Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

This Week in Photography Books: Carl De Keyzer

 

No one alive has experienced a major war on American soil.

No one.

We adults can relate to 9/11, which still seems fresh, but that simply doesn’t compare to a massive ground invasion, where the tanks roll in and start killing people.

Even 9/11, which is the emotional touchstone of so many Americans today, seems like a token holiday to today’s youth.

I know, because I asked.

My students are all 15-18 years old, so not one of them was a sentient being during that horrible day. A few of them said their parents told them about September 11th, but for others, they didn’t even have that.

The consensus was that 9/11, for today’s kids, was akin to D-Day or Veteran’s Day for older generations. (Something that might get you the day off from school, but probably not.) They compared it to the way I might consider Pearl Harbor, which happened more than 30 years before I was born.

In other words, there are exactly NO people born and raised in this country who know what it feels like to be Syrian right now. Or a Congolese. Or even a Northern Mexican, as their Drug War has claimed countless victims right across the border from Trump’s proposed wall. (Maybe Fox News should run a story about El Chapo’s tunnels, JIC our gangsta President has forgotten?)

It’s all a game here in the US, (according to Michael Lewis writing for Vanity Fair,) because none of us is truly familiar with the stakes.

Massive World Wars that kill millions and millions of people, and devastate large parts of continents, are simply too removed from our collective experience.

Worse yet, the ghostly ramifications of the last time people killed each other here, en masse, are still being felt, as the Red State/Blue State divide tracks so-effing-closely with the boundaries of the Union and the Confederacy.

Honestly, I didn’t set out to write another dispiriting column. I know this space used to funny on a regular basis, and perhaps it will again some day. Lord knows I tried to crack 100 jokes at Trump’s expense, but it got us exactly nowhere.

These articles are now beholden to the books that turn up in the mail, and I respond to what I see, so if you guys start shipping in light-hearted, absurdist photo books, I’ll do my best to soften the mood.

Today, though, I want to show you a truly remarkable publication that came in during the Fall, in a batch of books I was sent by the University of Chicago Press. (BTW, if you Chicago-types have seen Obama around, can you please tell him there are 8 billion people out there who could really use his help?)

The book is called “The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Front,” by Carl De Keyzer and David Van Reybrouck, in conjunction with an exhibition that happened in Bruges, Belgium, in 2014-15. It features a trove of previously unseen glass plate images from WWI, that have been digitized and cleaned up, which accounts for the killer contrasts and unscratched surfaces.

The sharpness is a result of the glass plates themselves, sharper than any print, and the color images were apparently made using potato starch, instead of collodion liquid.

I’ve always said I’m most excited when I see something I’ve never seen before, and that certainly happens here. The photographs, which were made by different photographers in Belgium and France, are mind-blowing in the best/worst possible way.

Children playing war games. Masked munitions workers, stuffing bombs for the next slate of killing. Razed villages. Bloated corpses in the mud.

We see an armless man selling souvenir postcards in front of the wreckage of the former tourist-spot. Or a soldier, alone, making a painting of the ruins that stand before him.

There are insanely-crisp photographs of Belgian architecture, taken by occupying German photographers, to preserve what was about to be annihilated. If you don’t see the antecedents of the now-famous, dry, Bernd-and-Hilla-Becher style, you’re simply not looking. (Or you might be my Dad, who doesn’t know about photo history, but reads each week because, you know, he’s my Dad.)

Most shocking of all, if you still have any breath left to exhale, are the set of portraits of young, dead, Belgian soldiers, made just after the war’s inception. They were used, we’re told, to identify the bodies of the young men, who all came from the same village, and died on the second day of WWI.

Big ups to the production team at the U of C Press, because these reproductions are about as good as I’ve seen, printing-quality-wise. They jump off the page and spit in your face, daring you to look away.

The sad truth of my job, which has been bothering me lately, is that no matter what I say, no matter how compelling the material I present here, it will never engage with any of Trump’s army.

That’s where were are in 2017. No amount of information, unless it comes from his mouth directly, can invade the pre-frontal cortex of a true believer.

Not even these pictures, which are definitive proof of what can happen, when things go really wrong.

So why do it?

Well, just yesterday, I went to see the new shows at the Harwood Museum of Art, here in Taos. They hired a new Director last year, and he’s doing great work, so there was much on the wall that moved me. 19th Century Spanish retablos, minimalist Agnes Martin grid prints, and some ink drawings, by novelist John Nichols, of Day-of-the-Dead style skeletons that were so good I smiled.

The first thing I did, when I left the museum, was to walk across the street to the art supply store and buy some good paper, a brush, and some Japanese ink, because all of a sudden, I felt compelled to do something beyond photography.

Inspiration is worth its weight in gold.

So I might not be able to imprint upon the minds of a certain type of American, but I don’t write for them. I write for you guys, the creators and difference makers, and if anything you see today inspires you to fight harder, or enjoy a few minutes of respite from the otherwise dire stories out there, that’s good enough for me.

Bottom Line: Fascinating, scintillating, never-before-seen pictures of WWI.

Click here to purchase “The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Front,”

If you’d like to submit a book for review, please email me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com

The Getty Research Institute’s Online Palmyra Exhibition

 

When I got to college in 1992, Pearl Jam was a big deal, and Kurt Cobain was still alive. The first Gulf War had recently ended, and Bill Clinton had not yet assumed office.

As a freshman, I took a Poli Sci class with a fiery professor, and learned a lot about the Cold War, and Spheres of Influence. We were taught about an important book, which had just been released by Francis Fukuyama, which theorized “The End of History.” (Insert ironic joke here.)

It’s now 2017, and for the last three semesters, I’ve been teaching Art History at the local community college. The class is called “Introduction to Art,” and I enjoy sharing my passion with a bunch of Post-Millennials who were reared on screens, calm in the knowledge that Barack Obama had their backs.

As I built my curriculum, I realized that for thousands of years, art was used in service of wealth and power, with few exceptions. This idea of personal expression, speaking truth to power, and radical innovation, that drives the best in contemporary art, would have been unimaginable to our artistic forebears.

Rather, artists and craftspeople were recruited, (if not compelled,) to make objects, buildings and images that communicated directly to an illiterate populace. The message was consistent across cultures: We are in charge. We are the ones bestowed with divine right. Cross us at your peril.

There have always been people who craved power, and were willing to do whatever it took to exercise control over others. Whether out of a desire for riches, because of actual belief in a religious theology, or because they simply craved violence and destruction.

Today, we look back on these artifacts as our collective, cherished history. One can spend hours traversing a great museum, like the Met or the Louvre, and wander amidst objects that reach back 5000 years, and there are often more commonalities than differences. (A basalt Ganesha from India and a basalt giant Olmec head from Mexico are not that different, when you get down to it.)

Hitting up your local museum, if you live in a major city, is far easier than catching a flight to Rome to walk through the Forum, before taking a train to Bari, grabbing the boat to Corfu, taking another boat to Athens, and then perusing the Acropolis for a little compare and contrast.

But sometimes, if you live in the sticks like I do, even getting to a major city can be too much. (Cash, time, you name it.) Thankfully, the best minds, or at least the people in the best museums, have begun to respond to that reality. (And to the fact that the aforementioned youth of today treat their screens as de-facto glass windows into reality.)

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ramble, but I always get to the point eventually. This month, in our new feature highlighting fascinating digital portfolios, we’re headed back to the 19th Century, when the French sea captain Louis Vignes first visited the ancient Syrian desert Oasis city of Palmyra.

Earlier this year, the Getty Research Institute in LA published, “The Legacy of Palmyra,” which they believe is the world’s first entirely online art exhibition. It features Mr. Vignes’ amazing photographs, alongside other visions of the city, which reached its peak in the 3rd Century AD, before it was conquered by the Romans.

As if we needed further refutation of the absurd idea that history can ever end, (beyond our fearless leader D. Trump,) his best buddy Vlad Putin has used his propaganda outlet, the RT network, to release visions of Palmyra today, as they’ve recently taken the city back from its former captors, ISIS. (Also known in this column as The. Worst. People. In. The. World.)

If you’re unaware, ISIS used Palmyra for target practice, in 2015 and again this year, much as they destroyed priceless historical artifacts in the Iraqi ruins of Nimrud, near Mosul. They released videos of the art-slaughter, which featured gleeful dickheads doing damage to things that belong to all of us. (IMHO.)

The GRI’s exhibition, which is as cool as ISIS is terrible, is an extensive effort to highlight the manner in which history remains relevant. It took a year to produce, featuring copious hours by a well-constructed team, which was led by curators Peter Bonfitto and Frances Terpak.

Ms. Terpak was kind enough to agree to an interview, so I could learn more about the Louis Vignes pictures, and the exhibition in general.

It all began back in 1864, when a French aristocrat, Honoré Théodore Paul Joseph d’Albert, the duc de Luynes, was organizing an expedition to the Middle East, as he was desperate to visit the Dead Sea, among other locations. (Including Petra and Palmyra.)

Many photographers working today are aware of the subset of photo history, in which independently wealthy people have risen to the top rank of the medium. (I’m not naming names, but then again, I don’t have to.) The tradition of the upper crust adventuring and creating is nothing new, and explains the origin of the Vignes photos.

“The duc, given his status, could self-fund this trip to the Dead Sea,” Ms. Terpak said. “He built a small team of scientists, with a geologist, a naturalist, and the duc himself, who studied archaeology and had an interest in biblical studies.”

“He wanted to take someone on the trip who would also record it photographically. With Vignes, what he got was a sailor who also knew the ports in the Eastern Mediterranean, and he was a photographer.”

Much of what transpired has been lost to history, she told me, including whether Louis Vignes made significant work after his excursion, but it is believed the duc hired the famed French photographer Charles Negre to teach Vignes how to make prints in the field.

The Getty Research Institute purchased the Palmyra prints in 2015, and received such an outpouring of interest in a blog story about the acquisition, (and a concomitant promotional Facebook post,) that the curators realized there was an untapped desire for further information. Surprisingly, the acquisition was made before ISIS destroyed much of the Palmyra ruins, but the subsequent ISIS attack made it all the more relevant.

Research institutions like the Getty have a mission to preserve and educate, and working within cyberspace allows them to reach all the people who can’t spend a day exploring the two lovely campuses on the West Side of LA.

Ms. Terpak confirmed as much, when she said, “As I think is evident, we wanted the audience to be everyone. From the specialist who knows Roman History and the Eastern Mediterranean, to the high school student who is approaching current events, and is curious about why Palmyra is important.”

“I think 80% of the site is downloadable. Everything the Getty owns is downloadable, and can be printed.”

She added that the site is also being translated into Arabic at the moment, so it can be better accessed by people who are actually being disrupted by War in the Middle East.

We also discussed why Putin is so intent on associating himself with Palmyra, as it has little strategic import in a larger war. Its power, rather, is symbolic, as it associates him with the history of human civilization, and the many rulers who’ve been etched into stone.

“I think ancient monuments throughout the ages, from the ancient to the present, have always been symbols for rulers to promote themselves, and to show their right to be in power, because they are connected with these great civilizations of the past,” she said.

“I don’t find it surprising that Putin is doing this.”

Lest you doubt me, just today, not minutes before I started writing, I discovered this article claiming that the Syrian Army had “annihilated” one of the perpetrators of the Palmyra destruction, and this fresh video from RT that shows Russian soldiers clearing land mines from the recaptured ruins.

We also discussed why ISIS would go out of its way to do such things. Victors have always raped and pillaged, to our eternal human shame, but this seemed so deliberate. So evil. (A word I typically avoid.)

I asked her why she thought they did it, and she replied, “Syrians don’t want to leave Syria. What people like ISIS are doing is they’re causing not just destruction of the monuments, but they’re forcing the people to leave because they’ve lost their heritage.

“They’ve lost their income. Palmyra was a site for tourism, and by destroying it, it’s destroying its economy.”

Ultimately, though, this is a photography blog, and the Louis Vignes pictures are pretty astonishing. They capture a place that no longer exists, and the thought that we need to reach back to the 19th Century for documentation is rather sad.

That said, Louis Vignes did not see the Palmyra that ISIS encountered, as some of what they destroyed was actually reconstructed by archaeologists in the 20th Century. The Vignes pictures far better reflect the Palmyra that sat, hidden in the desert for centuries, before being “rediscovered” by English explorers in the 18th C.

It was a multi-cultural place, even in antiquity, as it was a cross-roads between the massive Roman Empire to the West, and the Parthian Empire of Persia to the East. Ms. Terpak added that much of the 20th Century scholarship was conducted by Polish and Japanese teams, so the fact that it’s currently being mined by Americans digitally, and Russians IRL, is nothing new.

The Vignes images, quiet as they may be, speak for themselves. While I’m rarely at a loss for words, (including here, as we just cracked 1600,) I don’t think there’s much I need to say, description wise. They’re fantastic, and I’m very grateful that the GRI has allowed us to publish them here. (Again, you can download and print them directly, should you so choose.)

Rather, I think I’ll let Ms. Terpak have the last word on the pictures, as she’s earned the right.

“I think they’re haunting,” she said. “They just evoke the mystique of the place. I’m very upset that I never visited before 2010, because it clearly was a very special place.”

Louis Vignes, self-portrait, 1859, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

Louis Vignes, 1864, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute

 

This Week In Photography Books: Bruce Morton

by Jonathan Blaustein

Whether you realize it or not, this column has undergone a sizable change over the last few months.

For five years, almost all the books we reviewed were borrowed from photo-eye in Santa Fe. They have a great selection of photo-books, for sure, but the types of books I wrote about were limited to what they had.

Furthermore, photo-eye is famous for getting small batch publications from weird, artsy publishers, so I often wrote about books like that. My friend Melanie, who worked there forever, would handpick a large stack of books, and they mostly consisted of big-time artists and the aforementioned edgy/Euro/Japanese stuff.

As of November, though, we ended our long relationship with photo-eye. Though people began sending me books a few years ago, our selections were heavily filtered through photo-eye, but now they’re coming from you.

It’s true that I can (and do) request books from publishers now, whenever I get a particularly juicy press release, but the guts of what I write about comes from the audience that reads this column.

What a populist notion.
How Trumpian of me.

I’m not saying the books will be better, nor worse, and I do hope we’ll be able to maintain our global perspective. But I think you’re already seeing that some of my selections seem more off-beat than they used to.

Things turn up in the mail.
I look at them.

So much of what I’ve reviewed in the last 5+ years has trended international. I can conjure images of Kazakstan or Calcutta as easily as I can pictures of New York. (OK. I admit it. We do show a lot of stuff from NYC. You got me.)

But it’s 2017 right now, Bub.
Get with the times, you know what I mean.

Trump might wear a blue tie to fool the gobsmacked, but he knows that his supporters are red-meat-and-red-hat-loving white people in the middle of the country. In so many cases, their lives are no better than they were in the late 90’s, and in some cases they’re worse.

The jobs that came back in the Obama recovery, Post-08, skipped rural America, and still others that were there even fifteen years ago have fled, like highwaymen who know the Pinkertons are coming.

Opioid epidemics and underfunded educational systems mean that large parts of rural America have been left behind by gleaming cities and Iphone-robot-sex-dolls and Silicon Valley and arugula-eating elites.

(My Republican Uncle even wrote the word “Proletariat” in a Post-Oscars Facebook post. What is this, Russia?)

Trump is right about one thing, though.
I’ll give him that.
He says the media is biased, and liberal, and of course that’s true.

We are the media. Right?
And we ARE highly educated, occasionally elitist, but most definitely liberal.

When we visit places, like Appalachia or El Salvador, we’re carrying our politics and context with us, so it often takes an insider to give us a more nuanced perspective. And given the state of the times, wouldn’t it be nice to get a glimpse into the world of heartland white people?

Luckily, “Forgottonia: The Audience,” a new self-published book by our friend Bruce Morton, turned up in the mail a month or so ago. Like Jeanine Michna-Bales the other week, Bruce is an artist I met at portfolio reviews whose work I’ve featured in this column before.

In fact, I showed a few of these very images a year and a half ago. Bruce was getting the project up and running, and I remember thinking that these color pictures of people in gatherings, in Bruce’s home area of Western Illinois, were just snarky enough to be a naughty.

The people were large, in so many cases, and I could feel class distinctions tallying up in my head like abacus figures.

Click Clack.
Click Clack.

But in Bruce’s handsome, gray, soft-cover, perfect-bound book, the tone is completely different. His take on things is interesting, in that he moved back to his hometown of Bowen, IL a few years ago after decades in Phoenix, where he got an MFA in photography at the great ASU program.

Bruce is of this place, then got his head filled with technique, theory, and decades of living amid other cultures, before returning home. That combination of curiosity mixed with empathy mixed with a local’s knowledge makes this one of the most interesting books about rural America I’ve seen.

I’ve typically been impressed by Bruce’s image-making craftsmanship, but these are far more casual than I’m used to. The photo professor in me occasionally blanched at some of his snapshot-style cropping.

But these pictures are honest, direct, and most certainly not condescending. They take us inside a world that looks like a different American reality, because it IS a different American reality.

I almost blushed when I saw the heavy acne on the forehead of a high school basketball player. I felt it in my gut, yet also had flashbacks to sitting on the bench, against Mater Dei, the night George HW Bush invaded Iraq to kick off the First Gulf War.

About half-way through, there’s a really slick bit of editing that bears mention. First, we see a wonderful shot of a yard strewn with empty white chairs. Then, the very next picture features a gaggle of African-Americans, crowded together on a public bench, while a few nice fold-up chairs sit empty before them.

Gut-punch.

Of course it’s the only photo of African-Americans, or any people of color for that matter, in the entire volume. (Shout out to Paula Gillen, who’s credited with the editing.)

There is a delicacy and a sweetness to this book that is the opposite of snark and derision. It’s respectful in a way that perhaps only a native son could muster, especially one who has seen the outside world, then still come home in the end.

Bottom Line: Fascinating, warm-hearted look at heartland America.

To Purchase “Forgottonia: The Audience” Go Here: http://www.bruce-morton.net/books/forgottonia-the-audience

This Week In Photography Books: Adger Cowans

by Jonathan Blaustein

Over the last six years, I’ve become addicted to Arsenal Football Club, a soccer team that plays in London. It’s gotten so serious that I even write about the team, for fun, at 7am kickoff, a popular American-run Arsenal blog.

It all started out innocently enough.

After I sold a chunk of photographs, when “The Value of a Dollar,” took off, I was able to buy a nice television, and hook it up to Dish Network. Straight away, they piped in all this international soccer, (for free at first,) and once I was hooked, they yanked it away.

I’ve had to pony up a lot of scratch to maintain the habit ever since.

While I could have ultimately supported a handful of teams, when I first started watching, (and might be happier had I chosen otherwise,) I was successfully charmed by Arsenal’s famed mega-manager, Arsene Wenger.

He’s hard to encapsulate quickly, partly because he’s so multi-talented. He grew up in Alsace, and therefore speaks French and German, in addition to English, Spanish, Italian and a bit of Japanese. He was trained as an economist, is known as a progressive globalist, and brought a certain Continental, Gallic, professorial cool to the thug-life English league in the late 90’s.

He went on to massive glory with “The Invincibles,” his undefeated 2003-4 team, which was immortalized in Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”. Then Wenger, who had previously managed in Monaco and Japan, designed a new stadium for Arsenal, and kept them in the black through years when the club was heavily debt-strapped.

Basically, I became an Arsenal fan, in large part, because Arsene Wenger was “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Now, though, his temperament is too tetchy. He knows his time is coming to a close, but is battling with every ounce to hold onto his perch.

The short version is that Arsene Wenger is a legend, albeit one whom most fans and pundits feel has hit the retirement zone. He’s good enough to be good, but no longer good enough to be great.

I don’t think he deserves the “MIMITW” title anymore.

Therefore, we need a new “Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Thankfully, I have a proposal for the perfect replacement. You might not have heard of him before, as I hadn’t, but this dude has been involved in SO many interesting things in the 20th, and now 21st Centuries.

His name is Adger Cowans, and I just finished looking at his new book, “Personal Visions: Photographs,” recently published by Glitterati. Take heed, as Mr. Cowans seems like a genuine candidate for the title, if this book is to be believed.

Adger Cowans grew up in a creative family in Ohio in the 1930’s and 40’s, and was surrounded by art and photography from a young age. There’s context provided for his hyper-productive career, which is then backed up by various statements referring to his massive charisma. Tuliza Fleming, a curator at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, specifically mentioned she’d noticed the power of his personal “cool.”

Better yet, in an afterward, Dowoti Desir, a writer described by the New York Times as a voodoo scholar and practitioner, writes things about him that can only be described as mystical.

One example: “His sacred counterparts are nested among the forces of the Afro-Atlantic spiritual traditions such as the Marassa, the twins of the Haitian Vodou system.”

Another: “Cowans is the silent warrior on our path, the mayuba or the chameleon whose most powerful attribute is its ability to emulate or recreate the environment around them in every meticulous detail, while remaining true to its core.”

I bet he has your vote for “Most Interesting Man in the World” already, and we haven’t even talked about the pictures yet.

The book opens with essays and a personal narrative, including photographs of his family. (This book is built around his life, as well as his work.) There’s actually a picture at the very beginning, of his father, grandmother, and great-grandfather that is so creepy I almost don’t want to photograph it later. (But I will.)

After a stint in the Navy, Adger Cowans went to New York to apprentice with Gordon Parks, have a stint as a street photographer, shoot countless musical celebrities, and work as the set photographer for more than 20 movies in the 70’s and 80’s, including seminal films like “On Golden Pond,” “School Daze” and “Dirty Dancing.”

Adger Cowans has photographed Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Mick Jagger, Henry Fonda, Jesse Jackson, Samuel Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Biggie Smalls, Al Pacino, and so many, many more.

The book doesn’t seem to be tied to any current exhibition, so it’s more likely a career-encapsulator, as I think Mr. Cowans is “approximately” 80. I’m not exactly sure of his age, as the book’s only weak spot is that it doesn’t provide dates for any of the photographs.

There are multiple sections, and each opens with a quote from an established photography master. (Erwitt, Sander, Weston et al.) The first, featuring street photos from the late 50’s and early 60’s was my favorite, as the best evoke a romanticized version of New York, even though they’ve got uptown street cred. (The snow-covered car and umbrellas-in-the-snow couplet was particularly magical.)

Apparently, Mr. Cowans also paints, makes music, and works with fiber, bolstering his Renaissance Man stature. The book riffs on that distinction, showing different phases of his photography discretely, including digital concoctions, still lives, and experimental imagery.

Not all of the photographs are classics, it should be said, but many of them are really excellent. In particular, I loved the early portrait of Barbara, whom I believe is the mother of his son Eden.

It is oddly intimate to have that family-album-element, but it definitely hooked me into this book. By digging in, I learned about elements of the African-American art community of which I was wholly ignorant. (He was a part of two important art collectives, Kamoinge and AFRIcobra.)

My experience writing about this book was unique, as it strangely enticed me to spend more time than I’d originally planned. First, I looked at it, thought it was cool, and then sat down to write, as I always do. I tried and tried, and then gave up after 6 attempts.

That’s never happened before.
Ever.

Instead, I sat down by the fire, and read it cover to cover, then skimmed back over several parts again. I looked at the images few more times as well, to better understand his career arc.

For whatever reason, this book required more of me than a flip-through and a witty response. I’m not surprised though, now that I know Adger Cowans might just be the Most Interesting Man… you get the point.

Bottom Line: A Funky, fascinating lifetime of work by an African American photographic badass

To Purchase “Personal Visions: Photographs” Go Here: http://glitteratiincorporated.com/products/personal-vision-by-adger-cowans

This Week In Photography Books: Jeanine Michna-Bales

by Jonathan Blaustein

Let’s face it: most photobooks are for photo geeks.

Publication runs for most photobook publishers are very small: 500, 1000, maybe 3000 on the high side. As we’ve discussed through the years, in multiple interviews with artists and publishers, photobooks rarely make money, or even make their money back, and are often seen as glorified business cards.

That’s hard truth, but I’ve heard first-hand of an artist who had to rent storage for his/her remaindered books. This after paying out of pocket/crowdfunding tens of thousands of $$$$$ to make the production in the first place.

There are exceptions, of course.

Major artists with a solid history of book-sale-success will get the costs fronted. (Martin Parr being an example we discussed in our interview with Dewi Lewis.) And I’ve heard that one or two publishers still take care of productions costs.

The obvious benefit of the tight-knit-market is that by focusing on quality, and charging enough to provide it, photobooks are art objects themselves. Many sport spiffy cover textures, oversized paper, innovative construction, and crisp, snappy print quality.

They’re collected for a reason: because they’re (relatively) rare and beautiful.

On the flip side, there are projects that crack over into the mass market: photobooks that aim for coffee tables. They’re able to speak to larger audiences, as perhaps they document or explore issues, beyond the photo community, that have wide resonance in popular or mainstream culture.

They feature subjects like religion, sports, nature, and history.

Books like this can sell 100,000 copies, even in an era devoid of Barnes and Noble. These books often use less expensive materials, allowing for a lower price point that enables the larger audience.

It’s a trade-off, and one I suspect most artists would be willing to make, especially those whose work is message-driven.
Because the ability to speak to a large group of people is a huge motivator for artists with something important say.

Especially those with a taste for the extreme.

In this case, I’m thinking of Jeanine Michna-Bales, a Dallas-based photographer whose work I’ve featured in this column before. I first met her at Review Santa Fe, and saw her inspirational project, in which she reconstructed and photographed the Underground Railroad at night.

I loved her portfolio-sized, meticulously printed fine art work, as the inky blacks were darker than Steve Bannon’s soul. The pictures are so dark, literally, and they represent a shameful time in our nation’s history.

I’m thinking of Jeanine’s photographs right now, as I’ve just put down her new book “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad,” which was just published by Princeton Architectural Press.

We showed a chunk of the project here in 2014, during my usual festival roundup, and the photographs also look great on screen. The projected light allows for a luminous take on deep bayous and forgotten forests, late into the wee hours.

Amazing stuff.

And it was no easy project to execute, either, as Ms. Michna-Bales begged help from family, and hired off duty police officers to protect her, as she photographed each link in a painstakingly researched chain.

I requested this book as soon as it was available, and am predisposed to like it. There’s a cool intro by Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young, in which he segues from Curtis Mayfield to Bob Marley to Kendrick Lamar in one fell swoop of message-driven art.

The book is surprisingly small, with a horizontal orientation, and I wondered if it was enough space for these mysterious landscapes. The designer went a step further and put a dark, charcoal gray border around many of the photographs, shrinking them further, but also making their murky depths harder to separate. (I would have gone with white.)

That dark gray is ever-present, including on image-less pages, and it makes for difficult viewing, with all the dark photographs.

The images don’t have a lot of three dimensionality, unfortunately, as I think they might have pushed the limitations of the printers they were using. There’s a flatness to the darkness here that suggests hyperreality, a visual styling I don’t remember seeing in her gorgeous, fine art prints.

I know it sounds like I’m being critical, so please allow me to reframe. This project, as a result of its awesomeness, has had a lot of success. A traveling exhibition of prints is going on a multi-city exhibition tour through Texas, the South and Midwest, through 2020.

She’s won prizes, and been supported by excellent organizations like Photo NOLA and the Open Society Institute.

I think the dark design, and repeating motif of historical quotes opposite photographs, are meant to suggest a somber and serious mood. While I admit it’s not exactly to my taste, I think I see where this is going.

Princeton Architectural Press belongs to Chronicle Books, the masters of the mass-market photobook. Given that it’s the only photobook offered in the “new releases” section of the PAP website, which also features several different types of notecards, I think this book is poised to speak to a larger audience.

Unlike me, most mainstream book buyers won’t be holding the color separations up against my memory of her original fine art prints. They’ll see these quiet, creepy places, and their imaginations will activate.

They’ll see themselves there, crawling through the mud, scared shitless, worried if the hounds are on your scent. They’ll appreciate the pictures, but more than that, they’ll be reminded that our country was built upon a heinous system of injustice, and that combatting racism, especially in the Age of You-Know-Who, is a worthy goal for any photobook to inspire in its viewers.

Bottom Line: Dark, somber photographs of the Underground Railroad, reconstructed

To Purchase “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad” Go Here: http://www.papress.com/html/product.details.dna?isbn=9781616895655

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

Cleveland Museum of Art- Raja Deen Dayal

- - Art

by Jonathan Blaustein

Hello there.

What am I doing here on a random Wednesday in February?

Well, that’s a great question.
So glad you asked.

This is the first installment of a new feature we’re trying out here at APE. For nearly seven years, I’ve been reporting on art exhibitions and festivals, interviewing artists and photography professionals, and reviewing photobooks every week.

As my writing career has evolved, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of countless PR emails, and stumbled through endless websites and social media postings. I see a lot of photography, it’s fair to say.

Prior to today, though, I had no outlet to just show incredible portfolios or projects here. Images that I saw only as jpegs, which we’ll publish here as jpegs, as this is meant to be an entirely online affair.

It’s ironic, then, that the first work we’ll show is as old school as it gets. We’re kicking off our 21st Century endeavor by examining a beautiful set of photographs from India in the 19th Century, made by the Indian master Raja Deen Dayal between 1885-87. (He was born Lala Deen Dayal. Raja was a title bestowed later in life.)

I first saw a couple of these images in one of those aforementioned PR emails from the Cleveland Museum of Art, as they’d recently acquired an album of albumen prints by Mr. Dayal.

The photographs caught my attention, and the Museum was kind enough to provide us with more information, and the entire portfolio for your viewing pleasure. Better yet, the CMA’s Curator of Photography, Barbara Tannenbaum, spoke with me about the entire acquisition process, from how pictures are first spotted to how they end up in an exhibition on the wall.

Apparently, she’d been interested in bringing Raja Deen Dayal’s work into the museum’s collection for several years, and her colleagues were aware of her desire. The Museum’s Chief Curator and Director were together in London, and saw a few of these Deen Dayal prints at a gallery.

After expressing interest, the museum asked for the prints to be sent to Cleveland for viewing. What came out of the box was thrilling for Ms. Tannenbaum.

“It’s a really unique album in a number of ways. First of all, it’s early work by Dayal, which is fairly rare,” she said.

“He’s is really most famous, and the majority of photos that you’ll see in museums and around on the market are images of buildings. They’re architectural shots.

“This is almost entirely portraits, with a few scenes of military exercises thrown in.”

Indeed, these pictures are comprised of several subsets, one more fascinating than the next. We see formal and casual portraits of British Aristocracy summering in the Himalayas to avoid Delhi’s heat in the late 1880’s.

“Hello there, Alistair. Would you care for a game of Badminton?”

“I say, Old Chap. That is simply a brilliant idea. Brilliant! And, Nigel, do look over there. I believe I can spot an inch of shoe beneath Ms. Lyall’s dress. Simply scandalous!”

“Yes, scandalous!”

Sorry. Where was I?

The pictures. Surely, it was exciting to discover photos by a major, historically important artist that were totally under the radar. But why did Ms. Tannenbaum think they’re worthy of bringing into her institution’s collection?

“In this case,” she said, “we look at both the British and the princely Indian societies through the eyes of an Indian. And one of the first to really master the forms of expression, and get the opportunity to put his images out.”

“These have a particularly reverent feel to them. Great care has been taken in how they were made. He was just masterful at evoking the mood and the feel of the scene. You get the contrast of these two cultures here, and that same intensity for both of them, which I think is amazing.”

There are formal group portraits of native Indians, and a tighter group of young Maharajas; boys thrust into a grown-up world. (Immature leaders, imagine that?)

One of those images is among her favorites, Ms. Tannenbaum admitted. “Especially the boy king of Rewa,” she said.

“He just happens to be an incredibly poignant subject for photography. I love the one where he’s sitting there on this chair, with his crown and his gold jewelry. You look at the way his toes are curled under, because his feet don’t quite reach the ground.”

There are battle exercises from Jhansi, further to the South, and a suite of photographs of actors in a performance of some sort as well.

But we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. This group of pictures originated as a photo album, though it’s since been deconstructed. Many of its subjects are named in the captions.

Basically, it existed as a collection of memories. Someone bought it directly from Raja Deen Dayal’s studio.

But whom?
That’s where things get interesting.

Nobody knows.

“Of course there’s the intriguing question of who he is, and we’ll try to pursue that and maybe find an answer,” Ms. Tannenbaum said.

The current theory is that it might be the man featured in the solo portrait. The dude in three quarter profile. The one with the thick beard, clutching gloves in his hands and rocking the flower in his lapel.

It’s the only photograph that wasn’t captioned. One wouldn’t caption a photo of oneself, goes the thinking. So what about it?

We have a global audience.
I have to ask?
Do you know this man?

He was an Englishman, so you people in the UK, might this guy be your Great-Great Grandpa George? Did anyone in your family spend time in India in the late 1880’s?

Ms. Tannenbaum is dying to know, and plans to do research on her own in the future, so I suggested we could do our little bit, perhaps, and crowdsource it. She’s looking for a certain type of expert, preferably with time on his or her hands.

“The answer probably lies in archives in London about Colonial India,” she said. “My dream would be to hire someone who really knows who was there when. A historian of Colonial India, maybe, to track this down.

“It’s a riddle that will eat at me until I find it, or decide that I’m not going to be able to find the answer.”

So what do you say, cyberverse? Does anyone know anyone who wants to figure this out? Whose memories are these? Who commissioned this album?

Beyond the mystery, though, Raja Deen Dayal’s work fits in well with the Cleveland Museum of Art’s mission, as they’ve long had a strong Indian and South Asian Collection. (No surprise, once I learned that Sherman Lee was a Director there in the 60’s and 70’s. He wrote my textbook for Intro to Asian Art History in college.)

When the transaction was done, and the prints were (sort of) hers, Ms. Tannenbaum was elated. She’s hoping to exhibit the work later this decade, likely with other artworks from the collection in a larger context. She was also on the lookout for some of Raja Deen Dayal’s architecture shots, to enlarge her newfound holdings.

“You know, curators always want more,” she laughed. “If we’re not acquisitive, we shouldn’t be in this job.”

His Highness Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab and party at Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.5 x 27.4 cm (7-11/16 x 10-13/16 inches); paper: 19.5 x 27.4 cm (7-11/16 x 10-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Mrs. and Miss Lyall, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.9 x 27.0 cm (7-13/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 19.9 x 27.0 cm (7-13/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Badminton party at Mashobra, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.9 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.9 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Picnic party, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.3 x 26.1 cm (7-5/8 x 10-1/4 inches); paper: 19.3 x 26.1 cm (7-5/8 x 10-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Eminence Commander in Chief and party, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.5 x 27.2 cm (7-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.5 x 27.2 cm (7-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Elephant Battery, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.2 x 26.5 cm (7-3/16 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 18.2 x 26.5 cm (7-3/16 x 10-7/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness Maharaja of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 26.7 x 20.3 cm (10-1/2 x 8 inches); paper: 26.7 x 20.3 cm (10-1/2 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Reverend Loch at Neemuch, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 26.5 cm (7-5/8 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 19.4 x 26.5 cm (7-5/8 x 10-7/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa and classmates, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.8 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.8 x 27.1 cm (7-13/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness Maharaja of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Robert Hotz Esquire and bulldog, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 13.2 x 19.8 cm (5-3/16 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 13.2 x 19.8 cm (5-3/16 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Miss Lyall, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 20.3 cm (4-7/8 x 8 inches); paper: 12.4 x 20.3 cm (4-7/8 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Colonel T.G. Oldham, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 13.0 x 20.3 cm (5-1/8 x 8 inches); paper: 13.0 x 20.3 cm (5-1/8 x 8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Colonel H.R. Thirillier, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.1 x 26.1 cm (7-1/8 x 10-1/4 inches); paper: 18.1 x 26.1 cm (7-1/8 x 10-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Major Sparks, Indore, July 86, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 17.0 x 27.1 cm (6-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 17.0 x 27.1 cm (6-11/16 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Portrait of a gentleman, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 25.8 x 18.8 cm (10-3/16 x 7-3/8 inches); paper: 25.8 x 18.8 cm (10-3/16 x 7-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Heavy Field Battery, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.3 x 27.0 cm (7-3/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.3 x 27.0 cm (7-3/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Scindia, nobles, and high officials, Gwalior, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.0 x 27.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-13/16 inches); paper: 19.0 x 27.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Treacher and Cos Shop in the Fort, Bombay, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
Albumen print; image: 19.6 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.6 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Ramkishore Singh of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.3 x 27.3 cm (8 x 10-3/4 inches); paper: 20.3 x 27.3 cm (8 x 10-3/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Detachment of Bhopal Battalion at Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.1 x 26.5 cm (7-1/2 x 10-7/16 inches); paper: 19.1 x 26.5 cm (7-1/2 x 10-7/16 inches)

Jhansi Fort and Elephant Battery, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 27.2 cm (7-5/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 19.4 x 27.2 cm (7-5/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Elephant Battery on Parade, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.1 x 27.0 cm (7-1/8 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.1 x 27.0 cm (7-1/8 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 25.5 x 18.4 cm (10-1/16 x 7-1/4 inches); paper: 25.5 x 18.4 cm (10-1/16 x 7-1/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group at Indore I, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group at Indore I, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.4 x 19.9 cm (4-7/8 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Ball, Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 12.2 x 19.9 cm (4-13/16 x 7-13/16 inches); paper: 12.2 x 19.9 cm (4-13/16 x 7-13/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa and Sardars, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.7 x 26.9 cm (7-3/4 x 10-9/16 inches); paper: 19.7 x 26.9 cm (7-3/4 x 10-9/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Lord Dufferin and the Supreme Council of Government of India, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.4 x 27.3 cm (7-5/8 x 10-3/4 inches); paper: 19.4 x 27.3 cm (7-5/8 x 10-3/4 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

The Duke and Duchess of Connaught, with Col. Adam, Captain H.V. Benett, Col. Becher, Gen. Knowles, Captain Herbert, Col. Cavaye, Mrs. Cavaye, and Gen. R. Gellispie, Mhow, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.1 x 26.6 cm (7-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches); paper: 19.1 x 26.6 cm (7-1/2 x 10-1/2 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Fancy Group of Children, Indore, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.7 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.7 x 26.3 cm (7-3/4 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Ramkishore Singh of Rewa, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.6 x 27.0 cm (7-5/16 x 10-5/8 inches); paper: 18.6 x 27.0 cm (7-5/16 x 10-5/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Mr. Brown’s Horses, Jhansi, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.9 x 27.6 cm (7-7/16 x 10-7/8 inches); paper: 18.9 x 27.6 cm (7-7/16 x 10-7/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Maharaja of Rewa in Prayer, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 27.2 cm (7-7/8 x 10-11/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Sir Auckland Colvin and family, Simla, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 20.0 x 26.9 cm (7-7/8 x 10-9/16 inches); paper: 20.0 x 26.9 cm (7-7/8 x 10-9/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Picnic Party at Mr. Pelitis’ Country House, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 18.9 x 27.7 cm (7-7/16 x 10-15/16 inches); paper: 18.9 x 27.7 cm (7-7/16 x 10-15/16 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

Major Martellis Camp at Mhow, c. 1885-1887. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905). Albumen print; image: 19.0 x 26.4 cm (7-1/2 x 10-3/8 inches); paper: 19.0 x 26.4 cm (7-41/2 x 10-3/8 inches). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund.

This Week In Photography Books: Piotr Zbierski

by Jonathan Blaustein

Nostalgia is a funny thing.
What is it, really?

A state of mind?
A sensation?

An emotion?

However we classify it, nostalgia is heavily responsible for the shocking shit-show that is the Trump Presidency. (I promise I won’t write about him every week.) Overwhelmed with longing for the past, a not-small segment of White America yearned for an idealized vision of the 1950’s.

They chose to reminisce, fondly, about an America that was entirely white. About a time when men, who wore hats, were the sole breadwinners, and women stayed home. It was a time when grabbing your secretary’s backside was fair game, and racist jokes were socially acceptable.

I’ll spare you a recap of this week’s version of Trumpsanity, but rest assured, it’s enough to make some people nostalgic for the George W. Bush years.

That’s a thing.
I’ve seen it on Twitter.

The world is so strange, at the moment, that some people think it was much better back then. As I recall, George W. Bush needed the Supreme Court to install him as President, presided over 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, started two massive Wars, (one of which continues, the other of which begat ISIS) and then broke the Entire. Global. Economy.

Thankfully, though, the mid-aughts did have some highlights.

Take my neighbor here in Taos, Donald Rumsfeld, for instance. He was pretty high on the unintentional comedy scale. (Remember those oversized glasses?)

When Rummy philosophized about the known unknowns vs. the unknown unknowns, he wrote himself into the book of ridiculous rhetorical history. But he was right on many levels, if just this once. (In case you’re too young to know what I’m referencing, Rummy theorized that there are things we know we don’t know, and things that we don’t know we don’t know.)

So much of life is run by the unknown unknowns, though that’s terrifying to admit. We like our lives to be routine-based, built upon a sense of normalcy. Our computers give us answers, but only if we know what questions to ask.

We can’t even imagine what came before the big bang, or where we go after we die. Scientists don’t know what makes up dark matter, so they named it like a secret weapon invented by Darth Vader.

There are underpinnings of reality that speak of magic, or the super-natural, and most of us wouldn’t even know where to begin, as far as understanding what really makes the planet spin every day.

I like it when a photobook makes me think of the unknown unknowns. And that’s where I’ve gone today, having just put down “Push The Sky Away,” a new book by Piotr Zbierski, recently published by Dewi Lewis in Manchester.

Structurally, this book is as well-put-together as you’re likely to find. The vertical orientation is big without being too-big; the black and white cover is stark. The photos are broken into three sections, as it’s a trilogy of projects, so there are black inserts that actually divide the book, but are removable. (So you have to put it back together each time.)

There are also small journal inserts, which are bound into the book, so the page size and image style also vary consistently. A lot of thought went into this presentation, I’m sure.

But what is actually being presented? (Finally, he talks about the pictures.)

The images are mostly made with instant photographic technology, (hence the sponsor shoutout at the end to the Impossible Project,) and there’s a heavy spate of pictures shot in India. That much is clear.

But not much else is.
Clear.

There are black and white, grainy, often blurry pictures of grandmothers and statues. Cities and oceans. Live people and dead monkeys. And much in-between.

In an opening statement, the artist writes of a desire to connect to primal forces, and I think you can see it. Talismanic objects. Ecstatics in prayer. Odd people from odd angles.

There’s a hint of Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen, for sure, mixed with a tiny dose of any random person’s travel pictures from India. But it’s that final mix, the creative special sauce, that makes this such a cool book.

It feels non-linear in a way that references worm holes and peyote sessions and smoke signals, all at once. Visually, it offers a viewer that feeling that some things will never be revealed, but it’s OK, because our brains are too small and fragile to handle ALL the secrets of the Universe.

Bottom Line: Trippy, dreamy images that hint at deep forces at work, beneath our every-day existence

To Purchase “Push The Sky Away” Go Here: https://www.dewilewis.com/products/push-the-sky-away

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

This Week In Photography Books: John MacLean

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s Monday morning, and the sky is gray. (It can be confusing, I know, as you’re likely reading on a Friday, when the weekend is at hand.)

Everybody loves the weekend, but gray Mondays are about as fun as being the guy who has to wash Donald Trump’s underwear. Think about that guy the next time you get a case of the Mondays.

(Uh, Mr. President, it’s kind of hard for me to say this, but there was a strange stain on your boxers that I just couldn’t get out. I’m really, really sorry, Sir. We tried. We really did.)

This Monday, there’s one guy in America who feels like it’s Saturday night, all day long. That man’s name: Thomas Fucking Brady.

Now, if you’ve connected the dots properly, being from New Jersey as I am, I follow the New York Giants. The only team to ever beat Tom Brady in a Superbowl. (Twice.) I have no love for the Patriots, and was solidly rooting for the Falcons last night.

They jumped out to a massive 28-3 lead, and Fox kept dropping statistics on the screen about how nobody had ever come back from more than 10 in a Superbowl.

Ever.

Then they told us that in the history of the NFL playoffs, teams with a lead like the Hawks had were 93-0.

Nobody had ever lost a lead that big.
Ever.

My wife was half-asleep on the couch, bored as hell, just waiting for me to give up on the game so we could watch “Love,” a show we’re currently digging on Netflix.

I could feel her, willing me to change the channel. The ending seemed a foregone conclusion. I wondered what the analytics guys would say about the Falcons chances of winning, at that point. (This morning, I read either 99.7%, or 99.8%, depending upon whom you trust.)

“Still,” I said to Jessie, “We can watch Netflix when I’m sure the game is over. There’s too much time left to say it’s impossible.”

So I watched the epic, never-before-seen comeback. I watched it all. And as a sports fan, if you don’t love a story like that, you’re in the wrong business.

Tom Brady has now won 5 Superbowls, and I’m sure the extra ring will look good on his thumb. I don’t imagine a thumb ring will be comfortable, but what can you do?

He’s just a boy from Northern California, the perfect looking guy, if we’re being honest, who just happened to become the biggest sports legend in the biggest sports city in America. Bigger than Larry Bird, or Big Papi, or anyone, really.

Tom Brady’s just some dude from San Mateo, who grew up in the shadow of Candlestick Park, where Joe Montana plied his trade for the San Francisco 49ers. Joe Montana, the guy people used to say was the Greatest of All Time. Joe Montana, who won 4 Superbowls, the previous high for a quarterback. (Along with Terry Bradshaw.)

Imagine that.

Tom Brady grows up with Joe Montana as the obvious role-model. He absorbs something in the watching, maybe? And then he goes on, inspired, to eclipse Montana, the previous best.

It’s the way things work, as we take from others, learn from others, copy others, are inspired by others, or (insert random verb that makes sense here.) As humans, we have role models among our family and friends. Our parents, one would hope, have taught us to be good people.

As artists, we have colleagues, whose ideas are bouncing around the air now, and we have our heroes and predecessors. Our favorites, whose tricks we’ve cribbed, whose colors we’ve coveted, whose energy we’ve used to sustain us as we walk our respective paths.

It’s a personal collection, for each of us, our heroes, but in John MacLean’s “Hometowns,” published by Hunter and James, we get to see inside the artist’s own inspirations, and it makes for a really cool book, to be sure.

This one turned up in the mail a couple of months ago, but I’ve only gotten to look at it today. It is a really well made production, from a design standpoint: from the fold-over hardcover, to the initials code for artists on the back, to the fact that you can always see the code-key while you’re flipping the pages.

There’s a concept involved, in Mr. Maclean’s 23 city tour to track down his idols’ hometowns, but the project doesn’t lean too heavily on that. The pictures are really good too.

Many are straight, but convey a light that felt familiar to me. Ed Ruscha’s Oklahoma City and Robert Rauschenberg’s Texas both rocked a clear, Southwestern haze-free light I’d driven through before, many times. The sharp light made for sharp pictures, but little bits of humor crept in too. (Accessorize your garage. Oh Chevrolet, you’re so clever.)

The bent-over fence in Rauschenberg’s Port Arthur, TX was another favorite. Conversely, the cold wafting off of Wassily Kandinsky’s Moscow, and the gauze-y light in James Turrell’s Pasadena were equally evocative.

But there are lines that appear on Richard Long images, little Baldessari balls that pop up in National City CA, and a perfect flower crown in Gabriel Orozco’s Mexico City that hint the artist is intervening in the landscape as well.

He’s basically going to these places and doing his own jam, while clearly riffing on his influences. (Ie, one image in Lee Friedlander’s Aberdeen, Washington has the requisite graphic, head-ache-inducing composition.)

The Robert Frank pictures, done of quarry divers, are also excellent. Given that I like the idea, execution, and image quality on this book, I’d have to give it high marks.

Who are your artistic inspirations, I wonder?

Bottom Line: An excellent book about an artist’s personal quest to connect to his forebears

To Purchase John MacLean’s “Hometowns” Go Here: https://www.jmaclean.co.uk/store/hometowns/

If you would like to submit a book to be considered for review, please contact jonathanblaustein@gmail.com.

This Week In Photography Books: Claire Felicie

by Jonathan Blaustein

Hope is a mentality.
A state of mind.

It’s not a thing you can touch, like a coffee table, or a bird’s feather.

It’s in the air around us, like oxygen, but that doesn’t mean it’s always available. Hope is often there when you need it, but not always.

Like now.

The last few weeks have seen an outpouring of grief, anger, fear, and hostility beyond anything I can recall. I’ve been conscripted several times to be the voice of reason, assuring friends and loved ones that there are precedents for what’s happening in the United States.

We have a history of nativism and racism that goes back to our nation’s founding. Even NYC, a sanctuary city if ever there was one, used to be a very rough place for foreigners. Look no further than the incredibly violent Scorcese film “Gangs of New York,” if you doubt me.

We’ve had Nixon, W. Bush, and Reagan in the modern era, but the US has a history of enacting laws to restrict immigration, or at least the status of immigrants. We all know about the Ellis Island phase, lend me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses, but America has been cruel as often as it’s been kind.

But looking back at shitty phases of our history is not a particularly effective way to summon hope, I’d suggest.

Hope requires a belief, inside one’s soul, that things are going to be OK in the end. That everything will get better, if not soon, than eventually. Unfortunately, while it can be inspired, (a la Obama,) it can’t be manufactured elsewhere and then transplanted, like a pre-fab home.

You actually have to believe, to have hope, which is why February 2017 is such a tricky time for millions and millions of people.

They’ve actually begun to doubt that things will ever get better again. I blame social media, personally, as an echo chamber of everyone else’s’ fear and misery is not the best place to hang out, if you’re trying to get your head on straight.

But Facebook is as popular as its ever been, offering people confirmation of their worst thoughts and theories: World War 3. The return of a Hitler-like force for evil. The end times.

Not good.

Basically, much of America’s population is suffering from PTSD at the moment, and apparently the condition is contagious.

As artists, though, it’s our job to look past the current moment; to think differently from the masses, even if we all share the same digital platforms. There aren’t many people with a plan of action these days, to counter the Trumpian revolution, but I’d suggest it’s the same plan that worked for you last year, and back in the Aughts, under George W.

Do your work.

Investigate what’s going on out there. Report on important stories. And summon your empathy for those who are suffering worse than you are, because caring for others stimulates positive chemicals in your brain.

Normally, I don’t dispense all my advice until I’ve reviewed a book, but I’m feeling a bit more hopeful right now, having just put down “Only The Sky Remains Untouched,” a new book by Claire Felicie that arrived in the mail this past Autumn.

It’s one of those publications that makes you into a detective, as it doesn’t explain itself until the end. And the design adds to the sense of dislocation, as the pages are shuffled to force you to connect the dots.

After opening it up, one is bombarded with bleak, sad, black and white images of wintry nature, followed by a building in a serious state of decay. Then, half of a human shows up, as the other half has been reserved for the next set of pages.

That’s the pattern that develops: the torso of a person, lying down, juxtaposed with the grim space in which the photographs are being constructed. (Or so I gather.)

They’re all men, with one exception, and many have copious tattoos. Like their environment, they’re sad, lonely, and emitting some very depressing energy.

Who are they?
Are they prisoners?
Soldiers? (Several wear camo.)

What gives?

The book’s end provides answers, as well as individual histories. The subjects are former Dutch soldiers who all suffer from PTSD. Each person agreed to be photographed in an abandoned Dutch weapons facility, to represent the horrors that kicked off their collective condition.

As you know, I almost never quote from a book’s text, but today I’m making an exception.

Ms. Felicie wrote, “This book is also an homage to all those who suffer from inner wounds and traumas and have the will to face as well as share their problems. The brave veterans you have met in this book had the courage to do so. As their recovery progresses, it is my belief that they can set an inspiring example for their companions in adversity.”

In 2017, I’d suggest we’re all “companions in adversity.” Nobody can promise you it will all be OK. Nobody knows what the future will bring, not even Elon Fucking Musk.

So instead of spending one more hour posting or commenting on FB, how about you get going on a new project, or inject some life into an existing one, and get back out there.

We’re artists, writers, journalists, editors, image makers, influencers, and nothing’s going to get better until we make it so.

Bottom Line: Haunting, inspiring look at veterans grappling with PTSD

To Purchase “Only The Sky Remains Untouched” go here: http://clairefelicie.com/only-the-sky-remains-untouched

img_4391

img_4392

img_4393

img_4394

img_4395

img_4396

img_4397

img_4398

img_4399

img_4400

img_4401

img_4402

img_4403

img_4404

img_4405

img_4406

This Week In Photography Books: Axle Contemporary

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever seen Duck Dynasty?

I haven’t.

But I’m aware it’s a reality TV show featuring some dudes with long beards who wear camo. Though I’ve never seen a minute of the program, it has leaked out into the popular culture, like a silent fart, so I’m aware, tangentially, what it’s about.

It’s meant for rural folks in the South, I suppose. I have no idea who the protagonists are, but they are the kind of stars that a certain type of bayou badass can get behind.

The kind of stars who will stand up for their Red State values, even when the only other celebrity known to rep for Trump is Chachi, whose fame died back when Henry Winkler could still fit into that tight leather jacket.

Not surprisingly, then, the TV shows that we watch track well with our political affiliations and cultural preferences. A few weeks after the election, the NY Times even ran an Upshot story that tracked the correlation between a TV show’s viewership, and its fans’ behaviors.

The results were mostly intuitive, but one statistic really jumped out at me. Basically, the data demonstrated that Native Americans, particularly those living in the Navajo Nation, had almost the exact same viewing habits as African Americans across the country.

Folks out in Shiprock are watching BET like they’re OG’s from Bed Stuy.

No lie.

Having lived in the Southwest for years, I wasn’t exactly caught off guard, as African Americans and Native Americans have one very large thing in common: both communities never benefited from the immigrant experience in America.

For centuries, people have migrated to the United States based upon small networks of relatives, or neighbors from the village or shtetl back home. One at a time, or 10 at a time, newcomers moved to particular cities, and neighborhoods, because someone’s cousin, or best friend’s uncle, promised them a job when they got there.

Or maybe it was the lure of a place to live, even if it was a couch in an overcrowded, roach infested shithole on the other side of the tracks.

Still, a choice was made.

But, as we all know, Native Americans were here before America, and had their homeland ripped away at the cost of millions of lives, and African Americans were stolen from their homes, violated in every possible way, and then shipped across the world to be exploited until they died.

(And we wonder why Vlad Putin is always reminding people that America is less-than-pure.)

History lesson over, it is interesting to think about the commonalities between Native and African Americas, given that they seem to share certain cultural predilections.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow get a picture of what people actually look like, out in Navajo Nation? Actual people? Real people?

Thankfully, I just put down “E Pluribus Unum: Dinétah,” a new book by Axle Contemporary, which showed up in the mail a little while back. It’s an exhibition catalog featuring a recent project by Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman, the founders and directors of Axle, a mobile art gallery that popped up in Santa Fe in 2010.

I’ve exhibited at Axle before, but then again, so has much of the Northern New Mexico art community. These guys are out there constantly, working hard to promote other artists, while making their own work, but also investing time and money into public art projects involving the local Native American population.

Sadly, despite our tri-community diversity here, (Native, Hispanic and Anglo) there is less inter-mixing than one might expect. Each community often keeps to itself, and any time “gringos” try to get involved with the Native American world, it is fraught with vestiges of colonialism, white guilt, and a nostalgic fascination with the “other.”

So as I flipped through the pages of this book, I was genuinely inspired by what they had accomplished. To be clear, given how picky I am, I do not think these photographs are amazing. They’re casual. People smile. Pictures are occasionally blurry.

Based purely on the quality of the images, this project is not something I’d normally review. But judging the work solely on the photographic excellence misses the point. This work is about giving back, meeting new people, and allowing a community to have a say in its own portrayal.

Basically, Matthew and Jerry spent 12 days out in the Four Corners area, and invited people to come into the truck to have their portrait made. They asked people bring something to hold; an item that had personal importance to them. Then, they printed the photo on the spot, so the subjects could leave with an instantaneous memento.

They also posted prints on the side of the truck, so the venue became a rolling photo exhibition, of the community, for the community.

We see people clutching car keys, energy drinks, cold hard cash, sunglasses, toys, pets, musical instruments, and even a priest holding rosary beads.

There are guys dressed like gangbangers, cowboys in their hats, little children sitting on their siblings’ laps, and a couple of culinary students brandishing knives like they’re ready to debone a chicken.

Like I said, real people.

I’m always on about the artist’s responsibility to dig deep into narratives they know well. To push the viewer, by showing us elements of reality we normally cannot access. To enlarge others’ knowledge by mining one’s own, and sharing the results with the rest of us.

Normally, at least in the books I review, the message is that great work is what moves us. Such books demonstrate technical mastery, original style, and creative risk-taking.

But today’s book takes a slightly different strategy. Maybe don’t worry so much how amazing your pictures are? Rather, focus on how you can use your photographic practice to benefit others, even if you’re not making masterpieces in the process.

Bottom Line: A book that offers a cross-section of life in Navajo Nation

To Purchase “E Pluribus Unum: Dinétah” Go Here: http://www.axleart.com/epu-dinetah

img_4367

img_4368

img_4369

img_4370

img_4371

img_4372

img_4373

img_4374

img_4375

img_4376

img_4377

img_4378

img_4379

img_4380

img_4381

img_4382

img_4383

img_4384

This Week In Photography Books: Philip Trager

by Jonathan Blaustein

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman, the highly opinionated columnist, imagined a world in which Donald Trump tweeted nice things. Inspiring things.

Positive things.

Mr. Friedman wrote tweets, seemingly from a parallel universe, in which Mr. Trump, who will be inaugurated today, worked hard to win over skeptics. He fake-tweeted, (in the real news,) suggesting ways in which things might have gone differently, were Mr. Trump a classier sort of guy.

My father sent me the article, thinking I’d appreciate it. While I read it in its entirety, it made me a little angry.

What’s the point?

Trump is who he is. How can we possibly doubt his character and intentions, given decades of evidence that he’s just not a nice human being?

I admit, after my initial shock at the election results, I spent a week or so giving our next President the benefit of the doubt. I even wrote a conciliatory column, reaching out my hand to any potential Republican readers.

At this point, though, I accept that it was wishful thinking, as the slew of incendiary tweets and right wing cabinet appointments have laid waste to any optimism I might have tested out. (Where am I in the grieving process? Acceptance? Bargaining?)

Thomas Friedman and I have four things in common. We’re columnists, we’re men, we’re Jewish, and we write for the New York Times. But he’s a famous millionaire, and they don’t pay freelance bloggers so well, I’m afraid.

Given our different vantage points, even with the similarities we share, it’s not surprising that we’ve come to very different conclusions. He imagined a world in which Trump was magically moral, and I think he’s naive for even typing up such thoughts on a functioning computer.

That’s just the way the world works. As artists, we know this. If we’re doing our job right, we dig down deep into our experience, and come back with something that will speak to others. The more we connect to our own personal knowledge and desire, the more likely we are to speak to an audience.

Therefore, even if two artists nominally approached the very same subject matter, the resulting work could/should turn out to be very different.

Right?

I’m glad you asked, because this week, I had the opportunity to view “New York in the 1970’” by Philip Trager, a book published by Steidl that turned up in the mail this Fall. If you read every week, you’ll know that last Friday, we covered Richard Sandler’s book of photos from the Big Apple in the same time period.

I had the idea to check this one out, thinking it might be interesting to turn mid-January into a little compare and contrast assignment. I figured the two visions would have some overlap.

Not even remotely.

Mr. Trager’s pictures, made with a large format camera on a tripod, rather than grabbed in 1/60th of a second on the subway, are nearly devoid of people. Rather than focusing on the embittered, the downtrodden, and the decrepit, Mr. Trager drove around New York in awe of the majestic architecture.

Rather than look down, he chose to look up.

The pictures remind me a fair bit of early Thomas Struth, but given when they were shot, he wasn’t being derivative. And they do lack that take-a-deep-breath visceral beauty of Struth’s empty cities.

But Mr. Trager’s photographs are very well made, and present a New York that it is hard to believe ever existed. It’s regal, and quiet. It doesn’t even seem dirty, and I have no idea how he pulled that off.

We see eagles jutting off the Chrysler building. Wall Street. Macy’s. Times Square. Columbus Circle.

And, of course, the Twin Towers.

He gains access to rooftops, and presents perspectives we are not accustomed to seeing. All of it, of course, in a grayscale that would make Gotham proud. (Shades of gray standing in for the bleak skies that haunt my memories.)

This is an accomplished and excellent group of pictures, if a touch emotionally dry. It makes for a superb book, partly because Steidl is renown for it’s high-quality printing.

When I picked it up, I had no idea what was inside. It showed me things I haven’t seen before, which is one of my primary qualifications for a review, but in this case, it did it in a new way.

I knew New York in the 70’s. Hell, I could see the city back then from my hometown in Jersey. It loomed large, and my recollections of it mesh well with what Richard Sandler photographed.

But this NYC, all stately buildings and quiet grandeur, I can’t believe it ever existed. Did it? Or was Mr. Trager just able to take advantage of one of photography’s inherent strengths: the ability to decontextualize a fraction of time from its larger surroundings?

As NYC in the 70’s is no longer around, outside of the art made to represent its legacy, I suppose we’ll never know.

Bottom Line: Classy book of NYC architecture, back in the day

To purchase “New York in the 1970” go here: http://www.artbook.com/9783869308067.html

img_4345

img_4346

img_4347

img_4348

img_4349

img_4350

img_4351

img_4352

img_4353

img_4354

img_4355

img_4356

img_4357

img_4358

img_4359

img_4360

img_4361

img_4362

img_4363

img_4364

img_4365

img_4366

This Week In Photography Books: Richard Sandler

by Jonathan Blaustein

I just got back from visiting my parents in Mexico. It’s an annual pilgrimage, as they leave Taos for a tropical climate each winter.

Every time, though, like the Brady Bunch’s vacation in Hawaii, things always go horribly wrong.

Two years ago, I wrote about how my wife and I were nearly dragged out to sea when we swam during a storm’s aftermath. Another year, we drove across the Rocky Mountains, during a blizzard at 2am, on the way home from the airport.

There’s always an undercurrent of drama, unfortunately, and this year was no exception. Among other problems, I got a horrible stomach virus that had me puking through the night, and then our car died on the highway driving back from the airport in Albuquerque.

It’s been a trying week, to be sure.

But it’s always difficult visiting Playa del Carmen, as what was a sleepy beach town 15 years ago has since morphed into a bustling city of more than 200,000 people. My brain remembers previous incarnations, back when it was quiet, and the ocean was still clean, but there’s no avoiding the reality that Playa is now a thriving metropolis, with all its attendant problems.

Cities have street life. Pollution. Noise. Constant activity.

They allow one to people-watch, as the urban narrative plays out in real time. Stand on a corner, watch the Euro ravers walk by. Wait a minute, and there’s an elderly Mexican grandma wearing a Señor Frog’s T-shirt.

Jackhammers wail everywhere, as the growing city is under continuous construction. There are parts of Playa del Carmen that have changed so radically, it’s hard to reconcile what I see with what I know to have existed.

It reminds me of New York, in some ways, as I grew up just outside that great city, and my memories of day trips in the 70’s and 80’s are markedly different than the city I lived in from 2002-5. And now, in 2017, New York is about to enter an even stranger phase, as native (but hated) son Donald Trump turns The Big Apple into his personal vacation home for the next (hopefully) 4 years.

New York used to be New Amsterdam, but no relics from its 17th Century past remain. New York is constantly gentrifying, which is why Polish pickle stores in my former neighborhood, Greenpoint, are now cold-brew coffee shops for hirsute hipsters.

C’est la vie.

But you know this is a book review column, which makes it likely that some photo-book got me off of today’s tangent, right? Of course!

I just put down “The Eyes of the City,” a new photobook by Richard Sandler, recently published by powerhouse. The 70’s and 80’s vibe coursing through this production is so strong, I’m half expecting Ed Koch to pop out from under my bed and scream “Surprise! You’re on candid camera!”

(As Ed Koch is dead now, though, visions of Zombie Koch turn gruesome very quickly.)

Despite the typically florid introduction, this is a book that needs little explication. It’s a lengthy series of street pictures from a long ago, but the sweet spot captures NYC at it’s most dirty, dangerous and addictive.

The subways were covered with more graffiti than there are giant billboards in Times Square. Old men walked around in hats and trench coats, like they were all living in one giant London Fog commercial.

Legless street people rode skateboards, the Twin Towers loomed above the Financial District, and live sex shows advertised on street-side signs written in magic-marker.

So many New Yorkers are nostalgic for that era, back before internets and facebooks and hybrid cars. Back when danger meant getting mugged by some lowlife, as opposed to being blown up by a crazy terrorist.

As I’ve written countless times before, photography’s unique skill is to transport us through the space-time continuum. To allow us, even briefly, to enter chambers in our consciousness where the dead still live, and trains never run on time.

This book does that for me, and given New York’s oversized place in global culture, I’m betting you’ll dig it as well.

Bottom Line: Really cool photos of New York, back when it was dingy

To Purchase “The Eyes of the City” Go Here: http://www.powerhousebooks.com/books/the-eyes-of-the-city/

img_4320

img_4321

img_4322

img_4323

img_4324

img_4325

img_4326

img_4327

img_4328

img_4329

img_4330

img_4331

img_4332

img_4333

img_4334

img_4335

img_4336

img_4337

img_4338

img_4339

img_4340

img_4341

img_4342

img_4343

This Week In Photography Books: Ashly Stohl

by Jonathan Blaustein

I haven’t seen “Rogue One” yet.
Have you?

It’s the newest installment in the Disney-Marvel-Lucasfilm-entertainment-constortium of evil.

Well, that last part might not be true. We won’t hate them just because their products are so darn tasty. (Mmm, meatballs.)

Elsa, Olaf, the Avengers, and Luke Skywalker all rolled out like so many products on the assembly line.

Thor.
Iron Man.
Captain America.
And Darth Vader?

It’s almost as if one company, Disney, has amassed a treasure trove of endlessly repeating variables of highly valuable intellectual property. (Because they have.)

But that’s just a b-school way of saying they’re putting out entertaining movies, and telling stories that a huge segment of the world’s population wants to hear. Shades of gray good guys. Charismatic bad guys.

Superheroes AND science fiction.

It’s true I haven’t seen “Rogue One” yet. And I missed “Dr. Strange.” But the idealist in me? The part the cold dead hand of cynicism has not yet touched?

That part remembers “Star Wars” being the single. coolest. thing. that. had. ever. happened. to. me. I remember, in kindergarten, how much we all fought over who got to be Luke Skywalker. Back in ’79.

Imagine us, in our 70’s big-collared shirts and thick, bowl haircuts. Giggle at our cheesy attire. I remember it so well. And you know what else I remember?

No one ever wanted to be Darth Vader, in our children’s games.
Never.
Not once.

So imagine my amazement when I looked at “charth vader,” a book that turned up by Ashly Stohl, published by Peanut Press. No, this is not a story you see very often.

The book, which is black, and intimate, is filled with relatively small, very well composed, black and white photos of a small child wearing a Darth Vader mask.

Always.
The Vader mask.

Luke.
I am your father.

Say what now?

The end notes confirm it’s the artist’s son, Charlie, (hence the title,) and that he has a condition that impairs his vision. The pictures convey a sense of loneliness, and I wonder if that’s a projection, because of they’re kind of spare.

Are they sad?
Is Charlie?

Is the mask a protection from the world, a joke to put smiles on people’s faces, or a projection of strength from a little person who’s at a disadvantage, relative to the rest of us?

Maybe all of the above?

I think the pictures are lovely. And they build upon a theme from last week’s column too. There are a lot of lemons rolling around the world right now. (Assuming Climate Change hasn’t killed off all the lemon trees yet.)

Metaphorical lemons, I mean.
And now that it’s 2017, I’d recommend you buy a little sugar, hack up some ice from your front yard, and make a little lemonade.

As parents, we know how hard it is when our children get sick. Even a nasty cold.

But the little statement at the end states that Ms. Stohl has two children with eye issues. I’d say that would lead to a lot of stress.

This book, “charth vader,” smacks of being a witty, personal project that took that stress energy and turned it into something positive, via the art-making-process. I’ve taught and written about it for years, so I know it works.

Art helps you get through difficult times.

But books like this can be a great reminder, in this first column of the year, that if things are hard, or you want to speak your peace, put it into the work. We’re creative types, all of us, so make the best stuff you can in 2017.

Do it for Charlie.

Bottom Line: Inspirational, whimsical book from the Dark Side

To Purchase Charth Vader go here: http://peanutpressbooks.com/collections/books/products/charth-vader

img_4278

img_4279

img_4280

img_4281

img_4282

img_4283

img_4284

img_4285

img_4286

img_4287

img_4288

img_4289

img_4290

img_4291

img_4292

img_4293

img_4295

The best work I saw this year that I haven’t already written about yet

- - Art, From The Field

by Jonathan Blaustein

Oh yes.
It’s back.

My annual, final column that never really caught on. That most rebellious of ironic year end lists. (It’s not even a list, per se, because it only mentions one thing.)

Like an ironic mustache, I get to have it both ways. I nod to the end-of-the-year thing, while simultaneously skewering the tradition by giving my version such a ridiculous title.

It’s no 10 best books list, that’s for sure. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But 2016 was a witch of a bear of a blizzard of a skin rash of a melting iceberg of a year.

We know this.

The rise of Trump. The fall of Aleppo. Endless streams of millions, fleeing for their lives.

A divided US. A resurgent Russia. China flexing her military muscles. Talk of a new nuclear arms race.

And, of course, grab them by the pussy.
(Yes, that really happened.)

It seems like something you’d make up in your sleep, your subconscious big upping the nasty allure of real life into a seemingly impossible, soap opera narrative.

But it actually happened.

I know we’re all SO ready for 2017.
I had people scream in my face in 2016.
Aggress on my person. Multiple times.

It sucked.

I felt myself growing stronger in the face of adversity. Now, I’ll be the first to admit the problems I had were nothing compared to the real life and death stuff. The aforementioned Syria.

But as we’ve discussed in columns past, the things that make us grow are always the hardest. Staying comfortable is not how you become better.

And I had some truly amazing moments in 2016 as well.

I saw fantastic art exhibitions, and wrote about them, in Ft. Worth, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Chicago.

Even on vacation, in Big Sur this July, I asked my wife’s Uncle Dan what was the coolest thing he’d seen on his recent travels. He’s a booking agent for major rock bands, so he globe-trots on a regular basis.

He walked into his bedroom, and emerged with a museum catalog from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago: “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” published by Rizzoli.

Uncle Dan said this show in Chicago was the best thing he’d seen anywhere, and if I could get to it when I was in Chicago in September, I’d be glad I did.

Duly noted, I thought.

Admittedly, I mentioned the show in one or two sentences in one article this Fall, but I think it still counts as the best thing I saw this year that I haven’t already written about yet. (Don’t hate me on a technicality.)

Especially as the exhibition is now on view at the Met Bruer in New York until January 29th, I wanted to share some year-end thoughts, and show off the book.

The exhibition featured an endless series of large scale, unframed canvases, done with acrylic paint. The bolt holes suggest unfinished work, but the dozens of masterpieces were nothing of the sort. The technique becomes a structural metaphor from the outset, bringing low materials to high places.

The coal-black faces speak to a history of centuries of racism, in piece after piece. (While referencing the caste system of shades of brown.) They’re defiantly dark, like Kara Walker’s silhouettes. The compositions are classical, and reference art history at every turn. (De Stijl, Rococo, Giorgione, Gericault.)

The color schemes are contrasty and exciting too, so the image structures hold up against the heavy history many of the pieces evoke.

And the subject matter feels like a hashtag of the African-American experience in contemporary America.

Watts. The barbershop. The death of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys.

There are lynchings.
And liquor stores.

Running slaves
and golden nets.

Glittering jails and subverted expectations. Like “Our House,” from 1995, which features black children inhabiting seemingly-white roles, in the suburbs, but slave shacks sit in the back of the painting as well.

Or “Past Times,” from 1997, in which a black family relaxes by the lake, Puff Daddy style, dressed in all white, waterskiing, and playing croquet.

We see pretty sunsets and plenty of paintings within paintings. He demystifies the art-making process, showing scrims, and painting by numbers, while mystifying us with how good he is at his job.

The show features private parts and private moments. Day-Glo abstractions and keen observations.

The work, taken together, distills decades if not centuries of pain and suffering, yet flips it. (Jujitsu style.) These are not dour, or in most cases, mournful works.

They’re too bright for that. They’re meticulous, too, in a way that screams joy.

Kerry James Marshall clearly loves what he does, even if what he does is critique an American society that likes to occupy the moral high ground, even though its wealth is built upon a history of slavery. (And the genocide of Native Americans.)

As for the rest of us, I’d say the lesson for 2017 is pretty clear.

Mine your experience. Share what you think. Push yourself to your limits, in a world that might not feel comfortable. Ever.

Put it into your art.

And I hope 2017 is a better and easier year for you and yours.

img_4256

img_4258

img_4259

img_4260

img_4261

img_4262

img_4263

img_4264

img_4265

img_4266

img_4267

img_4268

img_4269

img_4270

img_4271

img_4272

img_4273

img_4274

img_4275

img_4276

img_4277

This Week In Photography Books: Jay Turner Frey Seawell

I’m sitting on my daughter’s white couch, looking out the window at the falling snow. There is a white sludge of bird poop on the glass, obstructing a small part of my view.

That detail is unimportant, I suppose, but it’s also true. And of course the bird dropped his little present not three weeks after we had the windows professionally cleaned for Thanksgiving. (Isn’t that always the way?)

Because winter has arrived here in earnest, and our mountains draw the biggest storms around, it’s the time of year where we build fires in our wood-stove each day.

It’s an antiquated system:
Burn wood.
Heat house.
Fire pretty.
Fire burn.
Don’t touch.

The first step, (after I sweep the ashes from the previous conflagration,) is to roll up some old newspaper. My dad taught me how to do it when I was a kid, and I still use his technique. These days, though, we add napalm bricks that make the whole process much easier.

Building the fire forces me to look at information on paper, (talk about antiquated,) and the other day I saw the most disturbing “news.” On a single page, in some random edition of the Albuquerque Journal, there was a story about a man who killed his young son by leaving him in a hot car for 7 hours, and a blurb about a woman who fed her stepchild to the family pigs, after the murder.

Unsurprisingly, I felt the cortisol drop in real time. Just looking at those words made my body change, and my mood alter. And that was only after a cursory 5 second glance, when I wasn’t even trying to read the paper. (Burn, baby, burn.)

It got me thinking though, about the idea of “news.” Where did it come from? This need to know what was happening in parts elsewhere. I can see the value of Paul Revere riding through the dark night, as the British WERE coming.

But the mass dissemination of salacious stories that have no impact on our daily lives? How did it become so necessary? And now that we’re assaulted with such information all day, every day, instead of 7 times a week, will we ever break the habit?

Not to be Debbie Downer, but I’d suggest we’re stuck with the habit, as long as such information is treated as a commodity. While the nightly news, brought to you by Cablevision, is no longer the arbiter of what everyone thinks, (thanks to the breakaway republic of FoxNewsistanBreitbartlandia,) everyone’s trying to make money off this “news.”

The entire cycle, taken to it’s absurd conclusion, just delivered the Presidency to Donald J Trump, and it’s not even clear he wants the job. Sure, he wants to be President, because it will make him even richer and more famous, but does he really want to do the grunt work that Obama clearly relished?

Highly doubtful.

But the “news” organizations essentially handed him the election by covering every rally, (for free,) writing about every insane comment, treating the entire process with a respect that it clearly did not deserve.

I guess it serves us right.

Honestly, though, while the snow out the window is somewhat calming, I’m a bit riled up having just put down “National Trust,” a new soft-cover book by Jay Turner Frey Seawell, (whom we’ll refer to as JTFS,) recently published by upstart Skylark Editions in Chicago.

Now that we’re no longer getting our books from photo-eye, I’m relying on what people send me. (Yes, we are accepting submissions, but please contact me first. I don’t want you to waste a book on something I’d never review.) JTFS and the folks at Skylark thought I might dig this book, and boy, were they right.

I hope the artist is getting some publicity at the moment, because he certainly deserves it. Much like my project “The Value of a Dollar” took off because I was thinking about food a couple of years before EVERYONE was, these pictures were shot in advance of our current political climate.

JTFS lives in Washington, DC, I believe, and from 2011-13, he photographed the media facade/political industrial complex. Man, are these pictures good.

They’re sharp, both in image clarity and observational skills. They clearly pull back the curtain to reveal, what exactly? And I’m not even being metaphorical. There’s an image, called “Supreme Court,” that clearly depicts a curtain of a column, right where we’d expect an actual column to exist.

We see the bright lights, including one picture where the apparatus perfectly covers a “talking head,” as he fixes his expensive cuff-link. The compositional style, which manages to be chaotic and restrained at the same time, emphasizes the read that the world has gone amuck.

We’re all trapped in a bubble that keeps growing, even as we spend so much less money obtaining said “news.” As such, the closing picture, of a five dollar bill torn asunder on the sidewalk, made me think that somewhere in the afterlife, Abe Lincoln, who gave his life for this nation’s unity, is up there thinking, “They get what they fucking deserve.”

That’s right people. Sad Abraham Lincoln is my takeaway, as his ghost has to contemplate D Trump entertaining right wing billionaires in his own bedroom. (Maybe even in his own bed.)

All because we can’t turn off the TV. We can’t step away from the Twitter. We can’t unlike what the world has become. I rarely ask for more from a photo book, and neither should you.

Bottom Line: Exquisite, perfectly timed look at the Washington media-political-industrial-complex

To Purchase “National Trust” Go Here: http://www.skylarkeditions.org/shop/national-trust-by-jay-seawell-1

img_4235

img_4236

img_4237

img_4238

img_4239

img_4240

img_4241

img_4242

img_4243

img_4244

img_4245

img_4246

img_4247

img_4248

img_4249

img_4250

img_4251

img_4252

img_4253

img_4254

img_4255

This Week In Photography Books: Christian Nilson

by Jonathan Blaustein

I spent a day in Switzerland many years ago. (1997, to be exact.) When I say a day, I mean just that.

A day.

My brother and I were on a backpacking trip around Europe, back when that was still a thing. We didn’t get along very well, truth be told, but thought it might be fun to range around together.

So we did.

We took a night train from Rome that got in to Lucerne in the morning, and caught a night train out that evening, so the entirety of my knowledge of Switzerland was crafted in about 12 hours.

What do I remember? Well, it was very beautiful, obviously. Jagged peaks rising up out of a clear blue lake. Crisp, clean air. Meticulous architecture.

Anyone can tell you that.

The real story, one I’m reluctant to admit, was that we went to a country fair that afternoon, and were aghast at how funny-looking people were. I recall it so clearly, as we both joked for hours that all that inbreeding had created some oddly unattractive people. (I say inbreeding because the mountainous terrain naturally meant it was difficult for people to travel from one village to the next, back in the day.)

It sounds terrible, I know, but it’s not like I make a habit of mocking people. (On second thought…) But really, the fair was just so weird. We saw local contests, like a tug of war, and there were pavilions filled with farming and industrial equipment.

Not a clown, bearded lady or tilt-a-whirl in sight.

Most people though, when they think of Switzerland, imagine banks, chocolate, watches, and neutrality. That last one seems a quaint and outdated concept in a brutal 2016. Honestly, who could be neutral about Donald J. Trump?

“Well, I suppose he has his good qualities, and his bad qualities. He is OK, I guess. Neither horrible nor amazing. I’d compare him to an under-sweetened bowl of oatmeal. It could be better, of course, but it could also be worse.”

No, imaginary Swiss person. One cannot maintain neutrality in the face of an absurdist film come to life. It’s simply not possible.

Thankfully, such stereotypes are just that. Clearly, a country with three languages and a million mountains is about more than money, sweets and grinding gears, right?

As usual, I’m glad you asked. I’m prepared to answer the question, as I’ve just put down “The Swiss,” a new book by Christian Nilson, published by Scheidegger & Spiess. Sure, the title is meant to evoke “The Americans,” by the Swiss photographer Robert Frank, but beyond that, I found it to be a refreshing and original piece of work.

Christian sent the book along because he figured I’d dig it, and he was correct. I think it’s great, as it fits in with my typical review criteria: it shows us something we haven’t seen before, and it does so with well-crafted style.

Turns out, Christian has lived in Switzerland for a while, but is originally from Sweden, so he brings an outsider’s perspective to a place he knows well, which is often a recipe for success. Throw in a heavy use of daytime flash, and you’ve almost tailor-made a book to my own personal tastes. (This being the most subjective of book-review-columns.)

We see scenic mountains, of course, and the picture with a tiny church perched precariously on a ridge-line is pretty terrific. But it’s the strange, almost geeky absurdity of certain subcultures that really surprises.

A dude in a Batman costume, holding a child in his monstrously large hands. A gross-looking plate of food that appears to contain a mass of mayonnaise covering a phallic pickle. We see men in traditional costumes, sure, but also a woman playing the accordion with a ridiculous man-bun on top of her head.

There’s a bio-diesel car jimmy-rigged with a Monster energy drink sticker on its exhaust pipe, a garden gnome, skiers being pulled by horses, an a nuclear-reactor sitting behind a dapper playground.

Dog shows, outdoor wrestling, and Dora the Explorer make appearances as well. And we can’t forget the picture of an apricot farmer, Aprikosen Andi, who sports a glossy advertising selfie next to his fruit stand.

Though I’ve always felt bad for remembering the Swiss as less-than-gorgeous, there is one picture of an unattractive woman at a summer festival that felt like it was ripped straight from my memory banks.

Best of all, though, is a strange sub-theme of people sitting in chairs and on beds with large, protruding feet. There are two photos in particular, of women with gigantic feet, that don’t really make any sense at all, except they’re so strange that they’re perfect.

Each time I found a new big-foot picture, I could almost see the thought-bubble pop up in front of my face. WTF, the thought bubble said. WTF?

It’s impossible, of course, to boil a country’s citizenry down to a few dozen photographs. Can’t be done. But we can get a sense of how an artist views a society. According to this book, Switzerland seems like a mix of gauche German taste, colorful Italian opulence, and a kitchy, Jerry-Lewis-loving French sense of humor.

Sign me up.

Bottom Line: Sharp, irreverent book that investigates an under-the-radar European culture

To Purchase “The Swiss” Go Here: http://www.christiannilson.com/the-swiss-book/

img_4176

img_4177

img_4178

img_4179

img_4180

img_4181

img_4182

img_4183

img_4184

img_4185

img_4188

img_4189

img_4190

img_4191

img_4192

img_4193

img_4194

img_4195

img_4196

img_4197

img_4198

img_4199

img_4200

This Week In Photography Books: Michael Lundgren

by Jonathan Blaustein

Imagine if atoms had consciousness. Electrons and protons would surely be enemies, like the Flash vs the Reverse Flash, or Tomi Lahren vs Trevor Noah.

The Sharks vs the Jets would have nothing on the rivalries happening on the atomic level. The Electron King, Negator, would likely try to take over all of atomic reality. (He’s such an asshole, Negator, thinking he can do whatever he wants.)

Negator might even trick some people into thinking he’d change things for the better, but we’re not so easily fooled. Negator is all about destruction. He thinks negative energy is stronger and smarter than positive energy, and he intends to win at all costs.

Ruthless Negator. I hate that guy.

Except he’s not a guy. He’s an imaginary construct I’m presenting here for comedic/metaphorical effect. The point is, there are worlds upon worlds, and universes inside universes, existing right here and now.

Be it the atomic level, the cellular level, oozing creatures miles deep in the sea, or ant colonies living in our front yards, we human beings are only aware of the tiniest fraction of what’s actually going on out there.

Honestly, we’re clueless, no matter how much shit we can research on Google.

Our brains, our consciousness, depend upon seeing ourselves as the center of the Universe. Like astronomical knowledge before Galileo, we’re just plain wrong. The things that obsess us, myself included, are about as significant as Donald Trump’s promises.

But there are people out there, shamans, artists, academics, speakers-in-tongue, who do seem to have the ability to see past the normal. To shake the tree of life, and watch as a few apples fall to the ground, ready to eat.

Michael Lundgren seems to be such a person.

I wrote about him a few years ago, as I heard his lecture at the Medium Festival in 2013. He’s based in Phoenix, a graduate of the esteemed ASU program, and likes to prowl the Sonoran desert, looking for cracks in reality’s facade.

I’m not saying the dude takes peyote. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. I have no personal knowledge either way. But he goes into the desert, a regular 21st Century American, and returns with photographic evidence of the weird, dead and unexplained.

As this is a book review column, you’ll rightly guess that I just put down “Matter,” Michael’s new book, recently published by Radius in Santa Fe. (I couldn’t talk about shamans without a New Mexico hook, right?)

The book is handsomely produced, as are all the Radius offerings, but is oriented to landscape, like you forgot to click the proper icon in Photoshop. It mostly feels like a gimmick, though I get that the images receive far more space than they would otherwise.

I’m not a big fan of turning pages that way, but accept that it’s also a rebellion against convention. As is wedging a fold-up poster of the cover-image-pictures into a sleeve in the back of the book. (I’m guessing it’s mostly intended for artist studio walls or inspiration boards.)

Over the years as a photographer, I’ve learned that if you stare at something really, really hard, like it makes your eyes hurt kind of staring, that intensity tends to show up in the pictures. As such, I’m guessing Michael Lundgren needs to keep some Advil handy at all times, because these pictures are so sharply observed.

Algae-covered foxes, dog covered bears, putrid looking puddles, perfect if inexplicable orbs, naturally occurring quarries, chunks of concrete, and rifts in the landscape that reference tears in the space-time-continuum.

It’s all here.

By now, 5+ years into this column, you know I have a soft-spot for weird shit.

Strange art = good.
Derivative art = bad.

It’s not that simple, of course, but you get my drift. Some people are called to search for answers, knowing full well they’ll never arrive. I’m betting Michael Lundgren is such a guy.

Maybe one day, I’ll get invited out to a drum circle, down near the Mexican border. There will be tequila, magic mushrooms, and a roaring fire. I’ll sit down in the dirt, cross my legs into a lotus position, and crack through another level of consciousness.

But until that time, at least I have the book.

Bottom Line: Excellent pictures filled with strange phenomena in the Sonoran desert

Go here to purchase “Matter”

img_4151

img_4152

img_4153

img_4154

img_4155

img_4156

img_4157

img_4158

img_4159

img_4160

img_4161

img_4162

img_4163

img_4164

img_4165

img_4166

This Week In Photography Books: James Welling

by Jonathan Blaustein

The sun is out again today.
Thank god.

After an unseasonably warm November, winter came in earnest last week. Below zero wind chill. Industrial-grey skies. High clouds looming above, like hall monitors, ensuring nobody has any fun.

This time of year always makes me sad.

It gets dark so early, and here in Taos, we’re all addicted to the sun, so when it goes away for even 2 or 3 days at a time, my mood drops off a cliff faster than Wil E. Coyote.

The morbid, bleak light.
No leaves on the trees.

There’s no snow on the ground yet, so the brown, dead grass reminds me of my own mortality. Early winter is the seasonal equivalent of angsty, teen-age poetry.


Why?
Why is the world so unfair and cold?

Why?
Why don’t my parents understand I’m not a kid anymore?

Why?

Why is death a part of life, when death is cruel but life
is beautiful?

Why?

My blood pumps through my veins.
I feel it.

Why must it all come to an end?
Why must I lose everything?

Why?

Like I said, the sky is blue today and the sun is unencumbered. It’s so bright, I had to close the shades in my daughter’s room so I could see the computer screen to write for you guys.

So I can joke about such things today.

But sometimes, I do feel sad. I miss the long, easy days of summer. I think about my children growing up so quickly.

I wonder how long I’ll be remembered when I’m gone?

I’m in this mood now, truth be told, having just looked at “Diary/Landscape” a book that turned up in the mail by James Welling, published by The University of Chicago Press. The cover, no surprise, is gray; the font somber.

James Welling is known as a conceptual photographer, or maybe a conceptual artist, but his pictures normally look like straight photographs. While I’ve known of him for years, it’s hard for me to conjure a specific image in mind when I think of his work.

People think of ideas, when they think of conceptual art. It’s an obvious connection. But it often has as much to do with process and structure. Having a system in place, the end result of which is your artwork.

This book, perhaps because it represents an early project, really speaks more about traditional photography, and less about ideas, I’d say.

At the end of the introduction, written by Art Institute of Chicago curator Matthew S. Witkovsky, there’s a telling Welling quote. He says, “I think that all landscape photographs are a stand-in for abstract art, which is a stand-in for emotion in art. To me it seems very obvious that I’m photographing emotions.”

As far as I understand it, in the late 70’s, when Mr. Welling was a younger artist, he photographed the diary of his Connecticut ancestors, written by his great grandparents as they toured Europe, and he also photographed around his parent’s new home in Connecticut as well.

Black and white pictures.
Large format.
Somber.

His relatives had been prominent in the mid-19th Century: his great-grandfather both a Congressman and a Senator who rubbed elbows with Abe Lincoln. It is presumed, given the New England location and his family’s history of importance, that the Wellings are an old, prosperous, (or once-prosperous) WASP clan.

Such people are not known for expressing their emotions.
Quite the opposite.

We know this.

But the pictures in this book, the old diary pages and church steeples. The weathered siding and leafless trees. The barren fields and gnarled limbs.

It reminds me of those endless East Coast winters, when it can be cold and gray for months on end. You might not see the sun for 3 weeks. It’s torturous.

Just thinking of it makes me depressed.

That’s the thing about this book.
It’s kind of weepy.
Elegiac.

The pictures are beautiful, and they express emotion, which, given the cultural milieu, is a rebellious act. Though it’s certainly understated, I like it very much.

Because, like that blasted Pixar film “Inside Out” branded in our brains forever, sadness is a genuine emotion. It’s a part of our identity that cannot be ignored, nor willed away. Huge swaths of life are tragic, and having that feeling pervade an object like this is not an easy feat to accomplish.

So for all of you out there, living in places like Upstate New York, or Upper Peninsula Michigan, I’ll make sure to put my face in the sun every day for you.

I promise.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, bleak, black and white photos from New England

To Purchase “Diary/Landscape” by James Welling go here.

img_4133

img_4134

img_4135

img_4136

img_4137

img_4138

img_4139

img_4140

img_4141

img_4142

img_4143

img_4144

img_4145

img_4146

img_4147

img_4148

img_4149

img_4150