as a Hattori Honzu sword. Details shine, compositions are more formal. They are excellent images, and the plates are better than many of the prints I’ve seen at portfolio reviews. If you love Mr. Epstein’s work, but are not in a place to buy an editioned print, the quality here is reason number 2 to buy this book.

I loved seeing this before/after mashup. The new photographs, look at the energy industry, and the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina. Smoke billows from a power plant, a security guard stares through binoculars in the ravaged New Orleans Museum of Art, a newer hurricaine swirls on a projection screen, just outside the 2008 Republican Convention in Minnesota. There are more, but I don’t think it’s necessary to list them all.

So there you have it. This book is worth purchasing for a variety of reasons: the interview, the print quailty, and the potential inspiration it offers. And rest assured, I’ll continue writing these reviews even after my life gets turned upside down. I’ll just have to find a new favorite spot in which to do it. C’est la vie.

Bottom Line: Amazing production, unique in its dual vision

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