Category "Photography Books"

This Week In Photography Books – Leon Borensztein

by Jonathan Blaustein

I re-watched “Taxi Driver” the other day. My god, was New York a hell-hole back in the 70′s. Seriously. It’s no surprise Travis Bickle went bonkers. (But that happy ending…I smell studio meddling. Marty must have known he had the chops to go mainstream.)

Have you seen it? Or what about “My Dinner with Andre?” Some great mise-en-scene there as well. Brings you right back to that time. I was safely ensconced in a nearby suburb, so that crazy, graffiti-covered era offers me a touch of nostalgia, instead of a belly full of fear. Watching those films recharges my memories, which is one of the great benefits of Art. (A nod to Bruce Davidson’s 2011 “Subway” show at Aperture seems appropriate here as well.)

I mentioned the other day, in a short article, that Art is like time travel. I meant it in the sense that as artists, we embed ourselves in our work, and if the work survives, so do we. But a much more obvious example is the way a photograph locks light in time. We all do it every day, and most often take it for granted. Stopping time, and letting a fraction of a second age at a different rate. Now with digital files, one wonders whether a reproduction will age at all?

This aspect of manipulating time, I think it’s what ultimately hooks us as photographers. Wander back to the first time you saw a contact sheet of your first set of negatives. Magic, right? Not just that it actually worked, (which is now a lost sensation for many in a digital world,) but that it brought you back to a place where you had been. And a time that, in all other ways, no longer existed. Addictive.

That’s why Instagram and its ilk are taking over the world. It’s a compulsion over which people have little control. Because a camera can bank our memories much better than our brains can. Or more accurately, at least. Iphone photos are to photography what McDonalds is to hamburgers. Hopped up, cheap and tasty. Not that I’m complaining. Unlike some bloggers, I couldn’t care less.

I’m far more interested in the underlying desires. How we save our memories. How we crave to be remembered. How we desperately want to leave a mark. How we care so much what our relatives and friends think of us, even in a reproduction.

Speaking of family memories, I ran across a fantastic new book at photo-eye the other week. It’s called “American Portraits 1979-89″, by Leon Borensztein, recently published by Nazraeli Press. Oddly enough, the artist’s name doesn’t appear on the cover or the spine. I’d never heard of him before, and perhaps that’s part of the point. From the beginning, this book is about the pictures, far more than the picture maker.

In fact, you have to dive into the essay at the back, by Sandra Philips of SFMOMA, just to get a bit of the history of the project. Todd Hido got the book up and running, so implies the editor’s credit, and the artist was tight with Larry Sultan as well, so implies the benediction. But as to what the hell is going on in the pictures? You’ve got to figure it out for yourself, or read.

So I’ll make it easy on you. Mr. Borensztein, Polish by birth, somehow ended up a traveling portrait photographer in California, and the West. (Back in the aforementioned time period, naturally.) He went around to people’s homes, and at one point to conventions as well, and made memories for paying customers. Apparently, he shot a lot, and must have made a conventional image or two at some point, just to keep his job. But everything we see in the book is fresh and wild and crazy. Probably not the prints that the clients ordered.

The plates are all in black and white, and the backdrops are visible in many of the images. People are not smiling, and sometimes don’t engage the camera. These are, to a person, anonymous, average Americans, long before such Americans thought it necessary to live in a McMansion on credit. (And we saw how well that worked out.)

Some are noble, some are funny, many are surreal, and a few downright disturbing. (How did he get the guy with the Nazi tat to pose with his shirt off? And the dude who looks like the Kramer impostor from Seinfeld, dressed in Native American garb? Priceless.)

This will not be one of the reviews in which I give away all the best secrets. Though I will make a few extra snaps below, just so you can get the vibe, Man. Arbus, Bill Owens, Disfarmer, that’s the mood of the pictures. They’re powerful, and somehow manage to respect the subjects, while also slightly mocking at the same time. It’s a tough balance, and I expect that some of you might find too much of the latter. I though it was just right.

Bottom line: A time capsule, for good and bad

To purchase “American Portraits 1979-89″ 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 – Pieter Hugo

by Jonathan Blaustein

When I was a teen-ager, my family used to go to the Taos Pueblo each Christmas Eve. Some years, it was below zero, but so what. We braved the cold and wind, and marched along with countless other Taos gringos, to see the yearly celebration. Seriously dramatic, I assure you.

How so? The Pueblo is set at the base of Taos Mountain, and the event takes place just as the sun goes down, bathing the peak in deep shades of purple. As the sky darkens, they light bonfires, built as towers, that can reach 30 feet into the sky. The smoke begins to cloud your vision, which adds to the surreality.

Suddenly, you hear the chants of the Pueblo residents, who emerge, without notice, walking slowly in a chain. At the center sits an effigy of the Virgin Mary, stock still on one of those shoulder carriers that they must have used in Ancient Egypt. The chanting, the fires and the smoke are punctuated by rifle shots. Bang. Bang. Cracking across the evening sky. As a youngster, I’d always wonder what would happen if a bullet descended back into the crowd, but I’m sure it’s never happened.

Like I said, it’s dramatic. I went each year for a decade or so, then stopped cold. Suddenly, it seemed too cliché. Too Post-Colonial. Hey, look at the strange red people. Watch them dance. Like poking a monkey with a stick. Or so I thought.

Now, I’m beginning to wonder. On the heels of last week’s review of the Viviane Sassen book, I got to talking with my friend Melanie at photo-eye. I told her that my first impression was something like, “Are you kidding me?” Really, how many photographers need to point their camera at the poor brown people. We get it. Enough.

The essay eventually won me over, and of course the pictures are edgy and well done. But Melanie didn’t have the same disdain for the process, nor do many, so I began to wonder. Am I the only one with this bias? And furthermore, is the bias valid?

I ask, because, in Taos, you’re not from here unless you were born here. A lot of places are like that. So is Post-Modern theory, ironically. It was branded in any good student’s subconscious that what you have to say is inherently limited by your gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Rebutting the vision of many a wandering shutterbug, it imposed upon a generation of artists the notion that you ought to stick to what you know. (For example, if I ever met Chuck D, I probably wouldn’t smack his palm and exclaim, “Power to the people, my brother.” You dig?)

So now I’ve begun to wonder if it isn’t time to challenge that notion entirely. Maybe artists ought not to be limited to their continent, or class, or sexual orientation? Maybe photographers keep going to the Third World because of an insatiable human curiosity to learn about different things, and tell unfamiliar stories? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the pictures are distinctive, and, in some way, new?

And what of Africa? Maybe the fascination stems from the fact that it’s the homeland to all humans? And its wild creatures dominate our dreams and deep fears, despite the probable urbanity of our surroundings. (Yes, I did get scared by a tiger at the Denver zoo. The bullet-proof glass did little to quell the shivers creeping up my neck. Big, scary monster. Run, dammit, run.)

With that in mind, I thought it might be healthy to head back to Africa again this week. Now, Pieter Hugo was born in South Africa, so of course my argument is already weakened. He’s from there, so his opinion matters more, according to my original line of thinking. But let’s just judge the book and photos, and then see what we think. OK?

His new book, “This Must Be the Place,” also published by Prestel, is one of the best I’ve seen since I started this column. Given that I made you read all the above, I thought I’d cut to the chase. It’s amazing. If you like his work at all, this is one to buy. Why?

To begin with, unlike last week’s book, this volume needs no introduction. No backstory necessary. (If you’re looking for some on the “Parasomnia” book, photo-eye posted a more in-depth review.) In Hugo’s book, each set of pictures is titled by image, project, place and date. It’s not hard to piece things together, especially as all the images come in groups. It gives a nice bit of context, and allows the photographs to suck you in. (FYI, I continue to assert that if an artist does not include certain information, then they don’t care that we know it.)

The first set of portraits, from South Africa, establish straight away that Mr. Hugo, like the folks at the Taos Pueblo, has a flair for the dramatic. (Not news to anyone who saw that photo of a big Naked African guy wearing a Darth Vader mask.) They are shot close up against a neutral background, not unlike Thomas Ruff, but these reek of emotion. Intense stares, albino Africans, and a blind guy with silver eyes.

Then, a set of portraits of judges from Botswana, all decked out in the garb of the British realm. Next, we’re on to portraits of dead people, wrapped in burial shrouds. Also from South Africa. No, Mr. Hugo is not shying away from the legacy that brought lots of gun-toting white people to Africa’s shores.

On to boy scouts, shirtless taxi washers, and wild honey collectors from Ghana. All well-made, but they’re just place holders for what comes next. A chilling look at the “Vestiges of Genocide” from Rwanda. Lime-covered shrieking skeletons, and bones rotting in the dust. Brilliant.

The next photo, after that run, is of a pile of rotting tomatoes on the ground, from 2006. If you read last week, you know that I wondered what Ms. Sassen was on about with her version of rotting tomatoes on the ground. Now we know. It was a shout out. Pretty cool.

The book continues on longer than I can. So let’s condense. The “Nollywood” work, which drew so much praise and criticism a couple of years ago, shines in the context of this book. (And no, Vader is not included.) The guys hanging out with Baboons and Hyenas are fascinating. (From “The Hyena & Other Men”) For all the reasons I listed above. Primal fear and our insatiable thirst for visions of the “Other.” It doesn’t get more “Other” than people who pal around with Hyenas and Baboons, IMHO.

In the end, Mr. Hugo has the guts to expose his own world, along with the others. His relatives: naked and pregnant, topless after a breast reduction operation, and his little daughter, standing in the middle of the road, pushing a pink stroller, vulnerable to any car or bus that screams around the bend just behind her. (The last picture, of course.)

This book made me rethink my own experiences. It made me question bed-rock assumptions. It even made me re-write history a bit. (I saw a show of his last Fall at Yossi Milo, and thought the work boring. Perhaps I was impatient.) Unlike many of you, I was unaware that Mr. Hugo is a genuinely important artist, walking among us. There’s a lot we can learn from a great book. This is one of them.

Bottom Line: Fantastic. A keeper.

To purchase “This Must Be the Place” 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 – Viviane Sassen

by Jonathan Blaustein

Sometimes, I like to watch the grass grow. It’s pointless, I know. Impossible. Still, I enjoy it. Sitting still. Listening to the quiet. Learning patience.

Perhaps some are born with more patience than others. If that’s the case, I was at the back of the line. It’s been a slow process, (not ironically,) but I’m finally getting the hang of things. Like a good Zen koan, it’s not a lesson to be learned quickly.

Earlier today, I found myself picking through the remnants of my book pile. Yes, it’s time for a re-up at photo-eye. I’m headed there tomorrow, but that doesn’t help me today. So I decided to take another look at a few books that I’d previously dismissed. Maybe if I just take a bit more time, my opinion might change?

The first couple were still boring, so no dice. Then I came to Viviane Sassen’s “Parasomnia,” recently published by Prestel in Germany. I’d already picked this one up, (and put it down) twice, so I was not optimistic. But hey, you never know. (Plus, I think she was included in MOMA’s “New Photography 2011,” and those guys are never wrong, right?)

The first couple of passes were hard for me, because this is one more project where someone from the First world goes to visit the poverty of the Third. Been there. Done that. And the narrative is non-linear, if one could call it a narrative at all.

This time, though, I slowed down, and realized that the book opens with a short story by Moses Isegawa. Normally, I breeze right past stuff like that. (Don’t you?) But today, practicing my patience, I started to read. It’s about eleven pages or so, nothing too time-consuming, but thoroughly engrossing, and 100% necessary. The story follows a teen-aged boy as he wakes up to another morning of hardship in Uganda, 2011. Dreamy and poignant, it sets the tone for the pictures to follow.

But I’m not sure that “sets the tone” is the right way to put it. This book needs the story. It gives us a time, a place, a backstory, and a vibe. The photos to follow need to be seen in the context of a desperately poor place, racked with violence and natural disasters. The streets smell like urine, kids sit on the side of the dirt roads with their willies hanging out, beer halls rage music all night, jerry cans filled with water must be carried long distances, and opportunities are tragically scarce. People die. People disappear. Heat waves radiate up off the asphalt, such as there is.

You have to read the story to understand Ms. Sassen’s vision. That makes the book a collaboration. Which is interesting. Most essays are throwaways, added to help the publisher feel more comfortable about the possibility of some ROI. Honestly, I’ve heard enough about the importance of bagging a big name to write an essay that no one will read.

And what of the pictures? Are they less good for needing Mr. Isegawa’s context? Not sure I can answer that question. I need to think on that a while. But I’m not here to judge her artistic cannon, fortunately, just a book. And I’m glad Ms. Sassen was wise enough to begin her book as she did. (And that I was forced to be patient enough to appreciate it.)

The photographs range from portraits to still lives to obviously staged situations. Each type of image repeats, thereby moving solidly into the symbolic. Young African men and women, staring at the camera, intently. Caucasian people, hiding from the stark sun with towels and leaves over their eyes. Flowering trees to prove that life goes on, and burnt stumps to remind us that it doesn’t.

Vegetables left to rot on the ground. Tomatoes and corn. Why would that happen in a place with hungry people? Too many pesticides? Was the owner taken away by government agents, his/her possessions dropped behind? We see a freshly-dug grave, several shrines, and a red plastic bag hovering above a concrete tomb.

There are no guns, no machetes, no blood. But we do see a young man in a red shirt sitting in a blue chair that has been tipped onto the ground. And another photo, this one from the cover, of a body floating in the river, face down. Dead? You can’t tell.

I’ve said the in past that I don’t Google to get a better understanding of a book. If I’m supposed to know something, I expect it to be there for me to parse. But in this case, I did look up the word “Parasomnia,” just to be sure. It describes certain sleep disorders, from night terrors to sleep-walking, that afflict people who don’t sleep well enough. It leads to delirium, I suppose. But it also fits perfectly with the surreal but familiar feeling of this book. Not a bad title, given what lies within.

Bottom line: Cool book, reading required

To purchase “Parasomnia” 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 – William Eggleston

by Jonathan Blaustein

Surely you’ve heard of Jeremy Lin? (The Knicks Harvard-educated, Asian-American point guard.) A better question might be, have you heard of him lately? Probably not. He might well be the world’s first viral athlete, rocketing from obscurity to planetary ubiquity within days. But an information-addicted global populace is in constant need of a new fix, so Mr. Lin has been relegated back to the bench. That’s how it is: today it’s Mitt Romney’s face on an Etch-a-sketch; tomorrow Barack Obama’s ears on an elephant.

Speaking of viral phenomena, you must have seen that article recently published in LPV magazine, called “10 Photographers You Should Ignore.” It went everywhere, almost immediately. Not surprising, as saying “Ignore Stephen Shore” is as inherently controversial as “Occupy Wall Street.” Guaranteed to get people talking.

The tweet might have gotten mad publicity, but the article was actually rather tame. The authors’ thesis was that photographers, (particularly younger photographers,) face a danger to their creativity when they push hero worship too far. Great work depends upon a fresh vision; a unique perspective. The more closely photographers emulate the greats, the more likely they’ll end up with derivative nonsense. It’s an important point, but the article would likely have drawn yawns, if titled “10 photographers that you should be careful not to be influenced by too much.”

Co-incidentally, a few hours before I saw that article, I took a look at a portfolio by a young Southern photographer at FotoFest. Almost immediately, I was repulsed by the shocking quality of a couple of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore knock-offs. Wow, were these pictures derivative. By the fourth or fifth photo, the artist’s own vision started to emerge, and by the end, I thought the project was really good. The artist had a keen eye for color, and a formal sensibility that was contemporary. But I couldn’t shake the those first few photos, like a great tiramisu at an inconsistent restaurant doesn’t quite get rid of the taste of that over-salted chicken.

Never one to mince words, I advised the photographer to get those first few images out of my sight. Burn them, I said. Off with their heads. There’s no reason in the world to show a copy of someone else’s work, when the original images that follow are compelling. Skunk scent is hard to wash off.

And what of these heroes? We need to carve our our own respective niches, but it’s vitally important to go back and re-visit the best work, again and again. Get close enough to the fire to warm up, but not so close as to singe your eyebrows.

Let’s tempt the fire gods, shall we? How about William Eggleston’s new primary colored trilogy “Chromes,” recently published by Steidl. When I refused to open Robert Adams’ triple-book-offering earlier this year, a couple of readers requested that I take a look at the Eggleston project. Why not?

Straight off, I can contrast it with the Adams’ publication, in that the slip cover is printed with shadowbox letters, in yellow and orange. Where RA’s work was cool and unapproachable, this is warm and inviting. Then, a quick look at the spines shows us yellow, red and blue. Whimsical and fun.

On to book one, and there’s little introductory text. Only a mention of the editors, nothing more. So it’s to be all about the pictures, is it? OK then.

We begin. A man asleep (the artist?,) cropped bare feet on a dirt road, another dirt road vanishing to nowhere, religious references, a dead, old black man in a shiny, satin coffin. On to a long-haired hippie, an abandoned shack, and then another black man, this time with a cigarette in his mouth, hands on a blue electric guitar. (Is he playing the blues?)

Cars, trucks, houses, and lots of late-afternoon light. Yes, this book takes us to the South, back in the day. And it does so with style. I suppose we’ll never know what it must have been like to see color images like this, for the first time? (At least those of us not around back then.) But while they may no longer seem revolutionary, they are absolutely exceptional.

Soon, we see an image with a sign that says “Mission Orange,” which is followed by six photographs containing the color orange. Witty editing, beautiful pictures. (A Wonder bread sign, a political ad for a Sheriff, a long freight train…) Then, six photos featuring grayish-white, and six that feature green. Are you paying attention? Apparently, Mr. Eggleston and his co-editors were.

Seeing so many of these pictures together, I can understand why it’s hard for photographers to lay off of this style. It’s so lyrical, so Romantic, so American. Of course, Mr. Eggleston owes a debt of gratitude to Walker Evans and Robert Frank, both of whom he references quite a bit. But still, try to take photos like this in 2012, and only one name will pop up. (Sorry, two. Mr. Shore has his denizens as well.)

Shall I go on? Book one ends with a diptych of a sleeping young child, in bed, across the spine from a photo of a light-up Halloween pumpkin and owl combo looming in a window. Spooky. A hint of things to come in Book two? (There’s also a brief essay dating these photos to 1969-74)

The red volume opens with the same witty tone. We see another run of images, this time grouped by signage. Cigarettes, Drug Store, Dixie Burgers, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ice Cream and Gasoline. Thank you, good night. Wait, there’s still more?

Another Dixie flag, this time in neon. Then, perfect purple light surrounding another gas station, this time Arco. (I remember the first time I saw light like that, during a Tornado storm in Nebraska. This picture brings it back so quickly.)

Are there surprises? Well, we do have two portraits of men who look like hustlers or gigolos. (And one of them is juxtaposed against an image of Tom Jones and Elvis atop a juke box.) Yes, Mr. Eggleston has a sense of humor.

The rest of the volume holds true to form, though there are far more portraits than there were in the yellow book. Terrific portraits. It ends with a pimply-faced guy, drinking Coke on a pool table, in front of a sign that says “Refreshments.” Is that a cue for a bathroom break? Seriously, how many people would look at all three books in a row, in one sitting?.

Book three is blue, and the cover presents a photo of the inside of someone’s freezer. So this is the cold book, then? I’m obviously not sure yet, but this volume opens with another run. Again, signage. A flower shop, free steak knifes at a gas station, a bank, a row of toy dispensers, a pie shop, a drive-in movie theatre, a burger joint and a pinball machine. The 20th Century seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

As to the earlier question, is it cold? Kind of. We see the first few images with flash, and a recurring palette of blue, green, and a green-ish yellow. There’s also a photo of the artist, naked on a couch, with a gun-rack above his head. Followed closely by a bearded, drunk-looking guy, naked, in a green bathtub. Yes, I’d say that’s cold. As in, “That’s cold, brother, cold. Can you dig it?”

Any more surprises? Page 74 has a portrait of a guy who I’d swear is a young Lee Friedlander. Were they friends? (Followed, two pages later, by a photo of a drawing of Charles Manson. Let’s hope it’s not a reference to young Lee.) And it ends with a companion image to the portrait of the man that opens up Volume One. At the beginning, his eyes were closed, in bed. Here, they’re open, staring right at the camera.

Yes, that was a lot to digest. Shall I simplify? This is one fantastic collection of photographs. Really, it marks the vision of a master, a genius artist. For those of you obsessed with Mr. Eggleston, this is one to own. (I’m kind of sad that I have to give it back.) And for those of you who sometimes worry that you’re ripping off his style, check this trilogy out. Look at it like I did, all at once, and you’ll never again wonder, right before you click the shutter, whether the picture is yours or his. Because his vision will forever be burned into your brain.

Bottom Line: A Masterpiece, plain and simple

To purchase “Chromes” 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 – Rineke Dijkstra

by Jonathan Blaustein

Who can remember the days of December? Not me. 2012 has been a blur, and I dispute the fact that it’s 1/4 over. (Can’t possibly be true.) It’s all been covered with film, for me, like the skin on a bowl of old chocolate pudding.

Why? That’s easy. As soon as you read this sentence, I’ll be the first lunatic to ever announce his wife’s pregnancy in a book review. It’s a girl, in case you were wondering. Due late Summer, we found out on Christmas Day. How’s that for symbolism?

So now, if you like, you can go back and read all the 2012 columns, looking for hints of latent madness. (The kind that comes from having a vomitorious wife, on top of an energetic 4 year old.) Me, me, me. It’s always about me in these reviews. How about her? Well, Jessie is my best friend, and it was horrible to watch her suffer for our daughter. But now she’s got the glow, and I have a few more months before I succumb to sleep-deprived misery. (Of the temporary variety, thankfully.)

Where were we? Right. December. Not so long ago, I wrote a column about a suite of images I saw at MOPA: the best photos I saw in 2011 that I hadn’t already written about yet. By Rineke Dijkstra. (Not to be confused with Lenny Dijkstra, who’s rotting in prison at the moment.) The column created quite a stir, though I still don’t know why. Apparently, Ms. Dijkstra’s dry style rubs some photographers the wrong way, as her subtle use of color and emotion lacks potency for those accustomed to dead children in redundant photographic pablum.

Now it’s April, and wouldn’t you know it, but Ms. Dijkstra has a nice new monograph out, published by SFMOMA and the Guggenheim Museum. A beautiful byproduct of her career retrospective, bouncing between the two venues. Does the imprimatur of two such esteemed institutions mean that you must now like her work and buy her book? Of course not. But if you know anything about me by now, (beyond my preference for cotton boxers, my father’s health, and the sex of my unborn child,) you know that I had to review this book. Even though we already talked about the artist back when the sun descended before 5pm, and everyone was cold and dour.

Come Spring, we focus on cleaning, renewal. New year, new possibilities. New births. My daughter will be a water dragon, according to the Chinese calendar. My son was a golden pig, which is meant to be auspicious, and that’s worked out pretty well. But a water dragon? I suppose I’ll have to hold on tight.

And for those of you who love Ms. Dijkstra’s work, or have yet to unpack its austere mystery, that’s what it’s all about. Possibility. Change. Growth. Adaptation. And the ineffable. (Which, if it was meant to be obvious, would go by another name.) That’s what becomes clear, at least, when you go through this book page by page.

Children by the sea, each standing in the same position. Minimize the variables, and the differences are all we have left to ponder. A young girl on the street in Odessa in 1993. Where is she going with that sunhat and leather valise. A boy, the next day, in the same place, holding two dolls. What gives? We’ll never know.

Women, naked, holding their newborns, right after birth. The scars reveal who had a Caesarian. Then, Tia, in Amsterdam, three weeks after giving birth, and then 5 months later. Look at the hint of change. Better hair, no circles under her eyes, she looks human in the second image, and slightly sad in the first. (Yes, I know that train is coming, and it has my name on it.)

On to the bullfighters, sure, then Almerisa, a young girl seeking Asylum in the Netherlands in 1994. (The project to which I alluded in the December article, as I saw several images at the Met in 2010.) Ms. Dijkstra carries this one through, and we watch the girl grow, in photographic stages, up through 2008, when she has her own child in the picture. We begin with a scared Bosnian girl, tiny, and end with an acculturated mother. Along the way, we get to see her legs grow, first hanging off the chair, then touching the ground. We see girlhood go by, and exhaustion set in. All the while, she’s sitting on a chair. Minimizing variables.

The book goes on to show some video stills, which of course don’t translate well in book format. I wonder, why do people keep trying? Then, soldiers being militarized, including our friend Olivier Silva. I’ll spare you the photos this time, so as not to arouse the vile anger of some of our less-than-polite readers.

Is it a great book? A work of art, as those London publishers would have us crave? Probably not. A bit too straightforward, and the cardboard cover could certainly be better. But it does give a fair accounting of a great artist. The plates are super-well-printed, and her ideas come through. So if you’re a fan, this would be a good book to have. If not, buy something else.

Bottom Line: Solid monograph from an important artist

To purchase A Retrospective 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 – Karianne Bueno, “Haiiro”

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s either ironic or pathetic, (depending upon your POV,) but I didn’t consider myself a photo book expert before I began writing this column last September. Sure, I love photography, and have devoted the last fifteen years of my life to its practice, but I viewed books as a by-product of the process. A result, if you will. Clearly, my thinking has evolved since then.

It seems that every photographer on Earth wants a photo book these days, though many wouldn’t be able to explain why. We did a guest post on the subject by Joanna Hurley of Radius books six months ago, but people are no less obsessed with the subject now. So I thought I’d use this week’s musings to delve deep into the meaning of Why?

Closing my eyes, I can easily recall the first time I pulled a photo book off the shelf in the UNM Fine Arts library back in 1997. Two months into my studies, I was bored, and stalked the aisles of the library with nothing better to do. I stopped, for no good reason, and pulled out “España Oculta,” a book of photographs by Cristina Garcia Rodero. She documented the surreal insanity of Spanish cultural rituals for fifteen years, and the magical book was the result. As good as the pictures were, (and they are brilliant,) the idea of that kind of dedication, over time, was what most impacted me.

Flash forward to the insanity of our present, and many photographers see a photo book as a marketing object. (Drop mad cash with a publisher, never recoup your investment directly, but hope to reap the rewards in the long run.) Recently, I bumped into a photographer, whose book I reviewed, who admitted to spending nearly $30,000 on his project. He felt it was worth it, as the book opened new doors for his business, and enabled him to be taken more seriously. Another photographer, with whom I spoke the same week, also told me he had to raise significant funds with the same publisher, and viewed his book in a similar light.

Alternatively, I have a cousin and an uncle who are passionate amateur photographers. Each time I visit, they corral me to view their vacation exploits, expertly printed and bound, through the wonders of Blurb’s online publishing interface. What would once have been the realm of scotch tape and plastic sheathing is now bound together in a hard-cover book. “Daytona Beach Spring Break 2012″ sits on the shelf next to Diane Arbus. (How’s that for Post-Modern?) So forgive me if I was a tad cynical about the publishing process when Rob tapped me to write this column last Summer.

Earlier this month, as you might have guessed from all the hints I dropped, Rob sent me to London to check out the scene. It was beyond fantastic, and I promise to share the visions of splendor before too long. (After I get back from FotoFest, if you can wait a little longer.) Luckily for you bibliophiles, I was able to interview two of the world’s best book publishers on consecutive days.

On a Thursday, late in the day I arrived, I met Aron Mörel of Mörel Books at a street side cafe in West London. I turned up late and flustered, as I couldn’t find the place, despite ascending from the Underground a mere 5 blocks away. Being British, he was gracious about the whole thing, and the interview was blissfully casual.

Though young, and relatively new to the publishing world, Mr. Mörel has worked with some of the best artists and photographers in the business, including Thomas Ruff, Ryan McGinley and Boris Mikhailov. He’s also published books by fashion photographers Craig McDean and Terry Richardson. Big names, yes, but surprisingly small books. Mostly soft cover, from what I’ve seen, and each project is tightly bound together by a concept.

What knowledge bombs did I solicit? Well, according to Mr. Mörel, a great book is a work of art. Not only that, but an affordable one. Who has the ducats to buy a print by Thomas Ruff? Next to no one. But many, if not most of us, can scrounge together $40 or $50 to buy a book. He sees the book itself, not only the images within, is the art object.

Back home now, 5000 miles away from that chilly London sidewalk, I’d have to say I agree. We chatted for a while about how Mr. Mörel got into the business, (a love of photography and poetry,) and my burgeoning theory that boobs sell books. (He agreed.) He also opened up a bit about his DIY style. Once the shipments arrive from his printer in Istanbul, he sometimes puts the books together himself, at home. (He once hand-folded several thousand covers in two days.) As a final thought, he said he looks at every submission that comes in, and encouraged photographers to send him an email, as he loves to see new things.

The next morning, jet-lagged, hung over, and not-yet-showered, (how’s that for TMI?) I had a meeting at MACK books, the new-ish imprint that released Taryn Simon’s huge book, and Gerry Johansson’s “Pontiac.” (With imminent publications by Thomas Demand and Paul Graham.) If you suspect I was a tad intimidated, you’d be correct. Fortunately, after they buzzed me into the building, the stairwell smelled of a strand of funk and mold not found in the United States. (I suppose an old city has old odors.) The stench, added to strewn boxes everywhere, grounded me, and helped me cross the threshold into one of the new bastions of the publishing world.

I stepped into the medium-sized office, flooded with natural light, and interrupted a staff of six, hard at work. I’d arranged for the visit with Poppy, the gracious PR person, who met me at the door and introduced me around. Then she led me in, offered me a “fake” espresso, and sat down for a little chat. Not intimidating in the least. How refreshing.

Shockingly, after I asked my very first question of Poppy, Michael Mack, the man himself, gracefully spun around in his swivel-chair to answer my query. Just like that. Had I intended to get a personal interview? Of course not. It just happened.

To start off, I asked Mr. Mack about Mr. Mörel’s theory, from the previous day, about a book being a work of art. He concurred, without a second thought. (But he hastened to add “I don’t think fashion photographers have the capacity to make a work of art.” Have fun debating that one in the comments below.)

Mr. Mack went on to explain that, to him, a great book has to be a unique, and equally important, expression of an artist’s work. It’s not just one more branded object to be commodified. (Which he likened to a product line: “Screen. Book. Wall. Magazine. Newspaper. Which is absolute crap.”) That’s the wrong way to go about it, he said. To further make the point, he held up a rainbow-colored copy of Paul Graham’s multi-book project, “A Shimmer of Possibility.” This, he said, was “a conceptual art piece in the form of a book.”

As this is the longest column I’ve written yet, (and I haven’t even gotten to a book review yet,) allow me to tie this back to the beginning. A book can be a family album. It can also be a marketing object. But, if you’ve set your aspirations as high as possible, a great photo book becomes the thing itself. It’s the opposite of what I foolishly used to think. The book is not the artifact of the process, the vessel that contains great photographs. It can be the ultimate expression of an artist’s vision, one that is as difficult to nail as a great film. (So much collaboration…)

Taken to the extreme, a great book might not even need to contain great photographs. Even a slightly-less-than-genius vision, if codified perfectly, can make a great book. Like “Haiiro,” a small, beautiful new offering by Karianne Bueno, recently published by Schaden. Yes, there was always a point to this column. Even if you lost faith five paragraphs ago.

“Haiiro” arrived in my book pile recently, and I was immediately drawn to it. It’s a small book, cloth-bound, with an image of the rooftops of a small Japanese village on the cover. The spine is covered by a thin piece of black elastic, like something off of my Mom’s phone book, circa 1986. The book is delicate and alluring, straight away.

Open it up, and it’s a vertical orientation, as the pages spill out accordion style. Green trees, a rice paddy, some girls by the stream, the Tokyo skyline, orange carp battling in a river, some more trees and water and buildings. No words. Then, a photograph of a trove of waterlogged documents, letters and such, depicted above an image of an empty apartment. Boom. The Tsunami reference sneaks up on you like a black-pajama-clad Ninja.

After that, an excellent, short, written narrative closes out the production. It’s inviting, so you read it. The tone and energy match the photographs, providing a glimmer of context for the artist’s travels, and then it’s done. Barely 15 pictures, and a page of words. You open it up again, test out the fold technique, and realize that it does stretch out like a screen. Better yet, it’s unattached. So you carefully, slowly, put it back together, and set it back on the shelf.

This book is as close to the expression of a poem as I’ve seen. It’s neither linear nor literal. It’s beautiful, remarkable, and the type of thing one would definitely pick up from time to time, just to recapture the mood. But the pictures are not terribly unique, and the printing is not the best I’ve seen. I’m not sure I’ll remember the photographer, but I’ll definitely remember the book.

Bottom Line: A perfect little visual poem

To purchase ”Haiiro” 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 – Deborah Luster

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s 4 something in the morning, and I ought to be asleep right now. Instead, I’m staring at a computer screen. (Insert pathetic attempt at humor here.) Why? I’m shaking the last vestiges of a nasty case of jet lag. Such a small, almost elegant term. What it really means is, you feel like your liver and stomach are doing battle for supremacy of your viscera. Your head hurts, it’s hard to complete a sentence, and you see a little man out of the corner of your eye who’s never actually there. (OK, I made that last part up.)

The human body was not designed for Inter-Continental air travel. Don’t bother arguing the point. It used to take someone like me a week to horse it down to Albuquerque, and now I can make it in a couple of hours. Technology has fundamentally changed the way our bodies interact with time, and mine still clings to GMT, for some odd reason.

So here I am, watching words miraculously appear in front of me, one at a time, as they march from my mind to you, our most excellent Global readership. Now that I have your attention, and have admitted that my half-mad ravings ought to be understood within a particular context, we might as well talk about a book, no?

As you’ll soon find out, I was in London last week, eating, drinking, and seeing lots of fantastic things. All to report back to you, in a series of upcoming features. Stay tuned. One thing I can say, straightaway, is that weight of history there is palpable, as is the awareness of all those people who’ve previously trod the ground on which you stand. As photographers, we’ve all visited old cities before, or battlefields, or former nuclear test sites. Places sanctified by blood. We accept that a spot of ground can radiate emotion well after some dark moment occurred in the past.

Deborah Luster researched and visited a series of such places for her new book, “Tooth For An Eye,” published in 2011 by Twin Palms. Except her collection of locales would otherwise have been anonymous, spots where people were murdered across the city of New Orleans. Such a grim concept, mashed together in such a beautiful volume. Like I said last week, I like to be surprised.

This book is over-sized yet slim, the front and back cover mirror images of luminous birds on wires, white on gray. Lovely. As to the grayscale theme, it continues inside. Each double-page spread contains a sheet of text on the left, and a circular, black and white photographic image on the right. The text, hand-written on a sort-of-bureaucratic-looking-form, details the victim, and the manner in which they were killed. The photos depict the location.

Would we care about the photographs without knowing the tragic back-story? I ask the question only to debunk it, because it really doesn’t matter. We do know what happened, and that’s the point. A great book has a story to tell, whether delivered by words, pictures, or both. But yes, the photographs are poignant enough that they’d hold attention regardless. As to the circular shape, well, I might always see the world through that prism if the last thing I saw was the barrel of a gun. (Yes, that’s a bit of a metaphorical stretch, but then again, it’s 4 something in the morning.)

I’m not big on rankings, but this might just be the best book I’ve reviewed yet. The photographs are powerful, the artist is staring down the macabre, and not blinking. As an object, you want to pick it up again and again, seduced by it’s desire to memorialize people who far to often fade away as if they were never here. And those birds on those wires, glowing on the cover, re-appear as the last photo in the book. Brian Christopher Smith, age 22, killed on July 14, 2009. He was found face up, and died of multiple gunshot wounds. That is all.

Bottom Line: Brilliant book, enough said

To purchase “Tooth For An Eye” 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 – José Pedro Cortes

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was all set to review Josef Koudelka’s re-issued “Gypsies” this week. Big name artist, spanking new monograph from Aperture. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I try to balance looking at famous photographers and newcomers, but this was a slam dunk. Write it, email it, move along.

But I didn’t like the book that much. I’m sure many of you would, as it’s filled with extremely well-made, grainy black and white photographs. Of Gypsies. It was totally expected, and that was what bothered me. If I had envisioned the series in my head before opening the damn thing, it wouldn’t have deviated much from what was printed on the page.

We’ve all seen strings of photographs that depict poverty, disease, and general misery. So. Many. Times. Before. We just tune out. Or at least I do. Additionally, I hadn’t realized before I opened the book that it was a re-issue. So in fact, it had actually been seen before. (Of course, the photos are great, and must have been fresh when they were originally released. But I’m reviewing books here, not kowtowing to history.)

Disappointed, I reached back into my shrinking stack of books. (Time for another re-up at photo-eye.) I came across a yellow and black, almost metallic hard-cover from José Pedro Cortes, recently released by Pierre Von Kliest editions in Portugal. If you think that I just reviewed another book by a dude with three names, from the same publisher, you’d be right. I did. Two weeks ago.

But once I opened this book, I was totally caught off guard. Challenged, confused, and just generally off-put at such an eccentric collection of images. (But in a good way.) First, the premise: The photographer lived in Tel Aviv, met four US born women who moved Israel to join the military at 18. After they finished their service, they stayed on. Super-specific and yet totally random. Intriguing, and (obviously) not a subject I’d seen before.

Then, inside, it was even odder. The first photograph was of a woman, from behind, in her bra and panties, looking out a over a balcony. Slightly referential of an early Dali painting, but also not what I was expecting at all. So this was going to be one more book selling sex?

Not quite. The images of the four women, in their underclothes or partially nude, were interspersed with detail and landscape shots of the city. Big flash, flattened out images, alongside ones shot with natural light. Old cars and porticos and clothing shops and puddles of water. Some color, some B&W. Over-grown palm trees and chain-link fences. A rumpled tarp that resembled a body bag.

None of it made any sense at all, as the book is non-linear and non-location specific. Then back to the undressed ladies, whom, while attractive, were far from what we typically see in a book reeking of sexual energy.

I’m not quite sure what this artist was on about. And that’s why I like it. I don’t want a photo-book to tell me a story I already know, nor do I want to be lulled to sleep with a derivative vision. What’s the point? But this book, “Things Here and Things Still to Come,” got inside my head. It made me think about why humans are so obsessed with looking at pictures of naked people?

Pornography is one of the most lucrative and perhaps destructive industries around, and yet it really isn’t discussed that often, relative to it’s cultural ubiquity. Not that this book is pornographic, but making naked pictures look so discomfiting and awkward, including pimples and cellulite, it’s not what we’re used to seeing. It was almost meta-gratuitous, like Tarrantino meets Porkys.

So let’s just say now that I’m not a silent partner in Pierre Von Kliest editions. I don’t even know who these people are. But they seem to be putting out photo books that depict contemporary life in a messy way. And nothing about the human condition in the 21st C is clean and simple. So at least they’re keeping it real.

Bottom line: Weird, potentially offensive book that made me think

To purchase “Things Here And Things Still To Come” visit Photo-Eye

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

This Week In Photography Books – Francesca Woodman

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Now and again, my young son will ask what happens after we die? They don’t prepare you for that in birthing class. So I do my best, and tell him that most people are buried in the ground, or burned to dust. Either way, I say, we end up merging back with the Earth. Slowly or quickly, we become the dirt, the trees, the flowers. He says he’d like to be a rock. Sounds nice.

Several weeks ago, I gave a lecture about Vivian Maier in class. My students are in their late teens; not-quite-college age. I asked how many would like to make photographs throughout a lifetime, put them in a box, and then have the trove discovered after death. (As opposed to having a living photography career.) Posthumous fame was alluring, as every student raised his or her hand. I was shocked. But later, not really. I was quite the Romantic back in the day as well.

Where am I going with this? I just, just put down “Francesca Woodman,” the new monograph by SFMOMA and D.A.P., released in conjunction with a major solo exhibition of her work. (The show soon moves to the Guggenheim Museum in NY. March 16-June 23) It’s an impressive volume, as you might imagine. Intriguing and challenging at the same time.

If you don’t know the backstory, (no shame, as I didn’t either,) Ms. Woodman made an impressively large body of work, mostly nudes, as a young woman in art school. She took her own life at the age of 22, and her work has been considered important ever since. The new traveling exhibition coincides with the 30th Anniversary of her death. (And there’s the context for the first two paragraphs. Thanks for waiting.)

Though I’ve never seen this work before, I like it very much. Ms. Woodman, I mentioned, used her own body as the primary subject of her artistic practice. (Though other people pop up multiple times.) As she was young, and attractive, it’s the type of work I’d probably dismiss if I saw it from a contemporary female photographer. Anyone today would clearly know that sex sells everything, and that’s about it. It’s hard to imagine many young female artists exploring these themes in a fresh way, what with our current global culture of image ubiquity and massive over-sharing. (This from the guy who writes about himself all the time.)

Yet the photographs are lovely, whimsical, evocative, and experimental. It’s clear that Ms. Woodman was pushing boundaries. One recurring theme, in which she melds herself in with the background, often in decrepit homes, does make you wonder how badly she wanted to disappear? And for how long?

I’ve also got to give props on a technical note or two. Given the importance of pacing and flow, when two color images emerge, late in the book, after an onslaught of grayscale: Pop. And the cover image is haunting, presaging the innards.

As many of you will no doubt have the chance to go see this work on the wall in New York, I’d heartily encourage it. I’d love to go see it myself. But the book communicates Ms. Woodman’s vision, or at least, how history has edited her vision. (A separate question entirely.) So this one comes highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind a lot of nudity.

Bottom Line: Great book, great work, sad story

To purchase Francesca Woodman visit Photo-Eye

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

This Week In Photography Books – António Júlio Duarte

by Jonathan Blaustein

Addiction is nasty, and the house always wins. Put those together, and it makes for a cunning and helpless transfer of wealth. Whether it’s street dealers taking ten spots off of twitching junkies, sports arenas charging $9 for a warm Budweiser, or casinos absorbing cash from the repetitive slashing of one-armed bandits, it matters little. As I said, the house always wins.

Gambling is the addiction that I understand least. I’ve been blessed with good genes, as addiction does not seem to run in my family. Given how much beer I drank as an 18 year old in college, ever proud of my ability to double-fist Schaeffers, I’d have been an alcoholic years ago under different circumstances. Drinking and drugs, though, at least I get. The alteration of brain chemistry can be a heap of fun, and, until the hangovers descend in your late 20′s, the lack of accountability makes it easy to overdo it. Or do it, then overdo it, then do it some more.

But gambling…it’s never made sense. I’m told that the thrill of victory must overwhelm the fear of losing your dollars. But really, how much fun can it be? A lot, obviously, or Vegas would never have risen from the sun-baked Nevada Earth.

Apparently, Vegas is no longer the biggest gambling den around, having been displaced at some point by the Former-Portuguese-Colony/Island Macau. If you’ve never heard of Macau, no drama, as it’s a pretty small place off the South Coast of China. There’s the keyword right there. China. As the swirling-cash-toilet-bowl of choice for the world’s rising economy, just imagine how much money must be rolling around down there. Better yet, you don’t have to imagine. Just look at “White Noise,” a new book by António Júlio Duarte, recently published by Pierre von Kleist editions.(Subtitled “Sleepless Nights-Casinos-Macau.”)

Now, I’ve already tipped my hand several times that I love weird/odd imagery, and sci-fi infused imagery all the more. I must be easily seduced by shiny, flash-driven, gleaming photographs, so that’s one of my tells right there. I’ll spare you one more Murakami/Parallel Universe reference, but man do I have a soft spot for that style.

This book has it in spades. There are no people, the use of flash dominates, and boy do these photographs shine. Crystal chandeliers, gold-leaf encrusted sculptures, porcelain goddesses, mirrored-disco balls, metallic drapes, it’s all in there. Even more disturbing, elephant tusks standing at attention, Michael Jackson’s white glove resting on velvet, and cash money circulating through a vacuum-tube like something Bob Barker would dance to if he were dosed with LSD.

The casinos pictured here really do resemble spaceships. It’s not just that I’ve got Star Trek on the brain, (or better yet, Wall-E.) It’s definitely supposed to look like that. You can almost hear the imperceptible whir of the air-con systems, breath the recycled cigarette fumes, drain dry a watered-down vodka, and feel the vibration of all those machines and gaming tables sucking up money like a big, fat bong-hit.

So let’s have a moment of silence for all the poor suckers who bet it all on black, and lost. Homes gone, cars re-possessed, lovers left, it’s a sad tale. A sucker’s bet, you might say, thinking that anyone but the BIG MONEY comes out ahead. But then again, this is just a book review, and “White Noise” is a just a book.

Bottom Line: Shiny, gleaming, flash-driven casino awesomeness

To purchase White Noise visit Photo-Eye.

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

This Week In Photography Books – Irina Ruppert

by Jonathan Blaustein

In service of radical honesty, let me state for the record that I’m exhausted. Practically brain dead at the moment. In a couple of the interviews I conducted in 2011, I talked about the reality of the photographer’s 21st Century hustle. We all have two or three jobs, cobbling things together to make a go of it. We do it out of passion, desire and necessity. But sometimes, speaking for myself at least, it leaves one drained of creativity juice, like a de-sanguinated chicken.

Speaking of bloodless poultry, I spotted one on page two of the new book “Rodina,” by Irina Ruppert, recently released by Pepperoni Books in Germany. (Sorry, it was a rooster.) We’re always hearing some version of the conversation about how everything’s been photographed, all the good ideas taken, nothing new under the sun. As one who strives to innovate, I like to dispute that train of thought whenever possible. But there is also a ton of value in a story well-told, a vision perfectly executed, a narrative jaunt in an exotic place, rendered through the eyes of a stranger. “Rodina” is such a story.

Eastern Europe & Northwest Asia seem to have become hot subjects in the last few years. Some photographers have been attracted to the darkest of sides, human trafficking. Others to the kitch-tastic combination of fabulous oil wealth and fabulously bad taste. Others still are seduced by the “trapped in time” aspect of one of the world’s last “undiscovered” frontiers. Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of work made in that part of the world. Some stands out, some fades into the deeper recesses of my memory in an instant.

This book makes the cut, and I enjoy writing about it after highlighting work by so many heavyweights in the last month. I’ve never heard of Irina Ruppert before, and I couldn’t care less. That’s one of the true secrets of a great photo book: if it all comes together, the fame and/or reputation of the maker is of little significance.

The cloth-bound, tan hard-cover book lacks any text on the outside, and has a small piece of fabric embroidered onto the front. It’s a touch that speaks to the hand-made and the intimate, and indeed, it is a small and lovely little ride on the inside. The first photo shows an old Bulgarian Airlines airplane sitting on the grass in front of an apartment building. Consider me intrigued.

Photo two was mentioned above, and of course, I’m always interested in work that shows us what we don’t want to see.
A skinned cow head on the wall, chicken foot in a bowl of soup, and a goat standing on the road round out the symbolic theme. I love it. Woven in between, we see images of rolling fields, purple kitchens, hanging laundry, sidelong glances, and an old dead woman decked out in a coffin/horse cart. Throw in a fisherman rowing away from a random set of explosions in the water, and you had me at “Hello.” Really cool book.

Truth be told, (once again) I never thought of myself as a photo-book lover before I started writing this column. A photography lover, yes, but the books I could take or leave. That was then. Now, having had the privilege of scoping out all the new releases for a half-year, I feel differently. A book is an object, and the image edit a rhythmic narrative. It all needs to coalesce just so for me to really love the object, even if I never hear from the artist again. So for all the talk of shrink wrap, collectors’ markets and art stars, it’s good to remember that a great photo-book can come from anyone, and that it needs to be held and appreciated.
Bottom Line: A great book from a little-known artist

To Purchase Rodina visit Photo-Eye.

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

This Week In Photography Books – Ryan McGinley

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

A month or so ago, I was watching an episode of the new cartoon, “The Avengers.” (For the purposes of this article, let’s say my 4 year old was with me. Less pathetic that way.) Regardless, Captain America turned to Iron Man and said, “Leaders lead.” I’ve heard that line a couple more times in the ensuing weeks. I suppose it’s in the Zeitgiest.

The opposite sentiment, beyond ubiquitous, is, of course, “Haters hate.” Most popular in hip hop, but now everywhere, it refers to that ever-so-glib portion of the population that likes to tear down others’ efforts, but lacks the stones to put forth their own creations. And I used to be one of them.

Oh, how I enjoyed being a Ryan McGinley hater. I was so well suited to the job. Living in Greenpoint in 2002, when he was first getting traction, I saw a photograph at Priska Juschka in Williamsburg. The lovely Dakota, naked as the day she was born, was illuminated by flash while frolicking in the black ocean. OMG, I said. How hard is it to sell a photo of a gorgeous naked hot chick? Anyone can do that. Whatever.

Then, the legend grew. He too was from New Jersey, and ambitious. Plus, he was younger than I was. When I saw his solo show at the Whitney a couple of years later, my eyeballs almost liquidated in all the seething hater-dom. “Are you kidding me,” I wondered. “How is this different from Nan Goldin?” I fumed. “He’s just photographing downtown cool kids. BFD. Could it be any more derivative?” Yes, I was jealous. But it felt so good. Because in my heart, I was sure that I was better than he, and that was all that mattered. (Fools. I’ll show them all…)

Fast forward to 2012, and the release of Mr. McGinley’s brand new monograph, “You and I,” just published by New Mexico’s own Twin Palms. Can’t review this one, I thought. I’m the charter member of the Ryan McGinley hater club, and what’s the point of trashing his book? But then an odd thing happened. I checked back in with myself, and realized that I had, at some point, transcended the hate. I suppose, as I grew up, I realized that everyone walks his/her own path. Success comes to different people at different times, if at all. Mr. McGinley was an art star, and I was just some guy. C’est la vie. And that’s when I got very curious to see this book.

Yes, it’s filled with photographs of naked pretty young things. (Far more boys than girls, if that means anything.) But so what? It’s not like he’s selling these things at a porn shop. There are easily more than a hundred plates, shot over a ten year time range. What I mistook long ago as cynical booty-peddling has clearly become the artist’s obsession and passion, as valid as anyones’. In book form, it all makes sense.

Certain symbols are repeated, fireworks, falling, caves, rivers, trees, motion, all as backdrops or partner effects to the nude youths. (Or as Joe Pesci might say, the nude “Utes.”) Much as I once saw these subjects as hipsters trying ever-so-hard, in “You and I,” it’s hard not to imagine them as nymphs or wood elves, perhaps Roman gods on a time-traveling vacation throughout the American West. (Where it seems much of the book was shot.) Yes, it all happened, and these are real people, but they don’t seem so. The allegorical/metaphorical nature of work shines.

The color palette is lovely, blues, greens, yellows. The mood is consistent, as is the shooting style. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to hang most of these photos on the wall, (particularly the cum shot, which you know has to be there,) but in book form, they’re pretty great. Definitely his own thing. Nan Goldin’s name never came up in my head, which says a lot about Mr McGinley’s evolution as an artist, and my evolution from hater to open-minded artist/writer/whatever-the-hell-I-am.

As some readers believe everything I examine is a suggestion for purchase, please do read the above carefully. You might enjoy this book, you might not. Clearly, the subject matter is kind of a love it/hate it thing. But at the very least, I can say that this book is well worth looking at, as it coalesces the vision of an important American Artist. (And now, my 27 year old self is dying a slow, painful death, somewhere deep within my psyche. Good riddance.)

Bottom line: Fantastic book, perhaps not for everyone

To buy this book visit Photo-Eye.

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

This Week In Photography Books – Robert Adams

by Jonathan Blaustein

For all the controversial, opinionated, and edgy things I’ve written in the last couple of years, I think I’m about to put it all to shame. Here, now, I’m writing my first ever “book not reviewed.” Huh? What does that even mean?

By way of explanation, I should say that I’ve been sitting on a pristine, unopened copy of the new Robert Adams trilogy “The Place We Live,” recently released by Yale University Press. Much as it is akin to career suicide to criticize, let alone mention the Yale Photo Mafia, I’m committed to the path of honesty. Rob encouraged me to speak my truth, and here it goes.

I love Robert Adams’ best work. It’s transcendent. I even drove 700 miles to see the prints on the wall in the reconstructed “New Topographics” exhibition in 2010. Leaving the gorgeous galleries, I announced Adams’ work to be the best, and my three cohorts disagreed. (They voted for Baltz. Who’s now a Facebook friend of mine. What is the world coming to?) Anyway, I think Mr. Adams’ Colorado landscape images from the 1970′s are as important as any group of photographs we have.

The best images manage to walk the line between cerebral and emotional, subjective and objective, wistful and angry, optimistic and pessimistic. One can truly sense the presence of a man, standing on a spot of earth, perusing patiently through glass. And of course, anyone who grew up in a suburb, and then watched the subsequent residents slowly absorb the nature they craved…the work hits home. It was as prescient as it was picturesque.

So why have I been unable to cut the seal on these three books, sitting on my stack for two months now? That’s the question I’m asking myself, now, watching the ravens float through the sky in front of the purple, snow-covered mountains. For some reason, my inability to puncture the plastic seems more interesting here than the books would inevitably be. I feel a bit like Cameron guarding his Dad’s Ferrari. Best not to even touch it.

First of all, there’s the cost, I suppose. $250. For collectors only. Then, there’s the sense of grandiosity. Three books at once? From an artist who’s already had so many books published through the years? Thirdly, there’s the fact that I’ve already been scooped by Alec Soth and Fraction Magazine, both of whom published Mr. Adams’ work in the last month. Finally, I must admit that the sense of rebellion at not opening them is just too great for me to overcome.

That’s why I’m going with the “not review” here. Then, photo-eye can sell them to someone who will cherish them forever. Just like I cherish the memory of that art exhibition in Tucson. I’m certain the books would be great, so let’s not assume that I’m being critical here, I’m just going with the moment.

The reality is, this package in front of me is just too precious. It’s intimidating, like the Torah that I had to carry during my Bar Mitzvah in 1987. There I was, in the midst of becoming a man, rocking the hair gel, and all I could think about was what would happen to me if I dropped that f-cking gilded scroll. I think you have to fast for 40 days if it hits the ground, but I could be wrong. The Hebrew School training is finally starting to wear off.

Maybe I’m just afraid to write anything negative about one of the photography world’s true gods. I saw a small exhibition of his work at the Nevada Art Museum in the Fall, and felt like everything after 1990 was just not up to snuff. So if I don’t open the books, I won’t see the failures, and then I won’t have to write about them.

Or maybe I just like the idea of doing the absolutely unexpected, and not opening the books on general principle? (Like I don’t root for Tom Brady on GP. He’s just a pretty robot.) Regardless, I suppose this is a first for “This Week in Photography Books.” Come back next week, and I promise to talk about the images inside a book, instead of just the box. And if I wake up with a horse head in my bed on Saturday, I suppose that will confirm that the YPM is alive and well. Any contributions, in memoriam of my career, can be sent to the World Food Programme, courtesy of the UN.

Bottom Line: I chickened out of opening the damn thing, but it’s probably awesome

To Purchase The Place We Live visit Photo-Eye.

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

This Week In Photography Books – Léonie Hampton

by Jonathan Blaustein

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write about why Art matters. On the heels of the high-minded and perhaps overly serious interview I conducted with Jörg Colberg, it’s been on my mind. It’s one thing to exclaim “The World Needs More Art,” and quite another to explain why.

As I’ve repeated endlessly and perhaps obnoxiously, I went to art school in New York. And throughout the entire process, I came to believe that Art can be anything. Photographs, paintings, food, music, objects, dance, ideas: it’s all on the table. The intention is what matters. If you declare something to be art, then it is. From there, of course, the difficult job is to determine what the “Art” means, and if it’s any good or not. Clearly, this is a subjective process. Ultimately, what’s seen as “great” or “the best” varies pretty widely, depending on the audience.

Some work ends up in the Met or the Louvre, some on the walls of a small café, and much of it never leaves the home of it’s creator. So the next question is, why do people do it? Ed Burtynsky said he felt making things to be a part of his DNA, and I’ve heard that many times before. Most artists, myself included, make things because they must. In my own case, if I don’t have the time and/or energy to work on creative output, my personality changes… for the worse. (I turn into a cranky bitch, if you must know.)

And that’s where we start to get into the real reason why people create. Because, after all, Art-making is really just about the exercise of creativity. All kids do it, and then it’s socialized out of most everyone. We random rebels and infidels are left to color and draw as adults, with our goatees and over-inflated egos. Right?

Not exactly. I don’t advertise it, but I’ve been teaching at-risk high school students for almost seven years. My students come from very difficult families and situations. Some are involved in gang activity and drug dealing. Others have become pregnant during the term. It’s a tough but smart group of kids. I learn every week, and have to be flexible to make it work. But work it does, and here’s why.

The secret is that making Art, creating things, is a transformative process. The act of creation takes certain elements of our psyche, energy, if you will, and morphs it out of our heads and into the real world. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be alchemized. The reason why Art works so well in therapy is that it allows for negative energy and/or trauma to be cleared out of our heads, and turned into something productive, without having to speak about things literally. Pictures can communicate energy without words, and in so doing, can tell stories that would be otherwise stuck in the murky world of the subconscious. The act of creation is akin to shining light on our shadows, (Jung again) and it enables the creator the opportunity to move on. Catharsis.

I’ve struggled with whether to write this, as I’m aware that to many it will seem like New Age nonsense from a Taos hippie. I get it. But at the same time, I’ve gone all in, as it were, discussing Art each and every week, so I thought it was only appropriate to explain why. Before I discovered photography, I was an up-tight, insecure, very lost little Jersey boy. Then, once I found a method to channel my anxiety and angst into something tangible, everything fell into place. (And now I feed food scraps to the coyotes.)

Speaking of shadows, in my stack of books this week, I found “In the Shadow of Things,” a new book by Léonie Hampton, published in Rome by Contrasto Books. (It was funded through The F Award for documentary photography.) It seems the perfect example of what I’m trying so earnestly to explicate. The long, rambling photographic narrative is difficult to pin down, but within a the first few images, we know this is a family. Of hoarders, perhaps? But definitely a family, and something is awry.

Throughout the photo section of the book, I never quite sorted out what the deal was. But I didn’t mind, as the pictures were so good. Enchanting, really. Very well made, and in that terrific style where everything seems important, and it’s all done with the proper mood. A woman in a red dress flies through the air into a pile of clothes. (Yves Klein, in bizzaro world.) Varicose veins above slippers, feathers in a young boy’s hair, crumpled toilet paper, ice on a frozen swimming pool, freshly cut wet hair on a bare shoulder.

Finally, in the end, I turned to the text at the back. I knew enough to enjoy the book, to relish the ambiguity, to push towards the answer, and ultimately to realize it didn’t matter. I could love the photographs, and feel the artist’s emotional tenor, without knowing why. That’s why art matters. Because it represents a world without clear answers. Which is the world in which we live.

The text, dense and long, presents a transcript of interviews between the artist and her family. Primarily her mother, the odd woman featured in so many of the photographs. She’s got OCD, and I suppose we’d call her mentally ill. The entire book, seen in this context, is a document of the artist’s family life. One can imagine why Ms. Hampton felt compelled to push into the misery of insanity. It’s her environment, and perhaps her genetic inheritance. But all that confusion makes sense, when seen photographically, and I’m willing to speculate that the artist understands her life a little better, having undertaken the endeavor.

It’s well established that not everyone agrees with me, nor should they. I’m aware that when I make these grand pronouncements, offer myself as an expert on the ineffable, that it can come across as arrogant. I’m willing to take that risk. But from here on in, let’s not have any confusion about what Art is. It’s anything. It’s most often made, but can sometimes be found. And I’d encourage us all to make as much as we can. Because even if it’s bad, just one more photo of a rusted old truck, there’s still value in the effort.
Botom Line: Illness, wonderfully rendered

To Purchase In the Shadow of Things visit Photo-Eye.

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

This Week In Photography Books

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I suppose I have Japan envy. I’m a proud Jersey boy, yes, but sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong country. I’ve been a huge fan of Haruki Murakami for years, having read most everything he’s written. (I know, everyone else loves Murakami too.) But somehow, I relate to that inexorable mashup of techno-futurism, magical realism, Zen Buddhism, and comical absurdity. It feels like home.

I’m just about to finish “1Q84,” Murakami’s new mega-book, so if you spoil the ending for me in the comment section, I will hunt you down and end you. I’m a stone cold killer, if you didn’t know. This new story might not be as good as “The Wind Up Bird Chronicles” and “The Wild Sheep Chase,” but then again, it might well be. I haven’t decided yet, because I stopped reading towards the very end to write this column.

There’s just something so seductive about the idea that there is far more to our collective human experience than we can know. Other worlds, surreal portals, magical ears, beautiful Japanese women, I guess that’s what makes Manga so damn popular. Perhaps we all have Japan envy. And certainly, in the photography community, there’s no shortage of great work emanating from there, and no lack of foreigners who make the trek across the water.

Is there a point to these ramblings? Or better put, will I ever get to the point? Sure. Right here. “Blackdrop Island” is a new purple book I grabbed on my last visit to photo-eye. I was unfamiliar with the Swedish photographer, Klara Källström, and the publisher, B-B-B Books. I’m a sucker for an umlaut, so since she had two in her name, I thought it was worth taking home. (What, that’s not a good enough reason to do a book review?)

Ms. Källström visited Japan recently, probably Tokyo if I had to guess. She wandered around, at night, shooting photographs with a hell of a lot of flash. And somehow, she managed to capture that aforementioned Japanese Magical Realism Juju so perfectly, just so well, that now I wonder if there’s any point in going at all. Certainly not as a photographer in search of that mystery juice. She got there first.

I don’t know if you’ll all share my absolute love of these photos, but then again, I used to think I was the only one with the hots for Kate Winslet, and I was clearly wrong about that. And given that Murakami is a massive global hero, I’m guessing that there are a lot of others who secretly pine for a weird world of Two Moons and talking Sheep men.

Since I’m not now, and will never be the writer that Murakami is, it’s obviously easier to understand these pictures visually than for me to try to describe why they’re so freaking odd. But I’ll try. A gray tree bent over a small road looks like the whiskers cascading off of a witch’s chin. A policeman emerging from between two flash-blinded tree trunks looks like a guardian for the river Styx. Traffic cones look like robots, building bricks vibrate like Van Gogh brushstrokes, and a submerged fish-head looks like, well… a submerged fish-head. There’s a diptych of a man doing Tai Chi by the sea, and I swear it looks like he’s actually summoning the waves all by himself. Masterful stuff.

Normally I don’t bother writing about the essays in these photo-books, because if we wanted to read, we’d all just buy a Kindle. But this one contains some really well-written poetry by Viktor Johansson, printed in both English and Swedish. (But interestingly, not Japanese.) The poems have that same freaky vibe to them, and it’s fun to read them in Swedish, if for no other reason than to enjoy the weird sounds your mouth makes as you pronounce the words.
Bottom Line: Japanese-style Techno-Magically Awesome

To Purchase Blackdrop Island visit Photo-Eye

 

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

This Week In Photography Books

Three local high school kids got very lost on Thanksgiving night. It was nihilistically dark out, and they inexplicably drove their car into a ditch in the middle of our pasture. I’d never of known, as I was already sleeping when it happened. I awoke to violent pounding on my bedroom door, and after the initial fear-based adrenaline dump, I realized that my mother-in-law was outside making a ruckus about tress-passers, and imploring us to let her in. She had a very big gun wrapped in her sweatshirt, and we scattered about trying to figure out what to do.

After deliberating, we chose to call the Sheriff, and learned that it would be 15 minutes or so before help arrived. That’s a long time to wait when shit goes South, and nasty things happen out here all the time. Fortunately, my father-in-law arrived, ever the voice of reason, and walked out into the night, unarmed, to find out what was really going on. So I found myself, shortly thereafter, canceling the cavalry, and helping to tow the probably-stoned-out-of-their-mind kids out of my fallow irrigation ditch. Crisis averted. Gun returned to its proper home under my mother-in-law’s pillow.

This time of year, with Thanksgiving a week behind us and Christmas fast approaching, we often focus on the annoying and obnoxious aspects of family. We don’t like their presents, or their body odor, or how much noise they make when they chew. We bitch about the boring stories, the TV remote gamesmanship, and the leaden, lard-based Christmas cookies. (OK, that was an exaggeration. Lard makes the cookies lighter. Mmmm, pig cookies.)

What’s my point here? Since we’ve been walking upright, family has been the core bond that ensured that our species survived, then thrived, and now is back in survival mode. Our family is our backup, our own personal army, our clan, our blood. I’ve never doubted for one second that if anything ever went wrong, my wife’s Mom would be breaking down the door, gun in hand, ready to kick some ass. And now I know I was right all along. But the funny thing was, there wasn’t any actual danger. Bonnie, in her fear, succumbed to irrational thinking, and imagined the worst of the situation. 30 seconds talking to the kids would have alleviated her concern.

Since the Renaissance, enlightened scholars have tended to focus on our ability, as creatures, to reason. We have the intellect to act rationally, and over-ride our emotional response to the world. So they say. Nowadays, it’s more fashionable, at least within the world of Behavioral Economics, to accept the opposite. Our reptilian brains, the core of our mental functioning, are strong, and we often act in manners not commensurate with our own best interest. Yes, we can think. But we’re animals. And we’re still afraid of the dark.

It’s funny, but after ten plus years of fighting in Afghanistan, we’re still no closer to democratizing the joint. It’s too tribal, they say. Too remote to conquer. Loyalties are always to the clan, and not some faceless bureaucratic enterprise in Kabul. You know why? Because the government doesn’t come rushing to your aid when there are demons at your door. Your family does. Your neighbors. The people right there in your face. Your blood.

Which is why I was so blown away when I slowly, carefully unpacked a pristine copy of Taryn Simon’s new book, “A Living Man Declared Dead, and Other Chapters.” Straight off, I’ll say this book isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, for starters. And it’s so big that it would be perfect for braining an intruder, if you could actually lift the thing to do the dirty deed. So let’s not assume I’m shilling this thing for Ms. Simon, or for MACK, her perfectionist British publisher.

For the project, which was presented as a solo exhibition at the Tate Modern earlier this year, Ms. Simon spent four years traveling around the world, a modern-day-art-sleuth. She’s very good at showing us what we don’t know we wan’t to see, and in this case she focused on the aforementioned issues at the core of our collective human nature: the power of the clan, and the absurdity or our irrationality. Given that the book is so big and well-constructed, I can see future anthropologists giggling over their coffee pills as they look back on our ridiculous manner of navigating through the world.

Ms. Simon divides the book, and the project, in to chapters. 18 to be exact. Each begins the same way, with a grid of portraits of a clan connected by blood, starting with a particular person, and charting their descendants through time. She’s gone around the Earth to bring back the kind of stories that you think nobody could make up, which is why it makes such a fascinating truth. The title refers to a man in India who was declared dead so that several of his relatives could steal his land claim. Another chapter follows the family of a man abducted by the North Koreans, who’ve resorted to finding immigrants by any means necessary. There’s a chapter devoted to Uday Hussein’s body double, a family of Tanzanian albinos, the “perfect” government sanctioned Chinese family, victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the Scottish mother of a set of thalidomide triplets from the 70′s, and many, many more. (Each is separated by a strong piece of beige canvas. Nice touch.)

After the initial grid, Ms. Simon includes evidence-style images connecting the clan to the crime, so to speak. From there, we see larger, individual portraits of every member of the blood-line that she was able to photograph. Though she’s often been criticized for her super-dry style, I found each portrait to be compelling. Which is really hard to do. The book is so large that you think you’d just glance at the portraits, all these strangers an after-thought, but that’s not how it works. Each face is different than the next, and odd in some magical way. When she encountered people she couldn’t shoot, Ms. Simon published blank gaps in the grid, which becomes a powerful visual symbol. The text explains the reason for the omission, be it religious conviction, travel restrictions, or fear of being kidnapped. Of course there’s plenty of text, explaining the stories, making the connections. And plenty of rabbits too. Lots and lots of rabbits. (Her only non-human narrative focuses on the explosion of the rabbit population in Australia, where the creatures are non-native, and the extreme measures taken by the Aussies to kill the little buggers.)

At it’s core, this book feels as much like a science project as an art series. It’s methodical, categorical, and clearly obsessive. (I have a little vision of Ms. Simon ordering lunch in a diner: egg white omelette, cheese on the side, wheat toast, lightly done, butter and jam on the side on separate plates, coffee, not too hot, with milk instead of cream, shaken, not stirred.) We’ve all heard the stories about how August Sander really wanted to photograph every German, broken down into sub-sections, one at a time. It seems as if Ms. Simon has accomplished the root of that dream, by making our craziest realities a proxy for everyone. Her clans, meticulously traced, represent us all. In a time when the worst predictions feed fear of our imminent decline, it feels like an accomplishment meant as much for our descendants as for us.
Bottom Line: Expensive, but worth it

To purchase A Living Man Declared Dead, and Other Chapters visit Photo-Eye.

This Week In Photography Books

- - Photography Books

We’re not always great with shades of gray, in America. Take Thanksgiving. Most, (but certainly not all) Americans are thrilled at the chance to get a few days off from work, gorge on over-stuffed Turkey and over-salted stuffing, watch a lot of football, and try not to get in a raging fight with their suddenly re-surfaced siblings. Rarely do we invoke the Pilgrims, and our ceremonial celebration of their feast with the Native people of the continent. More rarely, still, do we contemplate the fact that our cause for revelry, while important to us, coincides with the genocide of the formerly plentiful residents of what is now the United States.

Interestingly enough, we photographers worship a particular vision of America, one captured in celluloid by a Swiss guy 50+ years ago. We love the beatnik sensibility, the jaded diner waitresses, the honkey-tonk jukeboxes, the crosses and flags. So much, do we love “The Americans,” that it spawned an army of wandering shutterbugs, metaphorical Jews, investigating other places, bringing the critical eye of a foreigner to each exchange.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up during the Reagan 80′s, read lots of spy fiction about the Evil Empire, and then watched it Fall. The following decade, without a counter-balance to our consumptive power, we grew rich and cocky. We were destined to rule forever, with our democracy, our free markets, and our muscle cars. Made in Michigan.

Pontiac is a town in Michigan. It’s also the name of a GM car brand that was recently disbanded, the result of the manufacturer’s brush with implosion at the height of the Economic collapse a few years ago. The very same collapse, of course, that razed the dreams of a long-lived American Empire. And now, perhaps, our vaunted American Dream itself. From endless horizons to Chinese envy in ten short years. I suppose that’s how it works.

“Pontiac” is also the name of a perfect, tan, hard-cover book recently published by Mack in London, in conjunction with the GunGallery in Stockholm. Ah, the Swedes. Famous for their lack of sun, gloomy stoicism, and now for the sexual violence of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Serious stuff. Gerry Johannson, the photographer behind the project, plays the role of the stranger from distant shores, who seems to have washed up in Pontiac in April of 2010. The book opens with an austere page of statistics, illuminating the slow leak of air that has escaped the balloon. 7% Unemployment in 2000 vs. 31% today. 4,715 vacant housing units. It ends with the ominous phrase, “Demolition means progress, Cities of Promise, MSHDA.”

There is no essay here. No token statement by someone purported to be famous, of whom you haven’t heard. Just a series of small, square, black and white images, flanked below by a title that refers to the street on which they were taken. Bleak. Clean. Quiet. Truth be told, it starts a little slow. You think of Robert Adams, Henry Wessel, a bit of Freidlander in the compositional style, and of course the aforementioned Swiss Hipster, whom I don’t need to name. So slow, in fact, that I actually flipped to the back and worked my way from there. (It’s a strange habit that I have, mostly with magazines.)

Soon enough, the book seduced me like a Reno hooker sipping Vodka at the bar. (Just a simile. Never happened.) First, I was moved by the mood, the ugly beauty, the sweet scent of the decrepit. We are all suckers for an abandoned building, or in this case many. Then, I began to notice that Johansson often photographed the same intersection from two angles. East and West? North and South? Who knows, unless you live in Pontiac. He also included diptychs; in one case, double images of the same church. Further, then closer. As to the use of Black and White, the use of the square? Perfect.

I worked my way from back to front, and the barrage of empty streets, not subtle, took on the pacing of an old Blues song. Turn the pages, hear the words. I didn’t expect to see many people, though there are a few images, from a distance, of small humans towards the front. Just when I thought it was safe to judge the book as a lyrical, very well-made elegy to our collective despair, it started to get a bit weird. First, there was a photograph of a student center with a row of trees outside, but upon closer inspection, they’re not trees. I don’t know what they are. They look like fat, eyeless, hooded Klan members in washed out gray uniforms. Then I got to an image, titled “Joslyn Road,” that had a small sign in the lower right hand corner. I struggled to recognized the characters, which looked like hieroglyphs. As I stared, confused, slowly my eyes refocused, and I could read the cut-off words “Great Cros.” (Short for Great Lakes Crossing) I flipped away and back again, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Happened again. (I admit, it was pretty early in the morning.)

The next page, having switched again to front to back, was another photo, also titled “Joslyn Road.” In an overgrown field of weeds and Evergreen trees, looming in the background, we see a big white Orb, with a line of oval lights emanating from within. It looks, for all the world, like a spaceship sitting behind the trees. What is it? I have no idea. It’s so fantastic, I’m staring at it right now, eyes away from the keyboard. WTF? Inexplicable Sci-Fi in a meditation on the decline and Fall of the American Empire? Wow.

Mr. Johannson develops a rhythm to this book, and a symbol set of shadows, little houses, cars, bars, and lots of trees. It’s the trees that take back the abandoned neighborhoods, you know. The overgrowth of Nature that results from an out-flux of people. Sure, they might knock down some houses, and make a few new parks. Sounds nice. And maybe the United States will find it’s footing, and begin to make things again. I don’t know, and neither do you.
Bottom Line: Perfect

To purchase Pontiac visit Photo-Eye

This Week In Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Just curious, but am I predictable in my unpredictability? If so, some of you must have seen this week’s column coming. Last Friday, we showcased some low-pro, under-the-radar type books you probably haven’t heard of. So of course, today, I’m busting out the big guns. Today, you get a sneak peak at three new photobooks by guys who are all over the place right now. A little fashion, a little journalism, and a bit of art to ease you into the Thanksgiving vortex. Will next week’s books be all about turkey slaughter and obesity? Stay tuned.

Speaking of Mr. Richardson, I suspect that some of you probably know him personally, this being a tight-knit industry and all. I’ve never met the man, but am quite familiar with his work. Last Friday, I showed his blog to my students, and the lead feature was a video of Terry making out with Chloë Sevigny, who was dressed, improbably, as Terry Richardson. (Just curious, but would you make out with Chloë Sevigny if she was dressed as Terry Richardson?) If you’ve ever stopped to ask yourself how anyone would end up like that, then you need to check out “Mom & Dad,” a new double-book production just released by Mörel Books in London. Two, minimalist black soft-covered books come together in a simple black slip cover. Mom, and Dad. Each is a raw, emotion-laden little ride through Terry Richardson’s past, through a documentation of each of his parents. Who, not surprisingly, seem like they’re bat-shit crazy. For all of the gloss of his editorial work, I think these volumes are intimate, and the photographs are well made. I can’t say it’s disturbing, even when his mother flips the bird to the camera, or shows off her octogenarian boobs. Because you kind of expect that from him. It’s tough to continue to shock, when the bar has already been set so high. The project is an edition of 1000, so grab one now, if you’re into this sort of a thing.
Bottom Line: Surprisingly tender, unsurprisingly crazy

To purchase Mom & Dad visit Photo-Eye

 

 

Our next book, “Iraq/ Perspectives,” by Benjamin Lowy, comes to us from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, by way of William Eggleston. Mr. Lowy, who once offered me the chance to touch his shrapnel, (I assumed, incorrectly, that he was joking), received this book as a prize for winning the 2011 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. Mr. Eggleston was the judge, which gives the volume a high-art imprimatur. The smooth, black, hard cover consists of two separate projects shot in Iraq, where Mr. Lowy spent years documenting the war for various news outlets. The first is a set of pictures shot through the bullet proof window of an armored Humvee, and is intentional in it’s depiction of Iraqi street life at a remove. At first, I was put off by the lack of viscerality, of any real emotional connection to the subject matter. But then I realized that it was a metaphor for the way Americans actually experienced the war, which ate up so much of our hard earned cash, and left a trail of blood and detached limbs across that desert country, so many miles from here. Most of us probably couldn’t tell the difference between Basra and Tikrit with a gun to our heads, so the cool detachment of the photographs seems appropriate, upon proper reflection. The second set of images were shot through Military-grade night vision goggles, so they too present a green, altered perspective. One photo of some bound, gagged presumed prisoners of war will likely stay with me for a while.
Bottom Line: New-style journalism for the 21st C

To purchase Iraq/ Perspectives visit Photo-Eye

 

 

Finally, we come to “Interlacing,” a canvas-wrapped soft cover book released a few months ago by the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, and Steidl. It was published in conjunction with a major retrospective of Ai Weiwei’s career photographic output. By now, I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you about Ai Weiwei, as his nasty detention at the hands of the Chinese Government has made him the most famous artist in the world. (And somewhere in London, Damien Hirst sheds a diamond-studded tear.) This particular book was sent to me in response to the article I wrote on Ai Weiwei’s behalf earlier this year, but it’s also available at photo-eye. As such, I thought it was appropriate to review it. Let me cut to the chase, for once, and just suggest that you buy this book. The breath of work to be found is astonishing, from early photos of the artist and his Chinese hipster buddies running around NYC in the 80′s, to the famed middle-finger images that include a Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, the Duomo in Florence, and a sheep meadow in Xinjiang. It presents documentation of the rise of some now ubiquitous contemporary Chinese architecture, a set of cell phone images shot in 2009, and a series of individual portraits of the Chinese citizens that Ai Weiwei brought to Kassel Germany for the Documenta 12 festival in 2007. (That was his project: transporting 1001 Chinese citizens to visit the show as a cultural exchange.) There are probably 20 other sets of images here, beyond what I’ve already mentioned. It’s dense with prose as well, including reprinted Tweets. I may be biased, but this book makes a compelling case for why Ai Weiwei might be the best artist in the world right now.
Bottom Line: You should buy this book

To purchase Interlacing visit Photo-Eye

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