This Week in Photography Books: Tod Seelie

- - Photography Books

 

Last week, I told my parents to fuck off on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
(Metaphorically, not literally.)

It was not my proudest moment, and I admit it looks bad upon the surface.

But there was more to it than all that, and it just so happened I reached my breaking point on a ceremonially important day.

C’est la vie.

We can’t control the way life plays out, and normally the most we can control is our own reaction to the hand we’re dealt. (Even then, it can be difficult.)

I never planned to have a weekly column here at APE for the last seven years, but that’s what’s transpired. I’ve been reviewing photobooks, and sharing my life story with you guys each week since I was 37 years old. (Back when I had a wife, a mortgage, and a toddler in the eye-teeth of the Great Recession.)

Yes, folks, we’ve made it to the anniversary column, as it all began in mid-September of 2011.

Now I’m 44, and I’ve got a wife, two kids, (6 and almost 11,) a refinanced mortgage, two car payments, a new photo retreat, and a global platform here, at the New York Times, and through my artwork, which has been seen by many.

Though I keep banging away at the keyboard, the person doing the tapping is essentially different from the guy who began here seven years ago.

All my cells have turned over, as have yours. (If you’ve been reading the entire time: a group that likely includes Rob, my wife, and the father I just pissed off at the beginning of this column.)

One way I know I’m different is that things that used to bother me, or make me insecure, no longer do.

As I grew up relatively-suburban-normal, by the time I embraced my inner artist/party-guy/cool kid, I never thought I was part of the most-in-crowd.

Even when I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to go to Pratt in 2002, and had an underground gallery called BQE33 in my apartment, (along with the requisite hipster late-night-jammers,) I still thought the real players in the art world were well-protected by a velvet rope I would never cross.

Rich Kids.
Yalies.
Aristocrats.
And of course the “Beautiful Losers.”

I shared my story of Ryan McGinley-envy here in a column years ago, and won’t dredge it up again. (I probably re-mentioned it while critiquing Mike Brodie a few years later.)

Rest assured, no matter how cool I thought I was over the years, that type of artist, (or crowd,) definitely brought out my insecurities.

Nowadays, as grounded as I’ve ever been, that stuff simply doesn’t rattle me anymore.

Not one bit.

I see cool in a different way. It’s being truly comfortable in your skin, owning who you are, and treating everyone with respect until they prove they don’t deserve it.

Hell, just yesterday, I was watching “The Great Escape” for the first time. You’ve got to disqualify James Coburn and Charles Bronson, for the ridiculous accents they were forced to adopt, but DAMN, James Garner and Steve McQueen were so goddamn cool I almost became a bi-sexual.

Afterwards, I hit up Wikipedia and learned that McQueen had been in juvie, street gangs, the military, and military jail. And that he was in the saddle for those amazing motorcycle scenes.

Garner too had fought for his country, and been wounded, so both guys radiated their inner confidence onscreen, and it impressed me well after they’d passed away. (Reading they were both lifelong stoners was a pleasant surprise as well.)

Where does this all leave us?
Will I ever get to the book review?

Of course.
Glad you asked.

Today, I’m breaking with our pattern of male/female to show a book that is bang-on perfect for my musings, and also because the review is painfully late.

I normally keep proper track of my book stack, and get to everything within an appropriate amount of time, but somehow I lost Tod Seelie’s excellent “Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York,” by Prestel, that he sent me back in January. (Apologies, Tod.)

My mistake was everyone’s gain, though, as this book fits squarely in the sweet spot of things I crave for a review. It gives us an insider’s view into several, (not just one,) subcultures we would not otherwise access, it’s extremely well done, and also represents a time and place in a seminal way.

(Add in the fact that I’ve probably reviewed more photobooks about NYC than any other subject, and you hit the trifecta.)

Coincidentally, given that I wrote about my time at Pratt last week, (before I found this book,) apparently Tod and his artist/hipster buddies were at Pratt the same time I was, in the early days of the new millennium.

I’m guessing they were young undergrads, and I was already a serious, near-30-something graduate student with a live-in girlfriend, but still. Same school. Same Brooklyn. Same overall life goal. (Become a successful artist, I’m guessing.)

As the photos in this book imply, (and the copious essays by art-world-insiders back up,) Tod Seelie and his friends are in the biggest museum collections. A band that existed at my own art school, Japanther, (of which I still hadn’t heard until today,) apparently was in a Whitney Biennial, the mother of all insider blessings.

And as I looked at these excellent, cool photographs, I didn’t feel jealous. Or unworthy.

No single dose of envy popped up.

The very kids who used to drive me crazy, who got the acclaim the young-me craved so badly, and all I could think was, “Great book.”

I admit, the Gen-X’er in me did roll my eyes at the requisite hot naked chicks, (as always, Boobs Sell Books,) but beyond that, I found it comprehensive and joyous.

These art-school kids, and bike-riding kids, and music-playing kids, all had a shit-ton of fun during the 11 or so years these pictures were made. (They seem to stop in 2012, around Hurricane Sandy.)

Tod Seelie sent me this book at the turn of 2018, and but it didn’t register in the moment. I’m glad it waited until today, because last week’s closing wish was that you get out there and have some fun this September.

I know there are a lot of you facing serious storm issues, so you have my very best wishes, (New Yorkers included,) but I’ll end today by suggesting that we all have growing left to do, no matter how old we are.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Bottom Line: Awesome, comprehensive look at the Beautiful Losers

To purchase “Bright Nights,” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

Jonathan Blaustein

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