Category "Photography Books"

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”

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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.

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This Week In Photography Books: Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m binge-watching “Marco Polo” on Netflix.
Talk about entertainment.

I was just lecturing my students, not two weeks ago, on the Southern Song era in Chinese art. (Long one of my favorites.)

It produced landscape paintings of staggering beauty and influence; perhaps the first to use negative space as a positive compositional element. Blank white silk represents water, mist, and snow.

I told them, (as my Chinese Art History professor taught me,) that the Mongols ruled much of China, from the North, so the Song Empire, much diminished, resided in Southern China instead.

A week later, after stumbling on the series last Friday, I found myself watching an extremely expensive recreation of the very same place and time. The Mongolian steppes and palace intrigues from 800 years ago appear, in HD, in my fucking living room.

Benedict Wong is mesmerizing as Kublai Kahn. I guess that’s the nature of binge-watching, that the story takes over, you’re immersed in it for a day or two or seven, and then you move on. And I DO have a soft-spot for period pieces with high production values.

Which is why I decided to route through Los Angeles, on my recent trip to San Diego for Medium. I’d been sent the book that accompanies “Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France” by the Getty Center, (curated by Karen Hellman) as it’s the companion to the exhibition of the same name, which closes November 27th.

Southern Californians: If you’re too lazy to read the rest of this piece, at least remember this: Go see the show!

I stopped looking at the book after 10 pages, when I first opened it, as I decided to buy the ticket to LA then and there. I figured, if I’m going to see the photographs in person, why spoil it with the book first?

Turns out, they’re very different experiences.

Though the title might sound a shade academic or dry, the pictures are nothing of the sort. Gustave LeGray is one of my all time favorite photographers because, like his 19th Century contemporaries Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron and Carleton Watkins, the pictures seem to jump off the wall. (The same sensation as seeing a Velasquez in a room full of paintings by his peers.)

LeGray’s photographs are always visceral, and dripping with emotional resonance. (So it’s no surprise he steals the show.) His landscapes, including on the waterfront, or in the Fountain-bleu forest, have that vibe that Atget later tapped in to.

A haunting feeling you’re sure is in the picture, rather than being a function of the age of the print. An EXTRA sort of perception.

We learn that LeGray touched up his negatives from the beginning, to increase contrast, and only achieved his masterly seascapes by later sandwiching two negatives together. Is that extra something his ability as a printer? Utilizing subjectivity, as an era-appropriate Instagram filter?

I don’t know, but there is a side-by-side in the book, with Edouard Baldus, and I think it’s clear LeGray’s photograph is more compelling. (And contrasty.)

In LA, I was equally smitten by Charles Negre’s photographs of people. Italian street musicians, in particular. In the book, I noticed, these same images are not nearly as powerful as the talismen I encountered in the flesh.

In the exhibition, I had a feeling I only remember having once before, at the Met, when I first saw Egyptian encaustic portraits from 2000 years ago.

I’ve used the time travel metaphor so many times, but this wasn’t that. (Or, at least, not JUST that.) It was more like I was seeing something I wasn’t meant to see. Something intimate, like the way certain tribes were said to fear a photograph can steal your soul.

The fact that photography was so young, so packed with potential back then, so experimental in its nature, gives this entire exhibition a super-charge that was so worth going out of my way for.

The galleries were packed, so it’s hard to even use a word like intimate, but that’s what it was. The clothing, the patina, it made me sad in a good way, like schadenfreude.

The focus is tight. Little more than a decade in France, 160 years ago. But with such a comprehensive display: people, places, things, the sacred and the profane, you have a sense of “being there” more than almost any other show I’ve seen.

There is also a strong educational component to the exhibit, (and essays in the book,) so we learn about the initial use of salt paper prints, paper negatives before glass, and see the negatives themselves presented on light-boxes. The whole thing is super-slick. (Remember what I said before about liking sharp production values?)

I have a very good memory, so I’m certain there are photos in the book that are not in the show. And almost all of you won’t be able to make it to the Getty by Sunday. (Though hopefully some of you can. The museum is free, don’t forget.)

Some of the extras pics, by LeGray, are as strong as anything in the show, hinting the archive goes much deeper than what was on the wall. So I’d say the book would be a great purchase as well.

When we delve into things like this, we are reminded that we too will be history one day. Images, ideas, cultures change over time. These days, Thanksgiving is mostly seen as a holiday where we eat lots of turkey, watch football, and perhaps have a drink or two to celebrate.

But what are we celebrating?

Speaking for myself, I have a beautiful, loving family, I live in a country that, for now, is still free and prosperous, and I get to type out my thoughts and share them with you guys each week. (I even get paid for it.)

Now is the time of year, especially in light of the extra election stress America has been living with, where you take stock. Count your blessings. Appreciate what you’ve got.

Because no matter how bad you might have it, there are people in this world, in Syria or elsewhere, who are facing gruesome death each and every day.

Even little kids.

So I hope you had a good holiday, and I’ll be back with another photo-book again next week.

Adios.

Bottom Line: Excellent book that captures the spirit of long ago France

Go Here To Purchase Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France

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This Week In Photography Books: Curran Hatleberg

by Jonathan Blaustein

I was just talking to a friend about comment sections. Ours, in particular. It seems like a hundred years ago, but was really only 4 or 5, when anonymous trolls insulted me each and every week.

My god, did I hate that shit.

It’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” but I most certainly did. Rob must have gotten tired of my complaints, because I couldn’t let it go.

These days, we moderate, and it’s a bit of a wasteland down there. Not much going on. Tumbleweeds drifting across the information superhighway. Tarantulas creeping along the asphalt, as there’s no one else around.

Except for Stan.

Every now and again, Stan Banos, who’s been reading for ages, will pop up with a comment to keep me in check. He was there back when it was crowded, and he’s there now that it’s chill.
I appreciate his feedback, as he is intelligent, and has a different perspective than I do, so that makes for good dialogue.

If I’m being honest, I even inserted a clause in last week’s column with him in mind, and he took the bait. As I was gushing about how much fun I had in NYC, LA and Chicago, I thought it important to mention that I had not visited places where life is hard.

Places lacking the glamour of a gleaming art museum, or a cool bar with expensive drinks. After-parties are great, of course, but I’m at least smart enough to know when I’m experiencing privilege.

Sure enough, Stan chimed in to stress that life is insanely difficult for a large swath of this country, and things just don’t seem to get better. We all know there are millions of people living rough, and I acknowledged that as well, but Stan stood up and said, don’t pretend it isn’t happening.

So in Stan’s honor, I was glad to look at “Lost Coast,” a new release by our friends at TBW Books, from artist Curran Hatleberg. It investigates a culture in California, in the far North, that most of us don’t get to see, and it’s not exactly pretty.

I’ve written about books like this before, so I won’t claim that it’s insanely original. But it feels authentic, and hit me hard just now, as we’re all anxiously awaiting the results of an election that is increasingly driven by race and class.

There is no introduction on this one, and only the end-note-thank-you’s ground this as taking place in Humboldt County. (Famous for its insanely strong weed. Or so I’m told.)

A CA license plate tips us off before that, and an image with a pile of logs in front of a shipping port hints that it’s up North, but we’re not sure until the end.

I wrote last week that I had not dropped in on homeless encampments along the railroad tracks, and sure enough, some of the people photographed here look like that might be their next stop.

Even though I’ve seen worlds like this before, what really interested me were the subtle details. A father and son peering in the window of a motorbike store. You can’t see their faces, and I guess we don’t even know if they’re related, but the implied narrative screams yearning to me.

We see pit bulls, sure, but also a man attempting to cut a watermelon on a piece of cardboard, just outside the boundary of a gas station.

Another gas station, replete with no loitering sign, features a group of people doing just that.

A man with a reconstructed nose makes me think of meth and coke, hard drugs that will warp your face and ruin your life. A burned up trailer reinforces that read, suggesting a meth lab fire.

Yet one house has pink trim and a satellite dish, and another has a perfect pink rose bush outside in the yard. Even in difficult lives, people still crave beauty and a sense of normalcy.

A man has his head shaved, while showing off a hairy back, and the next picture features a bearded dude drinking Olympia, (the World’s worst beer,) while he plays with a ball made of aluminum foil.

Kids run around barefoot, a creepy-looking guy fills a gas can at yet another gas station, and a front yard barbecue looks fun, I suppose, if the pit bulls leave you alone.

I have no idea if Stan will like this book, or appreciate that I keep him in mind sometimes when I’m writing. It’s hard to remember what goes on outside your own world, I suppose, and that’s why I love this job so much.

No matter how stressed you might be, it’s important to be cognizant that even in a rich country like ours, there are too many people suffering deprivation. That’s why some will occasionally turn to a savior who promises to make it better by himself.

By next week, we’ll find out if he gets the chance.

Bottom Line: A well-crafted, taut look at hard living on the Lost Coast

To Purchase “Lost Coast” Go Here.

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This Week In Photography Books: Meghann Riepenhoff

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Once upon a time, I wrote about stereotypes and clichés.

It was fun to resurrect phrases left for dead. I did it because good writers avoid them, and I was rebelling against the norm. (Or maybe I just wasn’t a good writer?)

Sometimes, though, we use a phrase just because other people do. We don’t think about where it comes from.

I’m thinking of “bone tired,” because I tried to explain it to my son the other day. Everybody says it, but I suspect only people over 40 really know what it means.

When you reach a certain level of exhaustion, your bones actually ache. At the moment, I’ve got a tingling feeling from my tibias to my clavicles, and there’s not much to be done. (Not much but complain, I suppose.)

I was in Chicago last week for the brilliant Filter Photo Festival, and worked straight through the weekend. Unlike last year, this time I came home with my voice and my wits in tact, but the latter has faded as the week’s gone on.

This year, I again saw nearly 40 portfolios, and will have plenty of work to show you in the coming weeks. I saw remarkable exhibitions, met with so many fascinating people, ate at a steak house with a heap of financial planners, danced to a human beatbox at a late-night afterparty, reviewed countless photographs, and talked for 5 days straight.

I made a few changes compared to last year, beginning with my reviewing approach. After much thought, I decided to temper my advice based upon what I sensed the person could actually hear and handle. Rather than just imposing my will on the situation, which led to a few bad results last year, in 2016, I decided to be patient, listen, and then react.

Not surprisingly, it was a successful tactic. Getting ripped to shreds by one reviewer at FotoFest in March, when I took my own work, reminded me how easy it is to ruin someone’s day with a few poorly chosen words. Or with a confidence bordering on arrogance.

Last year, despite a powerful urge, I failed to eat any Chicago deep dish stuffed pizza. This time, my friend Melanie and I rectified that at Giordano’s, and the results were good enough, but far from awesome. (Yes, Susan Burnstine, you tried to warn me off. I should have listened.)

Finally, in 5 full days in Chicago in 2015, I never made it to Lake Michigan, even though the hotel was only a half a block away. (Lake Shore Drive proved a formidable impediment.)

This year, I asked how to get access, which was insanely easy, and went to check it out on my very first day. There are sandy public beaches, ladders to climb down for a swim, party boats on Sundays, and very blue, luxurious water.

The smell might be different, (since it’s a lake,) but by the look of things, it’s as pretty an urban scene as San Sebastian or San Francisco. I simply can’t overstate how nice it is.

I went for a run there one morning, ambled other days, and then on Sunday, on my way to and from Expo Chicago, I walked along the shore instead of through the city. Great plan!

Unfortunately, it was rather hot on Sunday. And humid too, of course. Very, very humid.

So as I pumped my arms, power-walking like a worker-bee on my way North to grab the subway, the sweat-storm began. I felt the first trickle, didn’t think too much about it, and then it was a flood that overwhelmed my shirt.

I was sweating so much, was soooooo wet and sticky, and right next to me was all that cool, blue water. Taunting me. I wanted to swim so badly, I considered my options.

“Jonathan,” said the lake, “you know you want to jump into me. Come, Jonathan. Give in to your desire. It will feel so good.”

Opting against a full scale assault in my clothes, I bent down, took a knee, reached into the undulating blue, and cupped some water in my hands. I reached back, splashed my neck, and then did it 10 more times.

I’m not a religious Jew, to be honest, but I know we have a tradition of the mikvah. Consecration in water. It felt like that then, a moment I’ll remember for a long time.

The next morning, (I returned home after 1am,) I went down to our stream and repeated the process. Cool water on the same neck.

A journey begins, and it ends.

Speaking of journeys, I wrote about my big trip to Texas earlier this year, and mentioned I met an artist at FotoFest, Meghann Riepenhoff, who was having a moment at the time.

Well, Meghann just sent me an exhibition catalog of her work, “Littoral Drift,” now in its second edition, and of course it was on top of my pile today when I needed to write for you guys. (It’s Thursday. Deadlines await.)

There’s been a trend in California lately of photographic artists making one-of-a-kind objects out of old-school, hands-on processes. Chris McCaw might have gotten it started, but Matthew Brandt, John Chiara, Klea McKenna, and Meghann have all come up with styles that are steeped in the past.

Meghann makes cyanotypes in water. Chemistry mixes with primordial cocktails of salt and sea, resulting in abstracted, beautiful, dreamy objects. In person, they were lovely and textured.

In book form, it’s hard to communicate scale, so I commend the attempt to conjure our imaginations with various installation shots. But mostly this book is about the pleasure of looking.

Like the evanescence of frost, molecular structures under a microscope, or the unmistakable smell of my daughter’s hair, we all know that nature is more powerful than we are. Its aesthetic instincts are nearly always perfect.

I like that this work channels a sense of that visually, as well as existentially. No water, no art. No sloshing, no looking.

As you might imagine, I’ve just hit my limit for today, especially as I’ve got to teach a class all afternoon. (No rest for the weary, I’m afraid.) But this weekend, I’m going to take a big fat nap, and it’s going to be glorious.

Bottom Line: Gorgeous catalog of innovative cyanotypes

To Purchase Littoral Drift Go Here

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This Week In Photography Books: Jason Langer

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

He was handsome.

That was the first thing the barkeep noticed. Handsome in a country kind of way.

This was no twink.

The young man in the cowboy hat couldn’t have been more than twenty-five; more likely he was just past the legal drinking age. He’d come in about ten minutes before, walked up to the bar with a bow-legged gait, and asked for a Bud draft.

He paid with a five, left a dollar tip, then retreated to a table with a good view of the ladies.

The barkeep was certain he’d kept the last buck to give to one of the girls, so he wouldn’t feel too bad about hunkering down. You’ve got to give them SOMETHING if you want to stare at their tits, and a dollar is something, as opposed to nothing at all.

If this were another bar, in another part of town, the barkeep would have hit on the cowboy. That beer would have been free, so too the next. He was good-looking enough for five free beers, if we’re being honest, but only in another story.

In this one, the cowboy was clearly straight, so the barkeep could do nothing but cop the occasional stare.

The music was too loud, just like every other night. Some sailor just walked in with a handful of buddies, only this one looked like he was trying to fit in. A more promising candidate, that’s for sure.

The barkeep was actually ogling the sailor when the cowboy came back to the bar.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said.

“What can I do for you, cowboy?”

“Well, sir, I find myself in a bit of a predicament, you might say.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, sir, you see, the problem is, I’m not exactly supposed to be here.”

“You don’t say?”

“No, sir. I just came up here to town to arrange the sale of my family’s almond crop. We’ve got a farm out there in the Central Valley.”

“I never would have known.”

“Well, that’s kind of you to say, sir. But my Pa, he don’t take kindly to me frequenting these types of establishment. He thinks it’s a waste of money.”

“It takes all kinds.”

“Well, that’s how I feel about it, but my Pa don’t exactly agree. You see, the reason I came up here to talk to you is that I’m supposed to be home right about now, but here I am.”

“You’re right here in front of me, handsome.”

“Like I said, I’m supposed be home, and here I am. As to the problem I mentioned, well, I’ve got to call home and tell my Pa that I had a flat tire, and I’m a couple hours behind.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Well, I hope that’s true. But the problem I keep mentioning is that I just spent my last five dollars on this here beer, your tip, and a buck for the lovely lady over there. I think her name’s Lexus.”

“How can I help you, cowboy?”

“Well, sir, I feel right bad asking you this, but I need 25 cents to call home on that there pay phone, but I don’t have a dime. Is there any chance you might spot me a quarter, and I can pay you back next time I come in?”

“Well, cowboy, that’s no trouble at all. Normally, I’d just give you the quarter. But since you’re so cute, how about you give me a little peck on the cheek, and we’ll call it even,” said the barkeep, now extending a quarter in his right hand.

The cowboy looked sheepish, or at least pretended to, then took the quarter, leaned in, and kissed the barkeep on the left cheek. It was over before it started, then he sauntered to the pay phone in back, lit up by Miller High Life neon, dropped the coin into the slot, and began to dial.

The light glowed off of his cowboy hat, as he leaned towards the payphone, to better hear over the noise, and in that one half second, the barkeep knew he’d give that young man anything, if only he’d ask.

And… scene.

In photo class, I sometimes talk about implied narrative. The idea that a story is right there, practically suggested, if only we have the creativity to fill in the blanks.

A great photograph might walk you so far down the path that you’re lazy if you don’t bother to connect the dots.

The image in question comes from “Jason Langer: Twenty Years,” a book released by Radius earlier this Spring. It sat in my pile forever, and now that I’ve opened it up, I’m glad I did.

Another writer might have been seduced by the cowboy, but I was hooked by the payphone. It’s SO fucking 20th Century. (And the Miller High Life sign was pretty great too.)

I interviewed Jason Langer a few years ago, and I enjoy his work, though I wouldn’t say I love it. As with the review a couple of weeks ago, one particular picture made this book worth writing about.

Jason shoots in black and white, and his style fits in the center of three Venn diagrams marked “moody,” “set in the past,” and “overtly strange.” Most of his pictures look like they could have been shot in any decade between 1880 and 1960.

They’re much more “hat wearing” Don Draper than “Esalen-era” Don, if you catch my drift. Old fashioned, but in a way that reveres gray-scale, rather than mocking it. There’s just not much irony to be seen.

I found, oddly, that the pictures in the book from the last century had a stronger impact on me than the more recent work. But for once, it didn’t seem that the artist had been less successful.

Rather, and more subtly, my brain seemed to accept that the 90’s, that last pre-internet decade, really did belong to another temporal universe than ours. Almost like, after Y2K, or 9/11, we all jumped tracks to another reality. The continuity strings between the 19’s and the 20’s were cut, and we’ve all been making it up as we go along.

That’s why the payphone grabbed me so much. How quaint, how antiquated, and yet, 20 years really isn’t that long ago. (Or 18, as this photo was shot in ’98.) At first, it felt like New York, but Pacific Bell was a West Coast thing, right?

Then I thought of all those go-go bars in San Francisco; the ones near North Beach. I think there are a gaggle of them on Broadway, but honestly, I wouldn’t know. I was with my wife by the time I lived there, so the strip club phase was already in my personal rearview.

There are many excellent photographs in this book. Jason is a pro, understands his own vision, and as I’ve seen his work before, I think they did a great job creating a smooth edit. If you like this sort of photography, the book will be for you.

But I’m just glad I had my moment, pretending to be a cowboy, hoping a gay bartender might do me a solid. I’ve got almonds to move, goddammit, and they’re not going to sell themselves.

Bottom Line: Classy book where the 19th, 20th and 21st C’s collide

To Purchase “Jason Langer: Twenty Years” Visit PhotoEye

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This Week In Photography Books: William Eggleston

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It all began when I forgot my cell phone.
(Which is rare.)

It’s a strange feeling, like being naked except for your socks. There’s a discomfiting sense of incompleteness when our devices are left behind.

I was driving Theo home from soccer practice last night, when we’d normally be eating dinner. Instead, we began our ascent of Blueberry Hill, just as the sky turned crazy.

As photographers, we know how crucial light is to our end product. No matter how hard I stress the point, my students still don’t get it, as appreciating illumination is a life-long endeavor, and they’ve only just begun.

But last night… any fool could see things were special.

Climbing in 2nd gear, right behind two big pick-up trucks, I looked to East to Taos Mountain, which was glowing amber. When green trees turn gold, every photographer reaches for the camera.

So I did.
But it wasn’t there.

Instead, I’d been given an opportunity to really look. I often feel that photography, while freezing time for the future, actually makes it more difficult to revel in the present.

Thinking about taking pictures leaves less RAM for appreciating what’s in front of you.

By the time we’d crested the hill, it had begun to rain lightly, even though the sun was beaming in the West as it dropped towards the horizon.

We cut across the Taos valley, everything before us shining like a swarm of lightning bugs in July. I turned to Theo and said, “We’re definitely getting a rainbow out of this.”

As the car sped North, there it was. Not one rainbow but TWO! (The Double-Rainbow being a New Mexico speciality.)

We call it walking rain, out here, when you can see curtains of moisture, from the clouds to the ground. It is beautiful, of course, but you get used to it.

Nothing could have prepared us, though, for the massive mist of walking rain, gleaming copper, enveloping the mountains, slashed in two by the double-rainbow. The ROYGBIV colors were so intense, reality became a hyper-real touch-screen.

Air, something you normally can’t see, was multi-hued, and it was so luscious that I wanted to reach right through the silver Hyundai’s window and touch it.

Theo kept saying, “Take a picture, Dad. Take a picture.”

But I couldn’t.

Then, and I swear this is true, a huge lightning bolt rent the sky, right between the two rainbows. Theo and I screamed aloud, as words failed us. (Today he said, “It was magic, Dad. Actual magic.”)

Four cars pulled off the road rapidly, as if they’d blown a tire, so the drivers could snap the perfect Instagram square.
I kept reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb, but it was futile.

We lived those 15 minutes, and I can recall so much more now than if I’d tried to capture it. It’s a paradox, especially for an audience of photographers.

Is it ever a good idea to just put the camera down and watch?

I ask you, now that I’ve just finished with “William Eggleston: Portraits,” a new book that turned up in the mail from the National Portrait Gallery in London. (Thanks guys!) I’ve been meaning to show you this one, and today’s the right time.

It’s a perfect foil for the Diane Arbus book we reviewed two weeks ago, as this also introduces a black and white vision that pre-dates what we know of Eggleston’s masterworks. (You might recall I reviewed his brilliant “Los Alamos” project earlier this summer.)

As I wrote then, William Eggleson’s mature work, his rambling American color photographs from the late 60’s and early 70’s, is as good as anything that’s been made. He owns color; a certain saturated palette in particular, and you’ll have to claw it out of his cold dead hands.

So what was this black and white then?

Unlike Ms. Arbus’ early 35mm photographs, which contained the tension inherent in her later work, these early pictures look like they could have been made by any number of people. They’re exploratory, rather than resolved.

They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a big chasm between good and historically great. There’s even a photo that looks suspiciously like a Robert Frank picture from “The Americans.” (You’ll know it when you see it.)

Once he shifts to color, the work takes off, but the book still has a continuity problem. We see several of his seminal images, which are inter-mixed with portraits of his family, and pictures of famous people. (What I wouldn’t give to have sat in the back seat as he shot a peak-talent Dennis Hopper, in the early 70s, on the very same road I drove through Taos last night.)

The portraits, and several proto-selfies, are all strong of course, and it wouldn’t be complete without Eggleston naked in a red room, his penis hanging out for all to see. (I said red room. Not red rum.)

The exhibition was organized by the NPG, which is a terrific museum. I saw a cool Man Ray portrait show there a few years ago, which I reviewed here, and recall having a similar problem.

When you decontextualize an artist’s work, you break the narrative that projects create. Pictures are designed to go together so themes can emerge, and symbols repeat. I spent 10 freaking minutes analyzing his use of Coca-Cola Red at Pier 24 in May, because I was so interested in how he had achieved this kind of greatness.

But here, for the sake of an exhibition-constructed narrative, the spell was broken. All fine pictures, yes. But they didn’t take my breath away, despite Sofia Coppola’s implicit promise that they would. (She wrote a brief introduction.)

I’d guess most people would still want this book, as it brings together a chunk of excellent photographs, while giving you a glimpse into the artist’s private life. In 2016, no one can seem to get enough of the backstory. (It includes an extensive Q&A with the artist as well.)

But it reminded me that sometimes, when you’re looking at perfect light on your daughter’s cheek, or a day-dream happy expression in your wife’s eyes, you need to fight off the urge to take a picture.

Just enjoy, until the moment is gone.

Bottom Line: Fascinating yet flawed look at Eggleston’s portraits

To Purchase “William Eggleston: Portraits” Visit the National Portrait Gallery in London

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This Week In Photography Books: Dana Lixenberg

by Jonathan Blaustein

In the early days of the Great Recession, Barack Obama signed a stimulus bill injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the American economy.

Little ol’ Kit Carson Electric Cooperative here in Taos was given 64 MILLION DOLLARS! The goal was to wire up homes in our rural area, providing fiber-optic cable directly to every house that requested it.

The program put people to work, laying cable and digging trenches, but also provided much needed affordable high-speed internet to residents locked into high prices for very little service.

I was stuck in that situation, paying evil CenturyLink $45/month for a promised 1.5 mb/ second. (It was always slower than that.)

No higher speed was offered.
Period.

Seven years later, I finally got my 30mb/second for $40/month. As of last week, I’ve officially joined the 21st Century. (Insert government efficiency joke here.)

My first move, after telling CenturyLink to fuck off, was to set up Netflix. All those shows you’ve been watching were finally in my grasp, like a handful of lollypops fresh from the piñata.

I began with “House of Cards” since it came first; Netflix’s big debut. My wife and I sat down on the couch, and were immersed in a fleshed-out universe of power, greed, desire, betrayal, and, ultimately, murder.

Jessie pulled out near the end of the first season, realizing this was not a redemptive story. She had no interest in filling her brain with negative, Machiavellian schemes, once she realized there would be no light at the end of the tunnel. (I made a similar choice with “Breaking Bad,” and never regretted it.)

So now I’m on my own, pressing the “next episode” button like a rat begging for pellets. Please sir, may I have some more?

More drama. More pain. More controversy. More emotional escape into the fictive lives of others.

We’re all voyeurs at this point. We peek in on our high school friends in bikinis on Instagram, read salacious tidbits about politicians on nytimes.com, or perhaps binge-watch “The Wire” to fool ourselves into thinking we could possibly know how hard some people have it, on the other side of the tracks.

As photographers, and photo-book lovers, we often get our “virtual” reality as we turn the pages of someone else’s story. Photographer X goes to visit Culture Y, and the resulting Z images hold our attention for a little while.

No harm done.

But occasionally, you pick up a book that might not deviate from that pattern, but it renders others’ lives in such emotionally wrought detail that you don’t feel like a snoop. Rather, you have the sense that your understanding of the human condition has ratcheted up one notch, and you’re the better for it.

“Imperial Courts, 1993-2015” a photo-book by Dana Lixenberg, released by Roma last year, is such a book. Frankly, this one is about as good as it gets.

There’s little text to guide at the beginning, but it’s clear the photographer visited some African-American projects, beginning in 1993. The portraits are exceptional, and I didn’t need the end notes to confirm they were made with a large format camera.

You don’t get pimple detail like this without breaking out the large-scale hardware. (Certainly not in 1993. Maybe these days you can swing it, if you have 80 Grand to spare.)

The photo of criss-crossing highways on the cover suggests SoCal, but it’s not until we see a California license plate, maybe 1/4 of the way in, that I was sure this was LA. (I might have guessed, but that’s different from knowing.)

Two well-written essays at the back confirm what you slowly piece together for yourself. Imperial Courts is a housing project in Watts, and Ms. Lixenberg returned multiple times over the decades to revisit the work.

Unlike Nick Nixon’s “The Brown Sisters,” which is categorical in its dissection of the aging process, skin decaying before our eyes, this project relishes its gaps. Apparently, the artist stayed away for 15 years at one point, the series always simmering in the back of her mind.

People grow up. They have kids. Their kids have kids.

Some die.

Hair styles change. Fashions evolve. But according to the pictures and the words, life in Imperial Courts more or less stays the same.

Poverty. Violence. Lack of opportunity. Resilience. Strength. Community.

The book reminds us that most of these people have likely never seen Malibu. Perhaps not even put their feet in the sand in Santa Monica. Places like this may sit adjacent to LA wealth, but for all practical purposes, they’re living in another world.

The back section serves as a visual index, showing family connections between subjects, and printing images that were not afforded enlarged status in the plates. (The B-sides, if you will, but they’re all excellent.)

Ms. Lixenberg was drawn to LA to photograph the Rodney King riots in 1992, and one assignment begat a project that has carried her into middle age. I was a senior in high school that year. I’d barely even been to California.

Now I’m 42, and was cruising the 405 just this summer. But I didn’t drive through South Central.

No sir.

A book like this does everything right. The pictures are amazing. The cultural history is respected. The subjects received prints, and became friends with the photographer. Relationships were built, and some broken, as residents passed on.

I’m not sure that any photo-book, even this one, can fundamentally change who you are. Is it anything more than entertainment? Maybe. If it inspires you to create more, to strengthen community bonds, to strive for greatness, then perhaps art has more power than we realize.

Bottom Line: Brilliant, in-depth photo series shot in Watts

To Purchase “Imperial Courts, 1993-2015” Visit PhotoEye

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This Week In Photography Books: Pascal Amoyel

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve got good news.

School started up last week, and now that I’m teaching two classes, rather than trying to run an entire dysfunctional art department, my life has gotten much better.

Hard as is to believe, teaching is actually fun again.

How does that affect you? Well, it means you won’t have to put up with my whining and complaining each Friday. These columns might just get funny again, rather than being storehouses for my misery and distress.

Speaking of funny, did you hear that Donald Trump is taking a trip to Mexico today? Can you believe that’s actually happening? Just imagine it:

“Hey, Ivanka, get me a Piña Colada and make it snappy, OK?

“Sure thing Boss. I mean Dad.”

“You know what. Forget it. I changed my mind. Now I want a Corona.”

“OK. Corona it is. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to have one of the assistants get it, because I’m kind of busy, you know, running your companies.”

“No. No. You do it. Nobody gets the beer cold like you do. Honestly, (to the room,) I don’t know how she does it. It’s like she has magic fingers, and as long as she hands me the beer, it’s so freakin’ cold.”

—Ivanka leaves room, returns with a Corona.

“What the hell is this? Where’s the lime? Lots of people are talking, and they all say that you can’t drink a Mexican beer without a lime.”

“Sorry, Dad. I’ll have someone get you a lime.”

“Limes. How weird are they? They’re really green on the outside, but not so green on the inside? How does that even work?”

“I don’t know, Dad. But it’s just fruit. Not nearly as important as going over our notes for today’s meeting with President Peña Nieto.”

“Peña Nieto? That sounds like Piña Colada. You know, I think I’d really like a Piña Colada. Ivanka, honey, run out and get me a Piña Colada, OK? And be quick about it. Somehow I have a beer in my hand, but I really want a Piña Colada.”

And scene…

That’s the thing about visiting foreign countries: we go with all sorts of expectations, and so often they actually determine our experience. If you expect Mexico to be filled with rapists, and you’re suspicious of everyone you see, you likely won’t have such a good time on Spring Break in Cabo. (Or on your trip to meet the President.)

Or if you expect the American South, for example, to be mysterious and poetic, then you’re likely to have that kind of experience as well. Right?

I only ask having just put down “Not All,” a new book by Pascal Amoyel, published by Poursuite Editions in France. I’ve reviewed a few of their books in the past, enthusiastically, and recall they were all shot in Europe.

Not this one.

From what I gather, the French artist spent two months in the American South in the Spring of 2014, photographing away, and this book was the result. It’s a pretty simple narrative, all things considered, and we know how many photographers take a crack at depicting this photogenic region.

(Seriously, are all trees in the South strange and/or creepy, or just the ones that get photographed?)

The short version is that this book is nice, but not exceptional. As I flipped through the pages, I couldn’t help thinking this was a generic version of a place I’ve seen in books many times before. It is not compelling, though the pictures are certainly well-made-enough.

And then, I turned a page, and saw a photograph unlike any I’ve seen before. A decrepit, paint-stripped, white shotgun house, set against a couple of hedgerows, with a red brick chimney jutting into the blue sky. Normal enough, I suppose. But affixed to the clapboard siding is a sign that says “CHIROPRACTOR.”

Holy shit. I laughed so hard. What a picture.

If Walker Evans were alive today, he’d make that image.

I came down off my photo-high, and kept flipping away. The book was underwhelming again, until I came upon a picture of a woman’s slightly distended belly, and her very small pink bikini bottom. Strange angle. All tight.

Is it a woman? Or a girl? If it’s a girl, isn’t this picture really inappropriate? And if it’s a woman, is she pregnant? Or does she just have a little pot belly, like that weird French chick in “Pulp Fiction?”

The next photo, of a purple scarf spread over the green grass, makes for a cool little diptych.

Nicely done.

But two stellar pictures do not constitute a great book.

This is one of those reviews where I like something about a book, and it spurs me to write, (always my chief criterion,) but I do wonder if it isn’t a good example of what happens when every photographer wants a book for each project.

Pascal, I appreciate you sending this along, and I mean no disrespect. But if you want to be a great artist, I think every picture in the book, or certainly 90% of them, needs to be as original and stellar as those two shots.

And of course, I’m speaking to all of you here, not just Pascal. The truth is we live in a world where some publishers make a lot of money each time you sign a contract. (To be clear, I’m not saying this about Poursuite, as I’ve found their other books to be really tight, and not overly-produced.)

But it’s the truth. If you really want a book, and are willing to pony up your own money, or hit up the “crowd” to pay for it, you can have a book.

But is that enough of a reason?

Last piece of advice, people: next time you’re hankering for a taste of the South, but you can’t afford the plane ticket, just hit up the video store, or Netflix, and rent “Hustle and Flow.” Because it’s hard out here for a pimp…

Bottom Line: Nice book about the South with 2 knockout pictures inside

To Purchase “Not All” Visit PhotoEye
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This Week In Photography Books: Diane Arbus

by Jonathan Blaustein

New York City is larger than life.
We know this.

In the last year, I’ve been to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest cities in the United States, and loved them all.

(Big ups to LA, Chicago, and Houston.)

Realistically, though, there’s only one New York.

JayZ, Derek Jeter, Ed Koch, Giuliani, Joe Namath, you name it. There are people we associate with the Big Apple because they stepped onto the biggest stage, and made it their own.

Cats on Broadway, Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park, John Starks, Jackie O, Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Biggie Smalls.

My Dinner with Andre.
Reggie Jackson.
Daryl and Doc.

The Statue of Liberty.
Robert Moses.
Debbie Harry.
Andy Warhol.
John Gotti.

You know what I’m talking about.

NYC has a mythology so strong that we call it Gotham, straight out of fucking Batman. It’s a city of blackouts, not blinding sunshine, and anyone who’s ever lived there for a while will describe “her” as an entity, a living thing.

And you won’t like her when she’s angry.

Within photography circles, Diane Arbus is seen in much the same way. A mega-talent who either honored, or took advantage of weirdos, depending on your vantage point. A once-in-a-generation vision so distinct that most of us can conjure Arbus pictures in our head with ease.

Grenade boy.

Most of her photographs could not have been made by anyone else, and her imprint has been seen on many photographers since. (I’m looking at you, Nan Goldin.)

When I think of Diane Arbus photographs, I think of carnies and losers, trannies and freaks. Strippers and Hustlers. Giants and fools.

But I don’t automatically think of New York.
Do you?

Fortunately, I picked up “diane arbus: in the beginning” at photo-eye on my last visit, and boy are you in for a treat. The book is published by Yale University Press, in conjunction with the current show curated by Jeff Rosenheim at the Met Breuer. (Which used to house the Whitney, of course, in a horse trade between NYC Titans.)

This book oozes New York. It features early pictures, made almost entirely with a 35mm camera. So while we also associate Arbus with the square format, these photographs undermine what you think you know.

Simply put: they’re brilliant.

The book represents a whole trove of images that weren’t well-known until recently, many years after her suicide. And they firmly establish the roots of her talent, in my (not-always) humble opinion.

The plates start in the mid-50’s, and really look like they were made by Robert Frank. (At least at first.) But they were contemporaneous with his pictures, so even though similar, they couldn’t really be derivative.

Grainy, grabbed people on the street. The 50’s vibe is so strong that if I close my eyes…

“Hey guy. How youze doin’?”

“Uh, I’m good. Who are you?”

“Name’s Ritchie. I live out on Coney Eye-lan. Whatta you doin’ he-uh?”

“Uh, I don’t know Ritchie. One minute, I was writing a book review, then the next minute, I’m in my imagination, talking to you.”

“Wow. That’s crazy, Pops. Crazy. You wanna get outta he-uh? Me an’ the boyz is goin ta hang out undah da boahd-wahk.”

“Yeah. Sure. I guess. Will there be girls there too?”

Sorry. That was weird. But you get my point, no? These pictures are the equal of what all the other famous street photographers were doing. And it’s not even what we consider her classic work!

As you might expect, things eventually get a little weird. And dark. Then darker still.

The gaping-corpse-chest-cavity, below the dead guy’s receding hairline?

Nasty.
Just nasty.

We see Siamese twins in formaldehyde at a carnival, a hacked up woman in a wax museum, kids in monster masks. Then the strippers and trannies show up too.

It’s like watching someone grow in real-time, as she took the gritty-street-photo aesthetic, and then force-fed it some creepy and transgressive shit. The content shifts so slowly, you don’t feel the water boiling as it cooks you alive.

In the end, we get the crammed christmas tree and boy with the grenade, in all their Medium Format Square glory, almost as smelling salts. Yes, this is the same photographer whose pictures you’ve memorized. Yes, she also made these badass street photos too.

Diane Arbus was a legend, and she belongs on the truncated list of NYC greats. The show is up at the Met Breuer until November 27th, so get your ass over there to see for yourself.

I’ve booked a trip to New York this Fall, so you can bet I’ll check it out. To be honest, I haven’t been back to NYC in 2.5 years, and I miss it, so that partially explains the overly-earnest introduction today. Hope you’ll forgive me…

Bottom Line: A masterpiece publication featuring Arbus’ early work

To Purchase “diane arbus: in the beginning” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Christoph Bangert

by Jonathan Blaustein

Lying in bed last night, waiting for sleep, a random thought occurred to me. We’re less than a month away from the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Isn’t that crazy? The seminal event of the 21st Century, I would argue, happened so long ago that teenagers have been born since.

Can you imagine what 9/11 would have been like in a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/IM world?

I remember sitting glued to the TV, watching Peter Jennings, because that’s how we still received our information. Step away from the screen, and life in San Francisco appeared normal. But it was so very hard to step away from the screen. Impossible, really.

These days, we are drowning in information. We have so much, it has become difficult to concentrate. Lately, I’ve found myself musing to friends that we don’t really NEED to Google a fact in dispute. Simply knowing we could is enough.

But some bits of information, from 2001, and the subsequent wars of revenge, still stick in my mind. Mohammed Atta. People jumping from the towers to their deaths. Abu Ghraib. IED’s.

The last one is such a strange little acronym. Improvised Explosive Devices. Technology otherwise known as “let’s jimmy-rig some shit that will blow up a lot of people. The more the better.”

We’ve since seen art that reflects the tension inherent in such moments. Katherine Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker, starring Jeremy Renner, comes to mind. It’s a powerful film, but not exactly funny. Why would anybody joke about something as serious as war?

It’s a good question, and one asked in the forward of the excellent new book “hello camel,” by Christoph Bangert, recently published by Keher Verlag in Germany.

Straight off, it’s an exceptionally well-made object. The cover graphic on fabric is terrific, the print quality is high, and I though the consistent double-page spreads really let the photos breathe.

In his statement, Mr. Bangert, who covered those wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the NY Times and other sources, directly references the hilarity of the war experience. It’s buried in the traditional notion of the absurd, which suggests some things are so ridiculous, so outside of rationality, that it’s best to throw up your hands and laugh at it all.

While I rarely, if ever, quote a book, I’m going to break my rule here, b/c it’s just such a good passage:

“We want war to be a dramatic, heroic fight between good and evil. But it’s not. There are no heroes. War is as messy as it is layered and confusing. And at times it’s weird and hilarious, too. The moment we realize that the mass murder of human beings is an ordinary, daily event that is organized and executed by ordinary people like you and me, we begin to realize the significance and true horror of war.”

It’s the hilarity that I most enjoyed about “hello camel,” mostly because it’s delivered in such a terrifically dry way. The compositions of these pictures are formal, enhancing the sense of reason. The light is always great, delivering believable, dynamic color.

In other words, they’re really good photographs.

But time and again, the structure is contrasted with an amazing sense of improvisation. That’s the word that kept coming back to me. Improvised.

Speaking from an American perspective, (the photographer is German,) we’ve all heard the stories about George W. Bush’s botch job in the Iraqi reconstruction. They slapped that shit together faster than I can build a lego set for my kid.

(Wait. Wait. We’re missing a piece. Fuck! Where did that little red square get to. Goddammit. We need that piece!)

We see palettes and sandbags propping up a satellite dish. Blast walls erected everywhere. Models of forward operating bases cut out of cardboard. An outhouse in the middle of a dirt field. Old tanks re-purposed for target practice.

It’s tragic because it’s silly, and it’s tragic because it’s tragic.

There’s one picture, in red light, of some masked men torturing someone. I let out a huge breath. Nothing funny about that. But the thorough captions, at the end, inform that they’re models in a Kurdish museum.

A wedding couple sit in the middle of an ornate, obviously expensive clam shell, in 2005. A bikini-clad soldier, with a tramp stamp for God’s sake, sits by a pool, conveniently protected by another blast wall.

I assumed the photo of jihadi’s brandishing their weapons to have been appropriated off the Internet, but the captions claim it’s a straight photo. Apparently, Mr. Bangert has bigger balls than I do, b/c no fucking way would you catch me clicking the shutter on that moment.

NFW.

I always say I like to see things I’ve never seen before, but obviously I’ve reviewed books on this topic. This publication, however, gives us a strong perspective that we normally don’t see.

It’s only funny if you get the joke, and even if you don’t, it’s still powerful. Not only that, but in the end notes, by thanking anyone and everyone, including the people who baby-sat his kids while the book was on press, Mr. Bangert proves he’s also a very polite guy.

What’s not to like?

Bottom Line: Witty, very well made book about the Post-9/11 wars

To Purchase “hello camel” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Wagstaff Collection

by Jonathan Blaustein

Time is a strange beast.

We tend to think of it as fixed and finite, when clearly it is neither.

As I understand it, according to Einstein, the closer you approach the speed of light, the slower time will affect you. Essentially, time’s innate duration grows.

Before “Interstellar,” most people would have found that confusing. But then that Great Wave! And Anne Hathaway’s big brown eyes!

That’s just the theoretical level. If you think about your daily life, doesn’t the same hold true? I was in California with my family for two weeks, and it seemed like a month.

We’ve been home for nearly three weeks now, and it feels like it’s been 5 days. (For real.)

I’m sure that’s happened to you as well. When we travel, in particular, our senses heighten. We make more memories, and perhaps savoring slows the clock as well.

Photography also manipulates time.
We know this.

But every now and again, I get a reminder, something tangible, that helps me re-connect to the mystery of what we’re all doing.

Back in LA, a few days before California caught fire, I took my family to the Getty Center, where I planned to see the Mapplethorpe show, which we covered previously. I thought it would be an optimal place to introduce the kids to “Great Art,” but at nearly 9 and almost 4, they were still too young to get excited.

Big ups to the current installation of replica Chinese Buddhist cave art. The reproductions were meticulous, and each “cave” took 3 artists 10 years each to make. Simply stunning stuff, and that it all takes place in an air-conditioned tent in the searing California sun?

Mind-boggling.

The kids enjoyed the snack bar and sculpture gardens most of all, with one exception.

They definitely got down with “The Thrill of the Chase,” which exhibited work from the Wagstaff Collection, the immense trove of greatness assembled by Robert Mapplethorpe’s former lover & patron, the patrician collector Sam Wagstaff.

The group is super-strong on very early photography. (1840’s and up.) I began to photograph it, as I had the Mapplethorpe show, but was immediately stopped by security and told to put the camera away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shoot the show for you.

I wanted the kids to see the exhibition for one reason in particular: Abraham Lincoln. I walked my son up to the photo of our former President, by Alexander Gardner, and let him look carefully.

“That’s the actual Abraham Lincoln,” I said. “The man himself. The real thing.”

His expression was inexplicable; equal parts incredulous and wow-that’s-amazing.

It was a genuine moment, and then he wanted to see everything else he could. The one instant when he realized that photography froze history, saved it, and allowed us to look back from our unimagined futuristic world?

It was memorable for me, to say the least.

There are some excellent, fantastic photographs in this show, and the book that accompanies it, “The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.”

The show was curated, and the book edited by Paul Martineau, published by Getty Publications. (It turned up in the mail the other day, which means that I get to share the images with you below.)

Seeing the pictures in the book, I immediately recognized my favorites from the IRL experience, like Arthur Rothstein’s rad portrait of some early-version-knock-around Union Guys. Theo’s choice was Larry Clark’s hippie-dude Kung Fu kicking his buddy in the park.

Thankfully, now I get to show you the brilliant photo-booth-strip of Andy Warhol that I mentioned in my review two weeks ago.

Then we have Julia Margaret Cameron. And August Sander. Edward Weston. William Eggleston. Walker Evans. Irving Penn. And so many more.

The book’s essay makes mention of a few glaring omissions to the collection. The New Topographics artists, like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shore are absent. So too is Atget.

Too dry, perhaps?

The book features Pyramids in Egypt, 150 years ago, back before paved roads, cotton candy, and the Internet. And Roger Fenton’s famous cannon balls appear as well.

George Barnard, over whose Civil War landscape photos I drooled in San Francisco, also turns up.

I loved Edward Curtis’ “The Eclipse Dance,” from 1910-14, which may have been staged, but gives me the willies, like I’m looking at something I’m not meant to see. (Here at Taos Pueblo, some dances are open to the public, but all the deep knowledge is kept in the underground kivas, far from outsider’s ears and eyes.)

The whole family stopped cold at Timothy O’Sullivan’s “Desert Sand Hills near Sink of Carson, Nevada” from 1867. Jessie guessed it might be White Sands, New Mexico.

I thought it looked more like a film still from a Western than anything I’d ever seen. Except the movie is the simulacrum, and the print is the actual history. (How Meta is that?)

It features a wagon being pulled across the soft desert in the searing light. Who was inside? What did they have for breakfast? Why are those sand tones so creamy?

And the craziest thing of all? It’s the WILD FUCKING WEST! The actual place, just as if we’d stepped into a time machine. I’m sorry, but even when I get jaded, this type of work brings me back to the passion.

Really, all the best historical work, this many years later, makes think of mortality. Gustave LeGray’s “The Great Wave,” from Sete, France, saddens me more than almost any image I know. I first crossed paths with the print at LACMA 7 years ago, and rejoiced at the Getty when I saw it again.

I close my eyes, and imagine a wave crashing, 159 years ago. And then another wave.

And another.
And another.
And another still.

Millions of waves have come and gone since then, and they’ll keep crashing when everyone alive today passes on to whatever comes next.

Time might be relative, but down here on the human level, our story only ends one way. This book, and the show on which it was based, remind me of my mortality, but not in a way that makes me anxious, which is hard to do.

Sam Wagstaff lived a glamorous life, and then died miserably of AIDS. These pictures are his legacy, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from what he accrued.

The exhibition, which has closed in LA, will be on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, CT, opening September 10. Mr. Wagstaff was a curator there once, long ago, and I expect he’d be glad to know his collection will be on the wall.

To those of you in the greater NYC & Boston areas, take a train, or an Uber, and go see the show next month. It’s definitely worth the trip.

Bottom Line: Well-produced catalogue of an excellent show

To Purchase “The Thrill of the Chase” Visit The Getty Store

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This Week In Photography Books: Ken Grant

by Jonathan Blaustein

If you haven’t heard, I’m what they call a nice Jewish boy from Jersey.

It’s a stereotype, sure. It means I’m polite, kind, and respectful to my mother. If you have me over for dinner, I’ll show up with a bottle of wine, and offer to help clean up afterwards.

Like I said, a nice Jewish boy from Jersey.

The other day, however, an old white guy in the supermarket parking lot mistook me for a Latino gang-banger who was about to steal his wallet.

No lie.

I was wearing a black, UNM graphic T-shirt, and my new sunglasses are of a style you might find on a Homies doll, or an extra in a not-particularly-well-funded movie. (Stylistically, that is. In fact they’re made of recycled materials, and I bought them at Whole Foods in Santa Barbara. #Bougie)

Anyway, there I was, walking towards the market, and the OWG was headed back to his car. In a flash, I realized I’d forgotten my re-usable shopping bag, so I pivoted quickly.

In that instance, the dude turned back to me, and I saw his eyes grow large, his body tense up in anticipation of attack, and his pace quicken to make it back to his car before I could mug him.

All this in broad daylight, mind you. It happened in a half-second, but I know what I saw.

He looked like a tourist from Oklahoma, and thought I was another sort of guy all-together. Of course, he let out a huge sigh of relief when I stopped at my own car to open up the door.

Given all the “actual” racism that exists in this world, and the frequency with which it ruins lives, I’m not implying that this asshole hurt my feelings. Rather, it was a strong suggestion that the clothes we wear, the facial hair we grow, the manner in which we saunter, all of these things are coded messages to others.

In some places, the color of your clothing can get you beat up, if not killed. We all know about Crips and Bloods, but Red vs Blue plays out in England every day. (But for very different reasons.)

You might have heard of it, with respect to Manchester, (United’s red, City’s powder blue,) but today, I’m thinking of Liverpool, that other famous Northern English city.

The reason? Well, it’s a photo-book, obviously. In this case, “A Topical Times For These Times,” a new book by Ken Grant, recently put out by RRB Publishing.

You regular readers know how much I love Arsenal Football Club, and wouldn’t you know it, but Arsenal and Liverpool face each other in 10 days, kicking off the 2016-17 Premier League season. Am I obsessed?

Yes.
I am.

But not nearly as obsessed as the English football fans who grew up with loyalty for their local club, rather than picking a team as a 37-year-old because you like the fancy-passing and cool uniforms.

Liverpool is a historically famous club, but as a city, it actually features two teams: LFC is red, and Everton is blue. Royal blue. Blue like the paint you buy at the art supply store, before the color dries out because you forgot to put the cap on right.

English fans are famous for violence and drunkenness, (which often go together,) though in 2016, they were out-done by the organized Russian thugs at the European Championship in France.

Red and blue don’t mix well, as the US Political system will attest. But in this book, Ken Grant admits that both he and his father have habitually gone to both Liverpool AND Everton matches. It all depended on who was playing at home on a given weekend.

That’s the type of loyalty breach that’s likely to get you a head butt. (Oi, mate. Watch out before I crack your skull like a silly melon.)

The cover, in red and blue, references its innards, but surprisingly, the pictures are all black and white. It’s almost confusing, but serves the purpose of re-uniting a larger community that’s been rent apart by fan-dom.

The photos have been made since the 80’s, so the grayscale also forces you to look hard to suss out whether something is historical or current. (The text even references Liverpool’s new manager, Jurgen Klopp, who’s a rockstar in football management circles.)

Here in America, being into soccer, and even calling it football, is something of a hipster fetish. It’s not the meat, potatoes & beer thing to do. It means you like arugula, white wine, and Barack Obama. (I happen to love all three.)

But over in England, is there anything more “keepin’ it real” than supporting your local team? Or heading out onto the green to play a weekend match with your mates from down the pub?

Looking at a book like this, you get the genuine sense of a community, on the other side of the world, that has seen better days. A place that likely voted for Brexit this summer. A place that is grappling with the difficult realities of the 21C.

Places like that need their entertainment. They reel when scores are killed at a match, as happened in the Hillsborough Disaster of ’89. They cheer when a neighborhood boy makes good. And they cringe when Steven Gerrard slips, blowing the Premier League title in an instant.

They drink because it’s fun, not just because it takes the pain away.

My only criticism of this book is that it has too many photographs. Editing allows the strongest pictures to emerge more gracefully, but perhaps we don’t need perfection?

Basically this is a cool book, filled with little stories from far away. It’s just enough to satisfy a cranky book reviewer who wants the new EPL season to start already.

Come on you Gunners!

Bottom Line: A cool look at football culture in Liverpool

To Purchase “A Topical Times For These Times” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Tetsuya Kusu

by Jonathan Blaustein

I woke up in LA yesterday, and went to sleep here in Taos. As no airplanes were involved, you can trust it was a REALLY FUCKING LONG DAY.

16 hours on the road, all told, with two mostly-well-behaved kids in the back, and an occasionally grumpy wife sitting next to me.

Now I’m here, with a computer on my lap, rocking the boxers & a T-shirt look, listening to the room fan white noise, watching the shadow of an aspen tree through the translucent window curtain.

We came home after 2 glorious weeks in California, which were desperately needed. (Not that I need to tell you that.) I was quite-the-fried columnist for many months, but no longer. At the moment, even accounting for the difficult drive, I’m feeling fresher than some Santa Barbara sushi.

Mmmm, sushi. So yummy.

It was our first time attempting to travel like that with a 3 year old, (nearly 4,) and it was a resounding success. We had a proper bougie holiday: a week on the beach, 4 nights on a cliff in Big Sur, and then two days in LA so I could see some great art.

Yes, we hit a Whole Foods. Yes, I ate more beef than I have in the last year. And yes, California is currently teeming with Chinese and South Asian tourists.

Despite the fact that we drove, this most classic of American Road Trips, we mostly encountered the aforementioned foreign fun-seekers, and heaps of sun-drenched Californians. Basically, people with money, driving rented Mustang convertibles, leased Teslas, or recently-purchased Porsches.

Intentionally or not, (and unlike my San Francisco adventure in May,) I saw very few homeless people. Almost none, in fact. The drifters ambling along highways were in short supply. Or perhaps I was simply too self-involved to see them?

Basically, my experience was the exact opposite of the ramblings captured by Tetsuya Kusu, in his new book “American Monuments,” recently published by Zen Foto Gallery in Japan. He and I might have both occupied space in the Golden State, but beyond that, our worlds diverged completely.

I met Tetsuya at the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego in late 2014. He was just hanging out, helping out, finishing up a big travel adventure in which he slept in his car, and roamed around California and the West Coast with his camera. The book’s end notes inform he was re-visiting a 3.5 year phase when he was a proper drifter, in which he voyaged with his mentally ill (then) wife.

The book presents a series of images in which he grappled with his divorce and re-found himself, by meeting and photographing people in the very underclass I conveniently ignored.

The pictures travel well-worn turf, but I don’t really care, because they’re really cool. There is always a place in the world for well-made photographs, in particular ones that treat disadvantaged humans with empathy and grace.

It’s very easy to imagine this Japanese surfer-dude chatting up the drunks at the bar. Telling stories. Asking questions. Gaining trust. Enjoying the process, and coming back with these monuments to an American reality that most of us don’t bother to see.

My body is still reverberating with the vibrations I-40, even 10 hours later. I close my eyes, and the LA palm trees pop right up in my visual memory. (California certainly is a beautiful place.)

But I also see Barstow, and Needles. Dry, nearly uninhabitable places teeming with grizzled faces, sun-bleached tattoos, and big-red-drunkard noses.

Places you drive through without stopping.

“American Monuments” takes the time to talk to these people, rather than passing them by at 85 miles an hour. It was odd for me to open up the package this morning, and view a parallel universe to the one I lived in the past two weeks.

Something tells me you’ll enjoy it too.

Bottom Line: Cool book showing life on the road on the West Coast

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This Week In Photography Books: Taryn Simon

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s been almost 6 years since my photographic project, “The Value of a Dollar,” went viral on the internet. 6 years since my life changed for the better, as the after-effects of the phenomenon were massive.

I sold a lot of work. Enough to have another child. And some of you have been following along the entire time.

But in the midst of the virality, one odd little blog post stuck out for me, more than almost any other. Some random person, in some random place, posted a handfull of quotes one day. I was featured, and just below me was Stringer Bell, from “The Wire.”

For some reason, being in such proximity to a massively influential fictional character made a big impression me. If I’m in the same conversation as Stringer, I thought, things just might work out OK.

Idris Elba, the actor who played the duplicitous criminal, has since become a Massive Global Icon. If you haven’t seen him in the brilliant BBC series Luther, do yourself a favor and Netflix that shit immediately.

Mr. Elba is also a DJ, apparently, but is mostly known for being a big, handsome, charismatic, extremely talented actor. (If you saw him in “Thor,” just forget it ever happened. Could you act if you had such ridiculous contact lenses?)

I mention it all, frankly, because Idris Elba really needs to be the next James Bond. Fuck Tom Hiddleston, or anyone else you might suggest. It must be Idris Elba.

No one else in the British Isles has his combination of suave confidence, flinty gravitas, and the raw physicality that Daniel Craig invested in the role. (Who wants to see a soft, posh, Roger-Moore-type Bond now?)

I don’t remember who it was, but someone came out last year and complained that Idris Elba would be too “street” to play Bond. Street being code for Black. Black being a stand-in for not-properly-English.

A few weeks past the Brexit, we’re all familiar with the seething sea of racism underpinning English culture. Even Leicester City’s hero, Jamie Vardy, was busted on video being a racist prick a while back. (Oi! Tell us something we don’t know, mate.)

The idea of a Black James Bond is anathema to the self-image that many an Englishman clings to, these days. Times gone by. The Sun rising and setting on the English Empire. A steady supply of subsidized tea.

That sort of thing.

But we’re not living in the 19th Century anymore, I can assure you. England can no more shut itself off from the world than I can properly spell Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious properly on my first try. (No way I got that right.)

I’ve mentioned Neal Stephenson’s seminal, futuristic masterpiece “Snow Crash” before, I’m sure, and among its many prophetic themes was hordes of refugees becoming the norm in the future. You simply cannot stop people from fleeing for their lives, unless you’re prepared to kill them. (Definition of irony, anyone?)

England, and the entire UK for that matter, are in for a rough few years, it would seem. The new millennium has not been kind to the old order, unless you believe the old order represents the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. (On second thought…)

But new ideas are out there, new systems of communication, and different types of entertainment. Hell, we just let my son buy his first video game, and it turns out that even a hand-held-Nintendo-machine can create seamless virtual reality, for cost of 5 beers at a baseball game.

James Bond, however, keeps going. He might be England’s most ruthless, sexy version of itself, but the system he represents, glorifying violence, gadgets and hot chicks, seems a bit antiquated in a world in which all the ladies on Game of Thrones are clearly WINNING!

The illusion of being forever young is at the heart of the James Bond narrative. He might age a little, but once the hair piece is no-longer-believable, you’re shown the door. (That means you, Sean Connery.)

The ladies, even more than Bond, are perfectly replaceable. (And far more vulnerable to bullets.) So many of them have died, in all these movies, that it’s hard not to discern a serious strain of misogyny in the source-code.

But what do all these props, as the female actors were more-or-less treated, look like now? As actual humans, they must have aged, right? And all that cutting-edge-tech, for which the Bond films are also known? Would space-age-60’s gadgets still look cool in the 21st Century?

Glad you asked, as I’ve just finished putting down “Birds of the West Indies,” a book by Taryn Simon, published a few years ago by Hatje Cantz. (Not sure how an older book ended up in my pile, but I’m glad it did.)

I’m a big fan of Ms. Simon’s work, and my review of “A Living Man Declared Dead” enabled me to create this now-familiar, rambling, discursive style. (Thanks, Taryn!)

Apparently, an ornithologist named James Bond was the inspiration for the super-spy’s name, and his main achievement was a book of the same title. (That one was presumably about actual birds, instead of the English slang term for women.)

There’s an index section at the back that actually does list the genus types of all the avians, but it seems tacked on, and purely ironic. But it’s her book, I suppose, so she can do what she wants.

The rest of the volume, including all the plates, feature the aforementioned guns, cars, and chicks that populated the Bond films from 1962-2012. If you’re wondering what Maud Allen or Tanya Roberts look like these days, seek no further. Some actresses refused to be photographed, presumably out of fear of destroying the illusion of perpetual beauty.

But most all are present, including a rumpled Grace Jones, a self-consicous Michelle Yeoh, and a see-through-shirt-wearing Sophie Marceau. (According to the text, the actress chose their wardrobes and poses.) Halle Berry and Famke Janssen take their place alongside fake nuclear devices, half shark heads, and more blades, guns and Aston Martins than you can believe.

It’s her signature style now, this categorical, dry, meticulous rendering of a subject mined for its metaphorical potential. We get it. Keep backdrop, swap out subject, click the shutter. (The end notes thank Phase One, so we can surmise she’s using a very, very expensive camera.)

Taryn Simon’s work also hinges on access; her rolodex that means she can ring up Barbara Broccoli, make her pitch, and hang up with a yes. If you or I tried that, we’d never even get the phone number.

C’est la vie.

As for this book, it’s certainly not genius, and I’m not sure you’ll want to buy it, but it is a very cool collection of bound pages. She cuts through one of the greatest ongoing illusions in contemporary culture. We get to go backstage along with her, and can have no doubts that the James Bond myth is alive and well in the 20 teens.

Which is more than we can say for England’s soccer team at the European Championship. (Burn!)

Bottom Line: Thorough book that demystifies the James Bond legacy

To Purchase “Birds of the West Indies” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: Leon Borensztein

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’ve been doing this a long time, as the column will be 5 years in September. In that time, I’ve seen books from every continent on Earth, two times over. (Yes, there were two books from Antarctica.)

The experience has increased my understanding of the world immeasurably. I am definitely a smarter, more empathetic person than I was when Rob first suggested I review books here at APE.

But until today, I’ve never cried before, when flipping through the pages.

Not even once.

Today, however, I wept.

I was looking at “Sharon,” a new book by Leon Borensztein, recently published by Keher Verlag in Germany. This is as personal a book as I’ve seen, though others have risen to this level of honesty.

So why this book? Why now?

Well, “Sharon” is a photographic and diaristic account, by Leon Borensztein, of the 1984 birth, and subsequent life, of his daughter Sharon. Though her eyes are closed on the cover, and the text is scribbly, I had no idea what was in store, when I took the book out of its packaging. (This one was sent in a couple of months ago, and landed in the submission pile.)

Within the first few pictures, we realize something is wrong. Baby Sharon has electrodes on her head, and that can’t possibly be good, right? (It isn’t.)

The pacing, and the balance between imagery and text, always feel right. The pictures are universally square, well-made, and shot in black and white, but they’re not GENIUS. Thankfully, they don’t have to be.

It turns out that Sharon has physical, developmental, and mental health issues, including being mostly blind. It is clearly every parent’s nightmare, and one I fretted about through the entirety of my wife’s two pregnancies.

What happens if you have a baby, so many of us fear, and it all goes wrong?

29 years of Sharon’s life are documented here, and the diary text openly shares how difficult it is. How draining. How depressing.

To make matters worse, (as is often the case in relationships enmeshed in trauma,) Leon splits with his wife, and ends up becoming Sharon’s sole caretaker. His ex-wife is eventually busted for meth, suggesting she was unfit as a mother.

Wow, is this a heavy book. But it is also beautiful, because as Pixar teaches us in “Inside Out,” sadness is a valid part of life. Sometimes, it’s the only sane reaction to life’s unfairness.

In the end, Leon decides to place Sharon in a facility, after spending years trying to find the right one. He is well-aware, and presents to us, the statistics facing disabled women, with sexual abuse rates that are heart-breaking.

According to the last text in the book, it was a good move for father and daughter, as both were able to move on with life, while remaining extremely close. It’s just… So. Fucking. Poignant.

In life, I’ve found, sometimes the small coincidences keep piling up to the point where it makes sense to listen. I thought I was done with my little San Francisco series, but it turns out that some of the people about whom I’ve written in the last month were big supporters of this project.

Who knew?

And just this morning, I was engaged in a Twitter conversation with people about the over-saturation of the photo-book market. (Precipitated by a Tweet from NYT critic Wesley Morris, who lamented the closing of Powerhouse Books.)

I told a couple of Twitter strangers that with so many books on the market now, as near-every photographer makes a book for each project, it was of course impossible for them all to sell well. The supply has increased exponentially; not so the demand.

The responses to my Tweet were ironic, accusing me of quashing dreams. Not so, I replied.

Make a book.
Have at it.
Go nuts.

Just this morning, mere hours before I picked up “Sharon,” I told people there were other reasons to make a book, beyond financial remuneration.

Books are tangible. They provide closure. Deadlines push people to finish, to grapple, to face the work they’ve made, and then perhaps let go.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this book sold well. It’s an excellent publication. But somethings tells me it’s already a massive success for the artist, because it’s shined some serious light on the dark recesses of his life.

Life is beautiful, according to Roberto Benigni, but it is also rather tragic. Capturing both realities in one book is an achievement. If it can make me cry, for goodness sake, you might want to check this one out.

Bottom Line: Powerful, diaristic account of raising a disabled child

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This Week In Photography Books: Toni Greaves

by Jonathan Blaustein

We all make choices in life.

Some imagine this as fate, believing our desires are pre-destined by some deity or other. Others believe in free will, countering that our decisions are our own to make.

Most of the time, what we choose to do impacts us, and perhaps our loved ones or co-workers. (A few others, but not THAT many.)

Then there are people like LeBron James.

LeBron, who reclaimed his mantle as the Best Basketball Player in the World last night, crushed the hopes of an entire region when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010. (I’m writing on Monday.) If you’re not up on sports, LeBron switched teams back then, joining the Miami Heat, in one of the more tone-deaf PR moves of the 21st Century.

“I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” he said, thereby dooming gloomy North East Ohio to more basketball misery. The city had not had a Championship in 52 years, until last night, and it’s hard for anyone outside of that area to understand how many hearts were broken when LeBron left town.

Shockingly, in 2014, LeBron chose to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, claiming the pull of home was too great. (He was raised in nearby Akron.) It was unprecedented, both what he did and how he did it, this time engendering a PR coup by writing an open letter to the city of Cleveland, announcing his triumphant return.

It seemed like a somewhat insane move, as the Cavs were by then the worst team in basketball, and trading South Beach for Cleveland makes as much sense as Donald Trump’s campaign accounting.

The numbers people began spewing estimates of how much money would flow back into the Cleveland metropolitan area, and it was in the tens of millions. One man, who’d grown up under difficult circumstances, was hailed as a mini-stimulus-package, personally impacting the economy of an entire region.

He promised everyone a Championship, and last night he made good. It was a spectacular feat, from a sporting perspective, as the Cavs fought back and won a series, after being down 3 games to 1, a situation that had never been reversed in the HISTORY OF THE NBA.

Quite the magical ending.

There were videos showing downtown Cleveland as one massive party. People wept, including LeBron. (No team had won anything of note there since 1964.) It was revelatory, and came about, once again, because of the decision of one human being, and his concomitant devotion and belief.

LeBron James had a vision, and he made a seemingly odd choice, because the little voice in his head told him it was the right thing to do.

The same goes for a young woman named Lauren, who realized in her early 20’s that she had fallen in love with God.

Say what now?

Well, Lauren is the main subject, or perhaps we should say dramatic lead, in the beautiful “Radical Love,” a photo book by Toni Greaves, published recently by Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

“Radical Love” follows Lauren’s path as she eschews life in the outside world, and joins a cloistered convent of nuns in Summit, New Jersey. (The site of my own biggest sports fail, as I managed to just-miss scoring the game-winning goal, as the ball trickled across the goal line, in a huge playoff game back in high school.)

Lauren is attractive and photogenic, and, as Toni points out in the afterword, is living in a place and time in which she could follow so many paths. This is an unprecedented time to be a woman in the West, because despite the lingering stench of sexism, there are freedoms available that have never been available to women before.

Ever.

And yet Lauren, who apparently had a boyfriend at the time, felt that her future lay beyond closed doors, praying to that same God, on behalf of the rest of us. (The Nuns of this order live to pray for others.)

It’s obviously strange to see, as we’re accustomed to Nuns as asexual, older women, whose wrinkles keep them company in bed at night, rather than a man’s hairy arms. We imagine Nuns as dour; whacking palms with rulers, or wagging fingers at our filthy language and continued indiscretions.

But this book, which really functions as a long-form photographic narrative, dispels such cliché notions. These pictures depict happy people, engaged in a community that supports them, (and apparently us,) with love.

There are some remarkable pictures, in particular a recurring motif in which Lauren, and others, lie prostrate on the ground. One even captures Lauren making a snow angel, that most child-like of joyful activities.

Over the course of this 7 year project, we do get to see Lauren age and grow a bit; the ebullient sheen slowly wearing off of her skin as comfort and confidence replace the pallid flush of the new.

This is a lovely book, and it is clear that both its maker, and subjects, approach each day with positivity and grace. Those feelings emanate off the paper, an offering to anyone who picks the object up to take a peek.

As I sit here staring at the cover, I notice the barren black trees against deep navy. (And the implied crucifix as well.) It’s a heavy image, resonant of winter and death. It fits what I expected to find inside, but the innards were nothing like that at all. Instead, they shined like the freshly mopped floors of a convent kitchen.

Lemon-fresh scent included.

Bottom Line: Lovely, long-term project following a young woman as she devotes her life to God

To Purchase “Radical Love” Visit Photo-Eye

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This Week In Photography Books: A-B-Cheeeese!

by Jonathan Blaustein

Believe it or not, in the last four days, three different people lectured me about the relationship between the amygdala and the hippocampus, two powerful, oppositional parts of the brain.

(And yes, that is definitely the longest opening sentence in this column’s history.)

But it’s also true.

Under pressure, the primal amygdala, of fight or flight fame, supersedes the hippocampus, which controls higher functioning.
(Essentially, when we’re triggered, we can’t think straight.) Our body chemistry, which often speaks to us in the form of emotion, runs the show when we’re stressed out.

It’s fact, and new studies demonstrate that our brains actually rewire, based upon repeated stimulus. If you’re bugging out all the time, that becomes your brain’s default hardware.

For months, you’ve read along as my teaching situation, in which I was repeatedly doused with cortisol, bled into other parts of my life. It’s hard not to be grumpy and short-tempered, or at the least allow some of life’s joys to pass you by.

So many of us work a lot, or stay connected throughout the day/month/year.

Do you sometimes wonder if you’re not having enough fun? Or appreciating your children properly?

I know I do.

So many of us are photographers, but how much time are you putting into aping your kid’s joy, getting down on the ground to make memories, rather than just pressing the virtual shutter on your Iphone?

I’m thinking here of the new photo/children’s book, “A-B-Cheeeese!”, recently published by Paul Schiek at TBW Books in Oakland. It’s pretty random, relative to what we normally review here, but also a bit of HGH to beef-up our fun-deprived muscles. (Especially in yet-another tragic week.)

I’ve reviewed a couple of TBW offerings in the past, and interviewed Paul last year as well. Though we’d never met, when I got to Oaktown last month, he picked me up at the airport so we could grab some In’n’Out burger, and watch the Golden State Warriors on TV at his place.

We’re two odd ducks, as artists, in that we’re both huge sports fans. He was immersed in it, growing up in Wisconsin, as was I in New Jersey, so the idea of catching a game, in the Warriors hometown, was too good to pass up.

He pulled up to the airport in a blue truck, and I immediately went to the back door to throw my bag inside. Mid-toss, I realized there was a little human being blocking my flight path. It was a pretty, 2 year-old-girl with big brown eyes and whimsical curls, and I was lucky not to crush her with my travel bag.

“Dad,” she said, “who’s THAT guy?”

And that was my name for the rest of the day. “THAT” guy. Young Rosary warmed to me eventually, and we had some fun for a few minutes.

But then the game turned, and before we knew it, the Warriors were down 40 points. They were getting destroyed. Embarrassed even.

In case you don’t know, this season, the Warriors broke the NBA all-time record for most wins in a season, with 73. They’re accustomed to having their way with the opposition, not being annihilated on national television.

So by the time I left, there was bad-sports-juju in the air, and I forgot my copy of the book, along with a strap from the aforementioned luggage. Paul kindly sent both to me, back in New Mexico, because I really wanted to show this book to you.

It was made in honor of little Rosary, so it says, and she’s also listed in the back, as a Creative Consultant. (It makes me wonder if there aren’t some child labor laws being broken here.)

But what exactly is “A-B-Cheeeese!”?

It’s a play on the classic children’s book conceit of having one letter of the alphabet be represented by a word, image or phrase.

I still remember the Dr. Seuss version I read to my son when he was an infant. Big A, little a. What begins with A? Aunt Annie’s alligator, A A A.

Big B, little b. What begins with B? Barber, baby, bubbles and a bumblebee.

Here, each letter is paired with a word, and a historical, vernacular image that Paul purchased on Ebay.

A is for automobile, B is for bath time, C is for curious. F is for fish, and H is for Hello.

The pictures have been scanned, and are presented in the middle of a blank white page. But the text page color varies, blue for black and white, pink for color.

Some of these picture grab me more than others, but they all make me sad, on some level. Because a few of these kids are probably dead by now, or at least very old themselves. These anonymous stories are someone’s memories, and out of context, our vulnerability to time still shines through.

But it’s also hopeful, as the book is literally made for one child, yet shared with many, which was the plot of some early Neal Stephenson novel, the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten. (Sorry Neal!)

As for favorites, I love fish, and laughing, and piñata and quack. I love reading and waving and xylophone.

But yellow is the best.

I bet if this kid had one do-over, that special 1970’s super-power, he’d make this picture disappear from reality in a poof.

Because he’s got the crazy-eyes.

These days, that picture would get posted on the dude’s Facebook page, and it would be there for every prospective employer to see. Forever.

Here, in the book, it’s being ogled by strangers, and I’m sure the guy will never know.

I like that this photobook is a children’s book, a gift for a daughter, and a new piece of history to age, with its already- old, forgotten histories inside.

This was a big week, let’s be honest. A horrible thing happened in Orlando, and for once, I didn’t devote an entire column to the Terrible Tragedy of the Day. Not to belittle such things, but it’s genuinely awful that these events happen around the world with such tragic frequency these days.

In light of all that suffering, a cute/cool little book with a premise built on love seemed the right choice for today.

Don’t you think?

Bottom Line: Poignant, hybrid photo book/children’s book

Go Here To Purchase A-B-Cheeeese!

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