Category "Photography Books"

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.

This Week In Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

A few weeks ago, I outed myself for having created a male-centric photo-book review column. Rather than embracing the gender bias, I sought to rectify the problem, good feminist that I am. (My wife went to Vassar and Smith, so my credentials are solid.) So of course, this week, just to keep you guessing, I’m  offering up a week of guy books. Most men, as we all know, like cars, sports, and blowing stuff up. With that in mind…

“The New Cars 1964″ is a blue, hard cover book by Lee Friedlander, recently released by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. (Not content to merely put on exhibitions, those guys are a serious publishing house as well.) In our aerodynamic present, where a Hyundai can look like a Mercedes, and Nissan commercials mock the Chevy Volt for having a gas tank, it’s hard to imagine anyone bragging on a new gas-guzzler with a bitchin’ set of shark fins. Big, heavy, lumbering behemoths from Detroit are a part of our nation’s history, not the present. Which is what makes this book so much fun. It’s just straight up vintage. Apparently, Mr. Friedlander was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to photograph the secret new 1964 models, and he did it in a style to which we’ve since become accustomed. The photographs, not exactly glamorous advertisements, were rejected, and sat in a box until very recently. The images are busy, witty, and headache-inducing, as we might expect. It’s a cool opportunity to see a bit of Americana, timestamped in (mostly) Motown circa 1963.
Bottom Line: Never-before-seen vintage work

To purchase The New Cars 1964 visit Photo-Eye

 

“Weird Sports” is a smooth, hard cover monograph by Sol Neelman, recently published by Keher Verlag in Germany. Does the title give away the content? You bet it does. This is not a book that will make you feel like you are boning up on brain cells in a quest to cure cancer. It will, however, make you chuckle, and develop an appreciation for the absurd and countless ways people choose to amuse themselves. If you were to sit down, get stoned, and write a list of the silliest things that anyone could invent and call a sport, you probably wouldn’t be as creative as the lunatics that Mr. Neelman found in his global quest. Doubt me? Here are some examples: Extreme Pencil Fighting, Lingerie Football, Mutton Busting, Live Monster Wrestling, Head Pulling, and Cardboard Tube Fighting. Obviously, there are some less ridiculous offerings in this book, but it’s a terrific collection of images, and must have required a hefty travel budget. Between Mr. Neelman’s wit, well-constructed compositions, and facility with color, I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t enjoy “Weird Sports.” (Though I’m sure you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.)
Bottom Line: Hilariously human

To purchase Weird Sports visit Photo-Eye

 

Though I joked about mens’ love of blowing shit up, and my tone thus far has been breezy, there’s nothing funny about “Antipersonnel,” a new hard cover monograph by Raphaël Dallaporta. This edition was published by the Musée de L’Élysée in Lausanne and Éditions Xavier Barral, though I believe there was an edition of this project previously released. The book contains a suite of stark images of land mines, shot straight up, in studio, against a black background. Killing machines, decontextualized. Each image is paired with a text page that gives the code, country of origin, size and a description for each bomb. It’s a dry, categorical approach to looking closely at a messy, destructive, borderline evil subject matter. The viewer supplies the emotion through our imagination, as we mentally project the screams and shrieks that each model has no doubt produced. The project was supported by Amnesty International, and it’s easy to understand why.
Bottom Line: Important

To purchase Antipersonnel 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

by Jonathan Blaustein

It occurred to me the other day, after wrapping up a beginning photo class, that it’s a lot easier to teach style than substance. My students, all young, had turned in an assignment of self-portraits, and the level of stylistic sophistication was pretty advanced. Very fashionable. As to the substance, let’s just say that one would glean little about their personalities, beyond the fact that they were pretty successful in masking any inner turmoil. Now, while this might seem to have little, if anything, to do with a weekly photo book review column, I used it as my inspiration for today’s selection. Each book below carves out some serious new ground, stylistically, while looking at subjects that have been photographed to death. They use blatantly different techniques, and yet all manage to end up at hyper-real aesthetic that is so emblematic of the 21st Century.

Edgar Martins’ “This is Not a House,” is a smooth, mid-sized hardcover recently released by Dewi Lewis Publishing in England. I suspect many of you might be familiar with some of this photographs, as Mr. Martins was embroiled in quite the stink a couple of years ago. I vaguely recall the scenario, in which the NY Times had to pull his work from their website when it was determined that the images had been “manipulated,” as if we’re living in a world where anything is not. But I never got a chance to see the pictures. They’re terrific. Irrespective of the controversy (and the book’s text makes many, many references to it), I think this is probably the best visual encapsulation of the housing bubble meltdown I’ve yet encountered. We see an image of the inside of a new, traditional-style living room, well-lit, set against the window view of a golf-course and snow capped mountains. Perfect. Wood, concrete, glass and steel, all new, but vacant and post-apocalyptic, coalesce into a vision of a society where “More was More,” and now we’re left to grapple with the idea that “Less is More.” It’s definitely reminiscent of Lewis Baltz’s “Park City,” but with his strong use of strobes, and the apparent digital correction in favor of symmetry, Mr Martins’ images feel constructed, sculptural and false. They’re hollow and fictitious, all the while “documenting” a phenomenon that shared the same characteristics.
Bottom Line: Worth the drama

To purchase “This is Not a House” visit Photo-Eye

 

Suzanne Opton’s “Soldier/Many Wars” is a new, hard-cover offering from Decode Books in Seattle. It’s one of those two-books-in-one type deals that I’ve seen a bit recently. (Turn it around, start again.) And like Mr. Martins’ project, apparently the work created some controversy that I missed a couple of years back. Her portraits of soldiers, taken up close, while the subjects’ heads were resting on a table, were blown up into cryptic billboards and installed in cities around the country. I wish I’d seen one, as I’m interested in artists who are taking their work directly to the people. But of course, none of that really has anything to do with whether the book is any good or not. It is. With the “Soldier” project, Ms. Opton manages to pull the viewer as close to a contemporary warrior’s face as we’re likely to get. By photographing the sitters sideways, she automatically changes our perspective from every other portrait we’ve seen. Yes, some of them look like they could be dead, but that only enhances our interest. The photos are contemplative, powerful, and nuanced, and the slightly-off color palette and super hi-res look definitely push them towards hyper-real. Fascinating. The “Many Wars” project, in which she photographs soldiers receiving treatment for PTSD, wrapped in cloaks, was less interesting to me. But one dude is a dead ringer for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that was worth a giggle right there.
Bottom Line: Cutting-edge

To purchase “Soldier/Many Wars” visit Photo-Eye

 

Finally, we come to Alejandro Chaskielberg’s “La Creciente.” It’s a smooth-surface hard-cover published by Nazraeli Press, with funding support by the Burn Magazine Emerging Photographer Grant. Many a documentary photographer had gone into the bush, or the forest, or the jungle to highlight the story of a group of indigenous workers, cutting into the Earth in some way or another. Been there, done that, true. These photographs, however, don’t look like any of the other images you’ve seen with that particular obsession. (And I believe they are staged as well.) Mr Chaskielberg, an Argentine, photographs only in the light of the Full Moon, (which doesn’t seem to be connected to any concept,) but that light, mixed with a healthy use of strobe lighting, creates a striking effect. With the shallow depth of field, they look a bit like tilt-shift images, but not entirely. Truthfully, I don’t love all the photos, but at least a handful are so good that the book is worth a look. “The Foreigner,” in which a beautiful woman, head turned to the side, emerges from the green grass with the sun behind her, looks so much like a 21st C Madonna image that I had to look twice. Two pages later, in “Escape,” a woman is perched awkwardly on the riverbank, a blue canoe below her in the water. It just doesn’t look real. I accept that on some level, there was a woman, and she did exist on the river bank, but my brain still reads the image as a surreal construction in a studio somewhere, or more likely a vision conjured up and rendered by a computer. Very fitting for our times.
Bottom Line: A fresh look at a familiar subject

To purchase “La Creciente” 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

If, like me, you have a kid, you’re likely to have re-discovered your adoration for Dr. Seuss. That man, crazy as he must have been, could most definitely spin a yarn. And I just love the way his stories and sentences always seem to find a balance. (On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool…) Not too messy, not too clean, not to cutesy, not to tough. Just right. So with that in mind, I thought I’d follow up last week’s selection of big, cloth-bound, heavy monographs with a couple of small, taut, poetic little books. (And of course, they’re by female photographers to balance out all the previous guys. As promised.)

Just in time for Halloween, “Dondoro,” is a soft cover, perfect bound, slim little booklet by Estelle Hanania, published by Kaugummi Books. It’s a creepy, trippy set of images of Japanese masks, dolls and dancers that has the feel of a ancient funeral procession. A head stone image and the general melancholic tone hint that the color photos metaphorically depict lament and sorrow. As the French-only text offers up “En mémoire d’Hoichi Okamato 1947-2010,” I feel pretty comfortable with that guess. I’m not a scary movie guy, to be frank, and when I saw that Japanese horror flick with Sarah Michelle Gellar a few years ago, I almost crapped my pants. But this book is cool, and I’ve found myself opening it and closing it a lot since I picked it up from photo-eye. It must be the time of year, because everyone likes getting the heebie-geebies in late October, but this is a book that I think will stand the test of time.
Bottom Line: Disturbing, but in a good way.

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Dondoro

 

“Hurricane Story,” offered by Broken Levee Books, (via Chin Music Press,) is a colorful little hard cover by Jennifer Shaw. I confess that I really haven’t seen anything like this, and neither have you. Ms. Shaw, a New Orleans resident, was one week from giving birth when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. She tells the story of her and her husbands’ evacuation and subsequent displacement, which I admit is a tale we’ve heard before. And of course, there have been a hundred natural disasters since, each of which pushes Katrina a bit further into the background. In this book, however, the story is re-created using toy props, shot dreamily and lusciously with a Holga. Each page uses a single sentence to illuminate the narrative, and the technique enables the viewer to read the story both in words and pictures simultaneously. It’s lovely, witty, poignant and original. Definitely a book you want to have in your collection.
Bottom Line: Just right

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Hurricane Story

 

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

So before anyone points it out, I’d like to note that this column has thusfar been a bit male-centric. My apologies. Today’s offering is no exception: all dudes. Fortunately, I’ve run through my addictive photo-book stash, and need to hit photo-eye for a re-up. I’ll make sure to find a better gender balance going forward. The collection of books to be reviewed today have a few things in common. All are beautifully produced, cloth-bound hardcovers, and ought to satisfy last week’s commenters who yearn for something less derivative. Lest I be accused of pandering, however, I’ve had these books waiting in the queue for a month or so.

“Ernst Haas: Color Correction” is a gray cloth-wrapped book from Steidl, with bright red text accents jumping off the cover. Mr. Haas, for those of you who are unaware, was a highly influential commercial and editorial photographer (and Magnum member) who holds the distinction of having the first show of color photographs at MOMA. According to the book, he fell out of favor after John Szarkowski took over the MOMA photo department, and his fine art images, or personal work, have not been given proper appreciation until now. So I’d suppose that might be enough of a reason for some of you to grab a copy, given that many of these images have never been seen before. (They went through something like 10,000 slides to make the edit.) But for most of you, it comes down to the pictures, not the backstory. This volume is teeming with extraordinary color images that collectively create a serene, quiet tone, despite the loud and audacious palette. Abstraction plays a large role, but we get to see people, places, and things, all mashed up with reflections and visual obstructions. Personally, I fell in love with a photo of a man holding a pomelo behind his back in on a NYC street, and a poignant little image of an abandoned necklace, nestled on the ground among some dead leaves.
Bottom Line: A Classic Career, Re-imagined

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Ernst Haas: Color Correction.

 

 

“Joel Sternfeld: First Pictures” makes a great complement to the Haas book. This one is also offered by Stiedl, in white, with a classic 70′s Americana image affixed to the cover. If you think that the title and that photo give you a sense of what’s in store within, you’re right. They do. This collection of photographs was made between 1971-1980, and it shows. The last words in the book’s essay are “This book is a time capsule,” and I didn’t need them to tell me that. It’s obvious. But wow, could this guy find the symbolic moments of that decade that we all love to love. (Yes, that was a Donna Summer reference. Deal with it.) This is a large book with lots of photographs, and like the Haas book, many of which you’ve never seen before. They have a wit, pathos, and dexterity with symbolism that are as enjoyable as the cultural references. A yellow wheelchair chained to a sign post follows an image of a old lady counting her dollars at the counter of a NYC diner, the empty soup-cracker-wrapper catching the light from the flash just so. Then he drops an image of a bunch of cigars and some horned-rimmed black glasses in the pocket of a 70′s polka-dotted polyester shirt. Boom. What a tripych. He closes the narrative with a series of images shot in malls around New Jersey in 1980, (yes, I was looking for anyone I knew) that perfectly anticipates our contemporary fascination with Jersey Shore, while also capturing the spirit of 80′s teased hair and un-ironic mustaches. This book is a keeper, for sure, and I’m sorry I have to return it.
Bottom Line: Unapologetically Awesome

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Joel Sternfeld: First Pictures

 

I thought I’d finish up with another set of color images that attempts to take a fresh look at the world. We jump a few decades to the present for “Suburbia Mexicana,” a gray cloth-bound hard cover that was published jointly by photolucida and Daylight books.  I’m a big fan of Alejandro Cartagena’s work, and I’m probably at the back of a long line, as he’s been honored by just about everyone for this project. Mr. Cartagena set about to take a closer look at the cookie-cutter, mini-muffin style concrete micro-homes that have sprouted up around the Mexican industrial city of Monterrey, where he is based. (Though the phenomenon exists around Mexico.) The images can be read ironically, like, look at those ridiculous little monsters debasing the environment at the base of some desert Mountain-scape, or earnestly, like, look at what happens when a Third world country begins to develop a middle-class, and people can finally afford a decent place for their families with a TV and indoor plumbing. Regardless, “Suburbia Mexicana” captures the essence of a global movement that has seen the American middle class struggle while hungry, desperate people around the world claw towards a better way of life. Those of you curious to see what’s going on in our neighbor to the South, (aside from the gruesome drug war and absurd permanent spring-break tourist culture) will get a unique vision of an issue super-relevant to our times.
Bottom line: Insightful

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Suburbia Mexicana

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

If you’ve read any of my travelogue/art criticism articles on APE, you’re aware of my willingness to speak frankly and critically about photography on the wall. This feature, though, is a little different. Our goal is to highlight some cool and interesting books that have been recently released out into the wild. So consider anything you see below to be recommended for purchase.

Ed Panar’s “Same Difference” was recently released by Gottlund Verlag, in an edition of 100. It’s an orange and brown colored hardcover monograph, and the color scheme evokes a fall day in the Pocono mountains. (I believe the publisher and artist both have ties to PA.) I probably have a soft spot for this work, given that I shot many a similar image when I lived in San Francisco, back in the day. (Cracked sidewalks, geometric patterns on a Mission St Victorian.) It’s a long collection of seemingly random moments, shot in the seemingly random travels of the 21st Century hipster artist. Individually, they give the sense that anyone could have grabbed a shot here or there after a long night of boozing, or a long day of wandering around the neighborhood. (When you don’t have a real job.) Collectively, they draw one’s attention to the infinite varieties of abstraction and emotion embedded in the every day, and resonate that endorphin-rich feeling we all get, occasionally, when we feel like we’re living in a Wim Wenders movie. Each double-paged spread becomes a diptych, and the juxtapositions are thoughtful. “Same Difference” is a great example of why the book can become the work of art, as opposed to the individual image.
Bottom line: Well-seen

Visit Photo-Eye To Purchase “Same Difference”.

 

Rinko Kawauchi’s “Illuminance” is a hardcover monograph, by Aperture, that manages to glow in a manner suggested by the title. The spine is separated from the book, which is a little quirky, but the inside of the cover is more easily seen this way, and it introduces the trippy, day-glow, space-age palette that one finds within the plates. Nice touch. Not unlike Mr. Panar’s aforementioned book, “Illuminance” is a collection of seemingly disconnected images. But it differs distinctly, as these images are anything but random and dry. Page after page, the photographs scream “art,” with light, and color, dynamic compositions, and the impact of surprise. The kaleidoscopic pinks and purples, black cats and costume jewelry, desert wanderers and dead bugs, and of course the requisite light cascading through cherry blossoms. Ultimately, she builds a cohesive vision through the narrative. Symbols begin to repeat, and colors emphasize their meaning. The folks at photo-eye told me that Ms. Kawauchi has a huge following and her books always sell well. I can understand why.
Bottom line: Gorgeous.

Visit Photo-Eye To Purchase “Illuminance”.

 

Like the fall bible of a fashion magazine, “Der Rote Bulli”, published by NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, takes its time getting to the good stuff. Plates begin on page 93, and many of you will probably not bother reading the voluminous text that precedes it. I believe the gist is that the wave of German photography that took over the photo world found it’s inspiration in the work of Stephen Shore and his fellow “New Topo” colleagues. I’m guessing we already knew that. But what the sturdy hardcover offering lacks in innovation, it more than makes up with a terrific collection of high-level reproductions of so much important work. All the usual suspects are well-represented (Shore, the Bechers, Ruff, Struth, Gursky, Höfer, Esser), but there are some nice discoveries as well. Andi Brenner’s portraits of package-hugging, speedo-wearing swimmers set against the tackiest 70′s wallpaper you’ve ever seen…awesome. I’d say this is a must-have for anyone who loves the German aesthetic, (replete with ironic representations of the American West.)
Bottom line: Classic photographs, well-constructed

Visit Photo-Eye To Purchase “Der Rote Bulli”.

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 new feature useful.

 

 


This Week In Photography Books

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I live an hour plus North of Santa Fe, so I visit often. As such, I spend quite a bit of time at photo-eye, which has one of the world’s best inventories of photo books and ‘zines. We’re kicking off a new feature where I’ll be doing quick reviews of new releases, to give you a sense of what’s new and interesting on the market.

“Presences” is an over-sized, perfect bound soft cover exhibition catalogue of Richard Learoyd’s work recently released by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Mr. Learoyd works with a room-sized camera obscura, and a very sharp lens, to create razor-sharp nude and clothed portraits of women, (primarily,) bathed in Dutch Master-style light. The ladies look like a cross between a Julia Margaret Cameron subject and the geek-chic type lovely twenty-something you might see in a record store circa 1979. (Or a café in the Mission District circa 2011.) They’re lovely, but not in a lascivious way. Just a fantastic collection of very well made photographs. Bottom Line: Seductive.
Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Presences


Peter Granser, an Austrian photographer, recently released a new perfect-bound soft-cover book, published by Super Labo in Japan. In a bit of amusing, literal titling, it’s called “Sun City/Austria/Coney Island/Deutsche Cowboys/Elvis Tribute Artists/Signs. 2000-2007.” If you surmised that the lengthy name gives you a pretty good sense of what the pictures are about, you’d be right. The dry “German” style is evident, true, but the images also have a wickedly ironic sense of humor, poking fun at some of the absurd and optimistic elements of the American character. (A suite of retired ladies dressed up in their old cheerleading costumes. An stooped-over-old, ridiculous Elvis impersonator dancing symmetrically in dueling portraits.) This little narrative captures the real sense of humorous adventure inherent in a good road trip: you never know what’s coming when you turn each page. Bottom Line: Witty.
Visit Photo-Eye to purchase Peter Granser…

OK, I promise I won’t write about this guy again for a while, but for those of you who couldn’t get to MOMA by September 5th, you can get your own copy of Boris Mikhailov’s genius insanity in “The Wedding.” From the looks of it, this time he hooked up with a couple of alcoholic street folks, and managed to photograph their makeshift wedding in a vacant lot. Highlights include the blushing (or at least red faced) bride holding a big dildo over her husband’s head; their smiles as wide as a Nebraska tornado storm. It’s a hardcover in white, edition of 1000 from Mörel Books in London, in case you’re wondering. Highly recommended, if you like that sort of thing. (Brilliant but disturbing. Nudity, but not the fun kind.) Bottom Line: Twisted.

Visit Photo-Eye to purchase The Wedding

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 new feature useful.