Category "Photography Books"

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

IMG_3809

IMG_3810

IMG_3811

IMG_3812

IMG_3813

IMG_3814

IMG_3815

IMG_3816

IMG_3817

IMG_3818

IMG_3819

IMG_3820

IMG_3821

IMG_3822

IMG_3823

IMG_3824

IMG_3825

IMG_3826

IMG_3827

IMG_3828

IMG_3829

IMG_3830

IMG_3831

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

IMG_3785

IMG_3787

IMG_3788

IMG_3789

IMG_3790

IMG_3791

IMG_3792

IMG_3793

IMG_3794

IMG_3795

IMG_3796

IMG_3797

IMG_3798

IMG_3799

IMG_3800

IMG_3801

IMG_3802

IMG_3804

IMG_3805

IMG_3806

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

IMG_3767

IMG_3768

IMG_3769

IMG_3770

IMG_3771

IMG_3772

IMG_3773

IMG_3774

IMG_3775

IMG_3776

IMG_3777

IMG_3778

IMG_3779

IMG_3780

IMG_3781

IMG_3782

IMG_3783

IMG_3784

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

IMG_3749

IMG_3750

IMG_3751

IMG_3752

IMG_3753

IMG_3754

IMG_3755

IMG_3756

IMG_3757

IMG_3758

IMG_3759

IMG_3760

IMG_3761

IMG_3762

IMG_3763

IMG_3764

IMG_3765

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

IMG_3728

IMG_3729

IMG_3730

IMG_3731

IMG_3732

IMG_3733

IMG_3734

IMG_3735

IMG_3736

IMG_3737

IMG_3738

IMG_3739

IMG_3740

IMG_3741

IMG_3742

IMG_3743

IMG_3744

IMG_3745

IMG_3746

IMG_3747

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

IMG_3456

IMG_3457

IMG_3458

IMG_3459

IMG_3460

IMG_3461

IMG_3462

IMG_3463

IMG_3464

IMG_3465

IMG_3466

IMG_3467

IMG_3468

IMG_3469

IMG_3470

IMG_3471

IMG_3472

IMG_3473

IMG_3474

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

IMG_3423

IMG_3424

IMG_3425

IMG_3426

IMG_3427

IMG_3428

IMG_3429

IMG_3430

IMG_3431

IMG_3432

IMG_3433

IMG_3434

IMG_3435

IMG_3436

IMG_3437

IMG_3438

IMG_3439

IMG_3440

IMG_3441

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

IMG_3404

IMG_3403

IMG_3402

IMG_3401

IMG_3400

IMG_3399

IMG_3398

IMG_3397

IMG_3396

IMG_3395

IMG_3394

IMG_3393

IMG_3392

IMG_3391

IMG_3390

IMG_3389

IMG_3388

IMG_3387

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!

IMG_3371

IMG_3372

IMG_3373

IMG_3374

IMG_3375

IMG_3376

IMG_3377

IMG_3378

IMG_3379

IMG_3380

IMG_3381

IMG_3382

IMG_3383

IMG_3384

IMG_3385

IMG_3386

This Week In Photography Books: Magda Biernat

by Jonathan Blaustein

In England, Northerners mock Southern Londoners for being soft. Here in Northern New Mexico, people scoff at the Southern part of the State, and often refer to it as Texas.

Ted Cruz, a Texan, and former Republican Presidential candidate, recently derided “New York” values. (By which people assumed he meant liberal, gay-loving, and probably Jewish.)

“Those New Yorkers,” Ted thinks, “with their diversity and heathen practices. Repent, I say. Repent! The rapture is upon is!”

(Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

No, North vs South is a powerful cultural motif around the world. (The Italians all nod their heads.) And wasn’t there some big war fought over those divisions?

Polar opposites are powerful. I’m not sure exactly why, though we so often define ourselves by what we are not. And homo sapiens tribal affiliations allowed the species to propagate.

My people good.
Other people bad.
Fire scary.

And what of our poles, North and South? How are they faring in these days of rampant Climate Change? I interviewed a Finnish photographer for the NYT earlier this year, and she’d spoken to indigenous people in Greenland who insisted the ice was melting fast.

How fast it melts, and how much rejoins the ocean, has dire consequences for the future of humanity, and all the other living creatures with whom we share our planet. (Except for the cockroaches. Fuck you, cockroaches. Everybody hates you.)

Back on point, I just looked at “Adrift,” a new book by Magda Biernat, published by Ink & Bellows. This is a lovely little production, and I do mean production. It’s not built like most books, as the text is pasted tight to the inside cover, and the images unfold accordion style.

The writing gives us the background, though I couldn’t help look at the pictures first.

Diptychs?

Blue icebergs in blue water, contrasted with white buildings on white landscape. They’re aesthetically pleasing, wonderful to look at, but definitely have a bit of a weird vibe as well. Particular the buildings.

As it doesn’t take long to flip through, I immediately re-flip, and realize the compositions of the icebergs and buildings ape each other formally. (It’s not exact, but close enough to get the point.)

So we know we’re certainly meant to see them as pairs, and I begin to wonder what that relationship implies?

On to the text, and some essay-parsing delivers this: the icebergs are melting pieces from Antartica, and the structures are abandoned indigenous hunting cabins in Alaska. Ms. Biernat covered the world, from Pole to Pole, and the book reflects two global warming stories she witnessed.

There is a proliferation of such imagery these days. The icebergs in particular. I don’t know if frequency alone, with respect to delivering the message, will get the job done. People simply can’t tune out until it’s too late, as the alternative is CATACLYSM.

Full stop.

Perhaps more metaphorical, lyrical ways of telling the story will become vital? (Like this book.)

It’s small, gray and sleek, like a baby seal. It’s delicate, like our ecosphere. Quiet, like the snow.

Basically, this is a cool book. Will it, by itself, defeat Climate Change?

Of course not.
Ridiculous question.

But if there are hundreds and hordes of people are out there, each trying to make an impact as storytellers, artists, consumers, conservationists, then perhaps we stand a chance after all.

Bottom Line: A meditation on Climate Change

To Purchase “Adrift” Visit Photo-Eye

IMG_2342

IMG_2343

IMG_2344

IMG_2345

IMG_2346

IMG_2347

IMG_2348

IMG_2349

IMG_2350

IMG_2351

IMG_2352

IMG_2353

IMG_2354

IMG_2355

This Week In Photography Books: Zora J Murff

by Jonathan Blaustein

How do you know you’re having a really bad day?

When you make a pregnant woman cry.
That’s always a good way to gauge when everything’s gone wrong.

If you’re not perfectly sure, having her young husband scream in your face, in public, will carry the point home.

Yes, you’re having a really bad day.

For sure.

That was a part of my yesterday, when two of my Art History students had simultaneous meltdowns. On the last day of class. Of course a year that has pushed me harder than a crowd of Walmart shoppers on Black Friday would end on such a note.

Pure. Bloody. Chaos.

It was my first time teaching this demographic before. And this class as well. (Intro to Art) So I needed to suss out the capabilities of my students, over the course of the term. Stunned, I found that half the class failed a mid-term I felt was pretty easy.

Then I heard most teachers resorted to doing open-book-open-notes tests all the time. My wife suggested I pivot to a final presentation, rather than a test, to avoid causing further stress upon them. (Some left entire pages blank, in pure freak out mode. I had to curve the thing 16 points, in the end.)

Cue yesterday, when the shit really hit the fan. Their presentations were so bad that pure plagiarism from the Internet, read aloud with many mispronunciations, became good work by comparison.

One student did a presentation on Michael Angelo. (Tony Angelo’s older brother?)

I suppose I ought to take some of the blame, as an instructor. I could have been more clear about my expectations.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get through to people.

Other times, though, you can see Art make a difference in someone’s life. As a form of communication, it is something to behold. You witness it, and are reminded why this work is so important, poor pay be damned.

I had two photo students this semester who both used a photography project to conquer some deeply held fears. Both reconciled themselves; succeeding in ways our class simply couldn’t believe. One regained the ability to drive, after making pictures about a terrible car accident; the other confronted PTSD.

Art works because it allows people to take control over how they release their energy into the world. Instead of repressing rage, which eventually surfaces in violence and/or misery, we can transform it into a beautiful or ugly piece of art.

Making things is a transformative process: it takes what’s inside us, and births it into the world.

It allows for catharsis.

I saw it so many times, in the decade I worked with at-risk teenagers in Taos. It’s inspiring, the way they embrace creativity so easily at that age.

Their intelligence is there. They’re as smart as adults. They just don’t have the life experience to know what the world is about, nor the emotional maturity, and often have strong triggers from coming up hard.

I once had a student who would walk home 4 miles from work, getting in after 1am, just to wake up at 6 to get ready for high school again.

Kids who had nothing handed to them in life.

Kids like that often end up in the juvenile justice system, at some point. And what exactly does that look like?

I just put down “Corrections,” by Zora J Murff, recently published by Ain’t Bad Press, with a foreword by Pete Brook, noted expert about America’s Prison System, and author of the blog Prison Photography.

The object is genuinely beautiful, with a turquoise cover that makes me think of the Four Corners, and a graphic icon, meant to evoke the panopticon, that looks like a distorted Zia from there as well. (Navajo Nation, for the uninitiated.)

Pete’s intro suggests, but does not declare, that Mr. Murff worked inside the corrections system, in Iowa, minding the tracking devices placed on teenagers within “the system.” Kids who’d committed offenses, obviously, but not so bad they had to be in juvenile detention. (Jail.)

Apparently, GPS accuracy means the government really can know where ankle-tagged people are at any given time. How degrading is that? Is it not 1000 times better than being locked up?

Well, we get to see and feel what it’s like, in these exceedingly well-made photographs. We’ve seen this book type before, maybe the Christian Patterson-style of mixing up all different sub-genres: historical, paper documents, still lives, portraits. (Surely, there were people who did it before CP, but you know what I’m talking about.)

The ankle bracelet, followed by a blurred portrait, and then all the other people are shot with faces obscured. Not by big blocks or dots, but by gesture. A hood, an arm, a turned body. They don’t want us to know who they are, but they want us to know their stories.

Fair enough.

The clean graphic design on this book, the high quality of the pictures, the substantial feel, create a platform for emotions to translate.

Sadness chief among them.

There’s a document on page 53. (See photo below.) An orientation pod assignment. Sample questions? I am at my best when: never. I feel proud when: never. The happiest day in my life was: hasn’t happened.

Heartbreaking stuff.

I really felt it. I look at so many books, as you well know, but few get under my skin.

You could say that these kids are lucky. It’s much better than being in jail. But the vibe here is that they’re not lucky at all. They’re caught in a feedback-loop incarceration system that is ruining millions of lives and costing billions of dollars.

How often do we REALLY contemplate that our governments send billions of tax dollars to private corporations to incarcerate people for profit? Or that the failed drug war is enriching corporations, while devastating countless communities on both sides of the US-Mexico border. (Who gets rich off of opioid epidemics? Cartels, pharmaceutical companies and private prisons.)

A book like this can make you think about such things.

The epilogue states that Mr. Murff in fact worked as a “Tracker” in Iowa for 3 years, 2012-15. He worked within this corrections system, and was likely in charge of many of the young people in this book. (Unless the pictures are staged.) He had to go on the trauma rides with them, and presumably it was a stressful experience. (The very-well written statement confirms as much.)

One could easily see this art project, making the pictures for the book, even the book itself, as the product of one artist’s personal catharsis.

Composting stress into beauty. Getting our attention, and turning it towards larger issues plaguing this great country of ours.

Bottom Line: Beautiful book about life inside the system

To Purchase “Corrections” Visit Photo-Eye

IMG_2321

IMG_2322

IMG_2323

IMG_2324

IMG_2325

IMG_2326

IMG_2327

IMG_2328

IMG_2329

IMG_2330

IMG_2331

IMG_2332

IMG_2333

IMG_2334

IMG_2335

IMG_2336

IMG_2337

IMG_2338

This Week In Photography Books: Sara Terry

by Jonathan Blaustein

I am blessed.

We all are, actually. If you’re reading this, I feel confident stating that you have a good life.

Or good enough.

The fact that you have Internet access, the proper device, and an interest in photography means you’re doing OK. You most certainly have challenges in your life.

We all do.

But in general, we, the global photography community, are doing pretty well for ourselves.

That much is true.

It’s often said we grow through struggle. Difficulty forces change, promotes wisdom. In my own life experience, I’d have to agree. How we handle adversity becomes a marker of our character, and the adversity itself becomes a guide.

As lovely as my children are, for example, when my son was born, 8.5 years ago, I was unprepared. He was difficult, perhaps, and I was stressed out, for sure.

But I felt more misery than joy during the first 6 months of his life. I did not feel blessed, despite my good fortune.

There were only a few times, in half a year, when Theo and I both felt at peace. My wife had recently gotten me an Ipod for my birthday, which we couldn’t afford, but it turned out to be a godsend.

I’d put on music by the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars, take Theo in my arms, and we would dance. Again and again, to the same songs, which spoke tales of faraway places I’d likely never see. (Sample lyric: “When two elephants are fighting, the grass they must suffer.”)

The songs, which spoke of misery and the abuse of power, contained a joy that was infectious. We danced, my son and I, and for those few moments, everything was OK. The music healed us, temporarily, and I can still see it in my mind’s eye, as if I were a spirit, looming below the ceiling, watching it all unfold.

That is what I know of Sierra Leone. It is one of many countries in Africa that have a history of war, bloodshed, and graphic violence that we frankly can’t understand, here in the West. We have no context; no frame of reference to comprehend gang rapes, and hands hacked off with machetes.

Thank god for that.

But other people in this world, people who had the misfortune of being born to different parents, they have lived through such things. Day after day.

They say life is not fair, but I’d suggest aphorisms have no place in the discussion of such tragedy.

Art, on the other hand, can communicate reality in a way that opens our imaginations up to places otherwise unattainable. Art, I’ve seen with my own eyes, can make a difference.

In this particular case, I’m thinking of “Chapter Four,” a recent newsprint publication by Sara Terry, which showed up in my mailbox the other week.

Wow, is this thing powerful.

I met Sara at FotoFest in March, at a dinner party thrown by a mutual friend. She was clearly a force-of-nature type person, and I have a soft spot for such folks. When I claimed to be grounded and secure with myself, she immediately asked if I that meant I was in therapy?

I calmly said yes, as I was not embarrassed to admit it.

But it was a telling moment. She was confident in her query, unafraid to risk offense. There was a strength in her gaze, and though I knew little about her art practice, (but I had heard her name before,) I had no doubt she was good at what she did.

Turns out, Sara is a filmmaker, a Guggenheim fellow, a former journalist, a photographer, and the founder of the Aftermath Project. She has spent more time in Africa than I’ve spent writing these columns over the last 5 years, and that’s saying something.

The newspaper tells stories of a forgiveness and reconciliation project, called Fambul Tok, that she worked on in Sierra Leone, after the country’s long civil war came to a close. It speaks of atrocity, yes, but focuses on redemption and love.

It is a treatise on the power of forgiveness, and the magical healing that comes from offering apology, admitting wrongdoing, and submitting to the judgement of one’s community.

Holy shit, is this an amazing story. Apparently, in village after village, perpetrators of violence were welcomed back into the fold, such was the power of these ceremonies.

Sara is a good writer, and manages to share tidbits of other people’s tales, dripping with empathy, embedded within her own first-person narrative. Under the guidance of a local activist named John Caulker, she documented a forgiveness project based around communal bonfires in far-flung villages across the country.

The photographs, far from serving as illustration, give us a way to connect to what we’re reading. It’s simply a lovely publication, one rife with inspiration, and something I think I’ll turn to when I’m feeling really low, going forward.

It feels like it might become a totem, the equivalent of those Refugee Allstars songs that saved me once, when I was drowning in misery, rather than basking in joy.

I’m not sure if these newspapers are readily available, so this might be one review where you get all you can from me, rather than being able to put your hands on it yourself.

As such, I’m writing about it as a proxy. I’d hope that you’ll take a minute, over your coffee, your lunch break, or even on the subway, and remember that no matter how bad your day is going, you are extremely fortunate.

And to the many of you out there, working on your own stories of redemption, starting your own NGO’s, and devoting yourself to the downtrodden: we salute you.

Bottom Line: Striking, almost magical publication about the power of forgiveness

UPDATE: Chapter Four is part of a ten-year-long, six-chapter project called Forgiveness and Conflict: Lessons from Africa. It’s available as part of a handmade, limited edition (50) artist’s book, available on the project website: http://www.forgivenessandconflict.com

IMG_2296

IMG_2297

IMG_2298

IMG_2299

IMG_2300

IMG_2301

IMG_2302

IMG_2303

IMG_2304

IMG_2305

IMG_2306

IMG_2307

IMG_2308

IMG_2309

IMG_2310

IMG_2311

IMG_2312

IMG_2313

This Week In Photography Books: Emma Phillips

by Jonathan Blaustein

My kids love yogurt pretzels.

I do too.

For some reason, they seem better-for-you than other kinds of dessert. Maybe it’s the word yogurt in the title? Makes them seem like a health food, rather than sugar-covered-salty-snacks.

Maybe if their official name was “sugar-covered-salty-snacks,” I wouldn’t buy them. I’d stick with 80% dark chocolate, or some other sweet snack that makes you feel bougie and special.

Like fruit.

We all love the yogurt pretzels because the combination of salty and sweet makes your tongue feel like it’s on a vacation in the Bahamas. The palm trees are swaying gently in the breeze. Island music bellows in the background, with plenty of steel drum.

Wait. Where was I?

Right.
Yogurt pretzels.

We expect our sweets to be sweet, but when you throw in the element of salt, your taste buds get a bit confused. But they like it. They really like it.

Our bodies have a taste for a salt for a very good reason. If we don’t get enough, we die.

Say what now?

That’s right. Without enough salt, we die. Humans need it. We may see it primarily as a flavor enhancer for our food, but it’s actually a vital, essential mineral, necessary for survival.

Who knew?

I did, mostly because I made friends with a salt merchant back in 2014. His name is Frank, and I really owe him a visit. (He has a store in Santa Fe called Olive Grove.)

I met Frank a couple of summers ago, and fell in love with the beauty and mystery surrounding his high-end salt crystals. Expensive stuff from Iran, Australia, Korea, that sort of thing. (Fancy food in Santa Fe? Quelle surprise!)

With Frank’s input, I learned that salt used to be the world’s most precious commodity, because of the whole life-or-death thing. It was traded around the world, worth more than gold, and was actually used as money.

Yet most of us see it as a processed, Morton-sponsored food item that causes hypertension if you eat too much of it. We love it on our chips, in our guacamole, and on just about everything you can imagine.

But rarely do we see it decontextualized. Which is odd, given its potential symbolic resonance. If you don’t eat enough, you die. If you eat too much, you die.

How’s that for a symbol?

Needless to say, I was very intrigued when I reached into my book stack, and pulled out an oversized, light-cream-colored offering. There was no name on it, and nothing to speak of, beyond one word: salt.

I opened it up, and missed the title page. All I saw were beautiful, slightly oversaturated pictures of a salt mine.

Somewhere.

I’ll always have a soft-spot for minimalism, and admitted last week, for the 100th time, that I love to see things I haven’t seen before. So I enjoyed these pictures almost as much as…
a yogurt pretzel?

Page after page shows us different visions of what I assume is one salt mine, somewhere. We get a picture of a camper parked on some salt flats.

Nevada?

I have no idea, because as I turned, page after page, I found no supporting material at all. I actually had to start over, and be very careful, just to find the artist’s name on the first page: Emma Phillips.

There are no titles, no statements, no captions. Nothing but salt, in its natural form, and the trucks used to move it around.

Hell, I don’t even know who published the damn thing. But I like the book a lot. It’s beautiful, and graceful, and even soft, in a way. (Are the pictures just a tad soft-focus? It’s hard to tell…)

Unlike its subject, there is nothing vital about this book. It feels like a luxury item. Well-made, understated, and in no great hurry to brag about itself. (Like Frank’s expensive salt in Santa Fe.)

This one is very cool, and I wish I could tell you more about it. But Emma Phillips thought her pictures spoke for themselves, and who am I to argue?

Bottom Line: Beautiful book about a salt mine, somewhere…

To Purchase “Salt” visit Photo-Eye

IMG_2277

IMG_2278

IMG_2279

IMG_2280

IMG_2281

IMG_2282

IMG_2283

IMG_2284

IMG_2285

IMG_2286

IMG_2287

IMG_2288

IMG_2289

IMG_2290

IMG_2291

IMG_2292

This Week In Photography Books: Colin Delfosse

by Jonathan Blaustein

I quit my job last month.

No, not this job. (Obviously.) I resigned as the Chair of the Art Dept at UNM-Taos, as of the end of this semester. Administrative work, it turns out, is not for me.

As you might have gathered, from the random comment here or there, the experience was not exactly smooth. I gave it my best, but institutional politics are notoriously bad, and everyone knows colleges and universities are the worst.

I’m here to report that the clichés are spot on. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, you know?)

What surprised me most was the degree of combativeness, and sheer aggression, that some people displayed over issues that in the “normal” world, would seem absurd. People screaming in my face about changes to lab hours.

Shrieks of anger at anodyne art exhibitions on the wall. Death stares from people who objected to my age, my attitude, or just my existence, it seemed.

Fortunately, that kind of battle puts hair on your chest. (Cliché #2. How many might I drop in one column?)

I got in my share of fights, growing up, as I had a propensity to stand up to bullies, and a proud streak that did me no favors. But I’ve learned over the years how to get along with others and assumed those skills would suffice.

But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, you have to embrace the drama. Accept the trappings of ritualized combat, and let the chips fall where they may. (Cliché #3)

Honestly, I’m rambling about such things having just put down “Toute Arme Forgée Contre Moi Sera Sans Effet,” a new book by Colin Delfosse, recently published by Éditions 77.

My lead-in might be a little weak this week, but there’s nothing soft about this book, I assure you. The design is cool, with primary colors announcing their intentions to impress.

And so it does.

Unless you read this column to punish yourself, like a Penitente in the Morada, you must enjoy some of the recurring themes. One I mention often is that my favorite part of this job is getting to see things I’ve never seen before.

If I pick up a book, and get to enter a world I didn’t know existed, there’s a good chance I’ll review the book. Unless, you know, the pictures suck.

This book transports us into the world of “professional” wrestling in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m guessing that even with our Global audience, none of you know too much about the subject either.

The photographs are pretty excellent, and more than a little dramatic. They remind me just a bit of Pieter Hugo’s “Nollywood,” but only tangentially. Those pictures took heat for presenting exploitative visions of African men, so I guess some people might ask the same questions here.

But the book’s text clearly explains that the props, the outfits, the implications of spiritual power in totems, the appropriation of witch doctor garb, it’s all what’s actually done in wrestling culture.

No artifice necessary.

The book switches to horizontal orientation about half-way through, and a brief essay is followed by more pictures, this time with captions. I often commend books that break up the narrative, and allow for a flow-change within the viewing experience.

It keeps our interest, and lets us know the design team seriously considers how to communicate properly.

So we’re granted badass pictures of an obviously fascinating subculture, in a place most of us will never visit, with a beautiful color palette for the object, a creative use of narrative structure, and the chance to voyeuristically peek in on a wrestling world that would probably make Hulk Hogan crap his pants.

What’s not to like?

Bottom Line: Beautiful book that shows us some genuinely weird shit.

To Purchase “Toute Arme Forgée Contre Moi Sera Sans Effet” Visit Photo-Eye

IMG_2257

IMG_2258

IMG_2259

IMG_2260

IMG_2261

IMG_2262

IMG_2263

IMG_2264

IMG_2265

IMG_2266

IMG_2267

IMG_2268

IMG_2269

IMG_2270

IMG_2271

IMG_2272

IMG_2273

IMG_2274

This Week In Photography Books: Brian David Stevens

by Jonathan Blaustein

I live in a bubble. (At least it feels that way.) Taos is an insular place, and it holds on to its own.

It takes a great deal of energy to leave, as the nearest towns are miles and miles in every direction. It feels very much like an island in the middle of the Wild West, equal parts 19th and 21st Centuries.

When you don’t have the perspective of other places and cultures to keep you balanced, you begin to over-invest in the little daily rituals and dramas that play out. Insignificant social interactions take on import they don’t really deserve.

You begin to go a little crazy.

Fortunately, last week, I embarked on a great adventure, driving 2000 miles across the massive state of Texas. I’d been stuck in the Taos orbit for too long, and marshaled my resources to allow for a big art/photo road trip, all the way to Houston.

I was headed to FotoFest, to show my own work for a change, and stopped in Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Austin on the way. As the highway flashbacks are still fresh, I’ll spare you a succession of anecdotes, and err on the side of brevity. (For once.)

My trip was fabulous. It gave me a fresh take on my life, a renewed sense of purpose as an artist, and as a human being in general.

There’s nothing like the open road to clear your head.

I needed to get the hell out of town, because I’d recently found myself standing at the top of our hill, staring out into the desert, wishing I could escape. I felt trapped, surrounded by mountains, desert and volcanoes in all directions.

Now that I’m home, I recognized a similar feeling in “Brighter Later,” a new book from my pile, by Brian David Stevens, recently published by Tartaruga Press in England. To cut to the chase, for once, this is not a brilliant book. It will not change your life.

It will not, singlehandedly, give you new insight into the human experience. It’s simply not that kind of production. (Though the textured cover and sleek vellum text pages do make for a lovely offering.)

The artist, with whom I occasionally trade tweets, visited each county in England, and made diptych images looking out into the sea beyond. (Because he used to close one eye, and then the other, when he was a boy, looking at the sea.) The images resemble many we’ve seen of the horizon before, including the famous project by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

So they fail my self-imposed test of showing us something we haven’t seen before. Still, they’re beautiful. And that counts for something.

I was far more intrigued by the categorical nature of the undertaking. Two images, in each and every county. It made me feel like the artist was living in a world before boats were invented. I imagined him thinking, “There has to be a way off this godforsaken rock in the middle of the ocean! Maybe if I try Carmarthenshire…no good. Or Ceredigion? Damn. What about Ayrshire? No. Argyll & Bute? Not quite.”

I felt the desperation for peace, for beauty, for a visual reminder that things are big out there, on Planet Earth, even if we’re cut off from the action.

I liked that a personality emerged from the pretty ocean shots. Slowly, you begin to think about the artist. What was he searching for? Why did he have to go to every county? There’s a secret buried somewhere in this exploration, if only we can find it.

Right. I’m headed back to drool on myself, and do my taxes. Sometimes, when you do get out into the world, you come home to drudgery. That’s OK, as long as the memories of excitement carry you until the next big adventure.

Bottom Line: Beautiful ocean horizons, and the yearning beneath

To Purchase “Brighter Later” Go Here

IMG_2208

IMG_2209

IMG_2210

IMG_2211

IMG_2212

IMG_2213

IMG_2214

IMG_2215

IMG_2216

IMG_2217

IMG_2218

IMG_2219

IMG_2220

IMG_2221

IMG_2222

IMG_2223

IMG_2224

IMG_2225

IMG_2226

IMG_2227

This Week In Photography Books: Haley Morris-Cafiero

by Jonathan Blaustein

I used to be overweight as a kid.

Not always, but often. I would gain and lose weight, in phases, but I never had a perfect body.

I still don’t.

Hell, at my wedding, I must have weighed 20 pounds more than I do now, courtesy of Tony’s Pizza in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Sample conversation:

“Tonys!”

“Hi, I’d like to order a large grandpa pizza for delivery please.”

“No prahlem.”

Do that every Friday for six months, and you too can pack on the pounds. The aftermath might not be pretty, but damn, that shit tastes good.

All kidding aside, any discussion of the concurrent obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States is likely to be fraught. It almost perfectly pits the personal against the societal, and that’s not a battle that can be won.

In one corner, we have identity politics and issues around body shaming. Who are you to tell me how I should look? Or to judge me because of how much I weigh? It’s discrimination, it’s wrong, and you are an asshole for even thinking that my body is your business.

In the opposite corner, we have a genuine public health crisis, with millions of people eating themselves into disease. Why that happens is related to poverty, culture, access to healthy food, cooking knowledge, government subsidies for corn production, and the insidious advertising and food science efforts put forth by large multinational corporations peddling crap food.

Like I said, this issue is a field of quicksand suspended above a Florida-sink-hole. (Good intentions get sucked down faster than a shrimp-head at a Louisiana crawfish boil.)

Enter Art into the discussion, a notoriously subjective product that revels in ambiguity, and you’re guaranteed to draw some attention. And so it has been, for three projects I’ve noticed over the last few years.

Jen Davis, and then Samantha Geballe, have both photographed their large bodies in a self-portraiture format. Ms. Davis, whose work I saw at the Library of Congress, and wrote about, uses color. Samantha, whom I met at the Medium Festival a couple of years ago, and also wrote about, prefers black and white.

They both made striking, uncomfortable, compelling images of their own bodies. They stood in for the masses with weight issues and said, “Here I am. Look! Don’t avert your gaze. I am worthy of your attention, every bit as much as a skinny model with vapid eyes!”

Both artists subsequently underwent gastro-bypass surgery. (How’s that for ambiguity?)

I’m not sure about Ms. Davis, but Samantha has also documented her new body, and the vestiges of her old one. The pictures are great, and will be on display at the Houston Center of Photography from May 13-June 10.

Really striking stuff.

There is one other artist I know of working with these themes: Haley Morris-Cafiero. I heard about her project, “Weight Watchers,” but as sometimes happens, I knew of it, saw tweets about it, but never caught the pictures themselves, beyond a social media thumbnail. (The iconic pic of her walking on the beach.)

A few weeks ago, a respected colleague wrote to see if Ms. Morris-Cafiero could send me a book for a potential review.

I said sure, as I always do, with the caveat that I never know what I’ll review until I pick it up. This one, most definitely, is worth discussing here.

So let’s get on with it.

“The Watchers,” published by the Magenta Foundation, is a book that grabs you from the cover, quite literally. There are words embossed into the white rubber/plastic coating, and red text leaps off in the other direction. The words seem to come from comments about the project, and are a little incendiary.

(Sample: “You are courageous. You rule. Fuck everyone.”)

The overall design is excellent, as the red text on white returns again and again, as Internet comments are juxtaposed against each other. Negative trolls on the left hand side, positive supporters on the right. According to this format, this artist seems to summon wrath and kindness in equal measure.

But what does she do? What is her take on this very tricky subject?

Well, near as I can tell, she walks or stands around, while an assistant waits to snap the shutter the second someone looks askance at Ms. Morris-Cafiero.

Really, that’s the gist of it.

Ms. Morris-Cafiero, who is overweight, stands around by the side of a walkway, or in Times Square, or under the Eiffel Tower, and the camera-person captures people who look at her.

The obvious message is that people are put off by her body, which is often visible, as she wears bathing suits or workout clothes. The picture quality is good-but-not-amazing, as it seems as if these were snapped with a compact point and shoot camera, or maybe a digital SLR?

Things like light quality, color palette, and formal compositions are understated, I gather, to enhance the feeling of reality as it happens. But by gutting the efforts of technique, it puts a lot of pressure on content.

This is obviously a very smart idea, but I’m not sure it stands up to deeper scrutiny. There are several images in which passersby shoot Ms. Morris-Cafiero some serious shade; pictures in which you can tell that random strangers are being rude.

A few, yes.

But there are other images in which the strangers’ intentions are much less clear. A sideways glance is not an indictment of someone else’s character.

Furthermore, in many of the set-ups, Ms. Morris-Cafiero adopts very noticeable body positions. Her feet are splayed, or she looks confused, or dazed. Then there are the pictures in which she is holding a map, and looking confused, which will certainly draw the attention of many a person walking down a city street.

Despite the fact that I’ve already admitted this is a complicated subject, I’ll openly state that people who body-shame, or mad-dog someone else just because of how much they weigh?

Those people are dickheads.

There.
I said it.

But just because it happens to Haley Morris-Cafiero does not mean that I have to love her art project. Especially as I’ve seen, and written about, other projects that deal better in nuance.

This feels more like a Jackass outtake, to me. It’s clever, original, and clearly means well. I get the ideas it wants me to get. So it’s successful in that regard.

Maybe it’s even intentional? A viral-esque style for a project that was always going to go viral?

But it also feels like it’s taking advantage of some of the strangers, judging them the way Ms. Morris-Cafiero feels judged. I was inclined to like this project, but came away feeling unsure.

Or maybe it’s just that by making it a book, she included images that don’t support her message? Too many pictures made me think: “That’s not a dirty look. That’s just someone turning his/her head.”

What this book did is put me in an uncomfortable place, and I think that’s a big part of its allure. (Structural metaphor, anyone?) Do anything other than lavish praise, and I set myself up to be accused of being disrespectful, or biased. As I’ve written at length about so many difficult issues over the years, I’m clearly not afraid to offend.

So let me end thusly: This is a very interesting, edgy book, that draws attention to a murky, difficult subject. I think this artist has done something smart, if flawed, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Bottom Line: Edgy, well-designed, but imperfect book

To Purchase “The Watchers” Visit Photo-Eye

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This Week In Photography Books: Maud Sulter

by Jonathan Blaustein

I have a lot of opinions.

As I make my living as a columnist, (along with many other jobs,) it helps to have strong convictions. I share them each week, to entertain you, but also to discuss important ideas in digestible bits.

Occasionally, when you throw your opinions out there into the digi-sphere, you’re going to be wrong. Sometimes, spectacularly so.

C’est la vie.

In this case, I thought it best to admit my mistake. (Man up, if you will.) Better to face the error than to pretend it didn’t happen.

Right?

About a month ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses, I declared the death of the Donald Trump phenomenon. Marco Rubio was on the ascendancy, so I thought, and Mr. Trump’s high polling numbers would vanish, like indigestion after a nice constitutional.

The day after my article was published, Marco Rubio went off the rails in a debate, outing himself as a robot, (or maybe just a cyborg,) and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made fun of Donal Trump in this column. Some of my best one-liners have come at his expense.

But I’m not laughing anymore.

Though I rarely stick my neck into the morass of American politics, today, I’ll make an exception. I turned 42 a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t ever remember this particular feeling before: despair mixed with fear and a touch of embarrassment.

The fact that we’re witnessing a major party candidate courting votes from the Ku Klux Klan seems more surreal than the Dali painting I dreamed about last night. How could such a thing happen in 2016? What does that say about America, that so many white people have lined up on one side, glad to be unaffiliated with the rest of the races that make up this country.

It’s just. So. Wrong.

I’m aware that Mr. Trump’s chances of becoming President are small, but any chance > 0 is scary. France can have Marine Le Pen, and England the UKIP assholes, but seeing a large chunk of America embrace racism to this degree has taken me by surprise.

Yes, I was wrong to dismiss Donald Trump. He’s a narcissist, and will never hear the voice of reason. Said voice could be blasted into his ears by the world’s biggest BOSE bluetooth speaker, and still he’d only hear his inner monologue. (As he said this week, his most trusted advisor is himself.)

Part of what’s so crazy, to me, is the difference between his spoken and written words. I heard Mr. Trump say, on a video clip, that his followers need to be “gentle” with the protestors. In a transcript, he’s disavowing violence.

But his voice dripped with sarcasm. His tone and inflection screamed, “Kick the shit out of those hippies and blacks. They deserve it!”

And the violence has begun in earnest. We have the sucker-punch heard round the world, the Chicago protests, and now, Mr. Trump is actually “predicting” riots if they try to take the nomination away from him at the Republican convention. Millions of his followers will take to the streets, he assures us.

What is that, if not the extortion of a nation, by a budding strongman. Nasty business, this.

Nasty.

The reality is that even though 2016 feels modern and futuristic, and gay people can get married in the United States, our history of violence and theft still lingers.

We stole people from their homes, entire cultures from their homelands, and our homeland from its original occupants.

Wishing away the vestiges of Colonialism simply won’t work.

Sadly, I’m in mind of such things, having just put down a lovely newspaper/exhibition catalogue, “Syrcas,” featuring work by Maud Sulter, recently published by Autograph ABP in London.

This little volume turned up in the mail recently, as last summer I’d met with Karin Bareman, one of their curatorial staff, and she thought I might like it. Fortunately for us, she was right.

We’re constantly hearing about the dearth of non-white voices in the Photo community, and these pictures are proof positive that a diversity of talented perspectives is vital. These images are cool as hell.

This project, which is on display at Autograph ABP until April 2nd, mashes up totemic African iconography with pastoral, entitled European art vernacular. Though they were made in the early 90’s, by the Scottish/Ghanaian artist, these photos feel totally relevant and current.

Mashups are a part of the global cultural lexicon now, as are digital compilations. Appropriation maintains its fascination as well. It’s all here for us, should we care to look.

These pictures carry a tension that I really love, and I wish I could see them in person. The African masks and symbols are proudly laid “on top” of generic mountain scenes and fancy ladies.

Defiance!

You will see me, they say. You will acknowledge my heritage. You will accept that we, and our history, are a part of your culture!

Whether we’ve discussed the tragic lot of poor, migrant communities on the outskirts of European mega-cities, or the lack of non-white faces at portfolio reviews, here at APE, we do our best to speak important truths. (Even though I am an entitled white guy myself.)

I didn’t write about a book today. Instead it’s a slim catalogue on newsprint. (But at least it has pictures.) And no, I don’t think my little diatribe will have any impact on the outcome of America’s Presidential election. (Unlike Mr. Trump, I harbor no delusions of grandeur.)

But I do get to show you cool things, when they pop up in my mailbox. That’s what this column is about. If you live in England, go see this show, and then tell me all about it. If you’re curious to learn more, fire up your Google and see what else is out there.

Bottom Line: Super-cool exhibition catalogue of a show I wish I could see

To Purchase “Syrcas” Go Here

This Week In Photography Books: Christine Osinski

by Jonathan Blaustein

My cousin had a baby yesterday.

Or, I should say, his wife did. I think he was at the bar, drinking, through much of the affair. (At least, that’s what I saw on Facebook.)

Certain things make you feel old, and they’re never what you expect. Cousin Kenny becoming a father is definitely one of them. (Even though he just turned 40.)

Kenny is the funniest person I know, (or co-funniest, with his brother,) and he became a stand-up comic a few years back.
I can easily imagine him onstage, but it’s harder to visualize him changing his new daughter’s diaper.

Why?

Kenny has always been lazy. He was nicknamed “The Snail,” when we were kids, and it’s not because he resembles a slimy curlicue shell.

He’s the type of guy who likes to sit on the couch all day, watching football, eating 56 chicken wings, and mocking everyone around him. That’s his style. The selflessness required of all new parents will be a challenge for him.

I’m sure he’ll sort it out, and I’m sure it won’t be easy. Hell, his comedy act features some serious bouts of misogyny, so that will likely change as well. (Or at least morph into complaining about having to say poo poo and pee pee instead of shit and piss.)

The whole thing makes me feel old as hell. I can remember Kenny, standing on his driveway in East Brunswick, New Jersey, back in the day, wearing some tube socks pulled up to his scrotum. Or riding his bike, replete with ginormous handlebars, up and down the road.

We all did that, back in the 80’s. We rocked the short shorts, long socks, dorky bikes, and overall lack of imagination about what life might offer us. There was no Internet, of course, which made it really hard to guess the world was wide, beyond our suburban horizons.

I haven’t lived in Jersey in almost 25 years, and still, it all comes back to me. The smell of fresh cut grass, or pollution on the New Jersey Turnpike. The sound of skee-ball machines at the Point Pleasant boardwalk.

The accents.

Hell, on Friday, while I was chatting with Kenny’s equally hilarious brother Jordan, we ended up slipping into a Staten Island accent to make each other laugh.

“Hey. Ha yaz doin’? Can I get yaz anotha ma-ga-ree-tah?”

It was always easy to make fun of Staten Island. It’s mostly just a huge landfill, so they say. The Outerbridge Crossing, the highway that connects Staten Island to New Jersey, might as well be a one way street: all the Islanders were moving to Jersey in hordes, when I was in high school.

What does Staten Island look like now, in 2016?
I have no idea.

But I can see the whole scene, back in the 80’s, having just put down “Summer Days Staten Island,” a new book by Christine Osinski, recently published by Damiani.

Will I get death threats from angry goombahs, for derogating their homeland? I have no idea. But if I were there now, insulting the Island, you can bet I’d get some seriously dirty looks from the locals. (They’d be mad-dogging me all day long.)

There were a few mad-dog photos in this most excellent book. A handful of pictures in which you can easily imagine the subject saying, “What the fuck a youz lookin’ at? Youz got a fuckin’ prahb-lem? Yeah, I’m tawkin’ to you. Who the fuck do you think I’m tawkin’ to?”

Stop me. I could go on all day.

Honestly, though, this book brought me straight back to my childhood. I guessed the images were made in 1984, and the end interview confirms ’83-84.

Pure. Classic. 80’s.

The hiked up tube-socks are my favorite detail, sure, but that must be because I can relate. The rampant shirtlessness is also perfect. But there is more subtlety here, if you care to look for it.

Like the house with two curlicue hedges, abutting an empty field. Man-made nature/ raw nature, sure, but I also wondered how far into the marsh a landfill might be? (We never see those.)

There is a picture of some kids playing in front of a bombed out car, holding up a van that says crime scene, while an actual van sits in a driveway across the street. (You bet I’m taking that as a Scooby Doo reference. The 80’s had the sleuths it deserved.)

Big cars are everywhere. (Obligatory Iroc Z28 included.) Big mustaches too. And a blonde, teen-aged girl, staring daggers at the camera, cradling a brown paper bag like it was her first born.

How much you wanna bet there was a bottle of liquor in there? I’m so curious, but like all my other questions, I’ll never know.

The answers are gone, forever.

That’s why I love this type of flashback photography so much. It reminds us that even though the global photography community now numbers in billions, and so many images are thrown away every tenth of a second, sometimes, we really are stopping time.

Freezing light, outside of the space time continuum.

It means I can sit at my white kitchen table, on a gray Tuesday afternoon, and be catapulted back to the 80’s, a time many of us would just as soon forget. (Yes, I had a mullet and braces. Find the pictures. I dare you.)

Bottom Line: Amazing pictures from Sta-en EYE-land, back in the day

To Purchase “Summer Days Staten Island” Visit Photo-Eye

IMG_1783

IMG_1784

IMG_1785

IMG_1786

IMG_1787

IMG_1788

IMG_1789

IMG_1790

IMG_1791

IMG_1792

IMG_1793

IMG_1794

IMG_1795

IMG_1796

IMG_1797

IMG_1798

IMG_1799