Category "Photography Books"

This Week in Photography: The early 70’s

 

Part 1: The Intro

It’s tempting to glorify the past.

(Mighty tempting.)

I wrote recently, in my eulogy to Robert Frank, that MAGA is really one more expression of the desire to return to the 1950’s.

It’s easy to mock that desire, (and I did,) because it so easily connects to a whiter, more racist and sexist America.

If we were to try to understand it on less nefarious terms, we might agree people associate the 50’s with American dominance, and a more naive, safer, more small-town version of ourselves.

(Before Walmart and the Malls killed small-town shopping districts. Oh wait, I said I’d stay positive.)

Last week, I wrote about #1983, and it came about in the most fascinating, subconscious way.

But the more I thought about it this week, the more the connection made sense. 1983 was a year before a presidential election, with a Republican president who’d begun a massive rightward shift for this country.

As the fall of the Berlin Wall was still years away, the end-of-the-world fear of pending nuclear war, after decades of Cold War, was real.

The Apocalypse was in, as “War Games” came out around then, and then “The Terminator.” (1983 and ’84, respectively.)

 

My point is that it’s easy to pick a time, as perhaps some people are now doing with the 90’s, and think that life was easier then.

If we were to peg each decade that was once held up as the ur-decade, (like the 60’s) we’d see there was plenty of drama, strife and difficulty too.

 

Part 2: West Coast Style

I write about photography here each week, (or most weeks these days,) and sometimes I admit to getting bored of it. In my current work, I’ve begun to experiment with sculpture as a way of extending my creativity in other directions.

But in order to keep up a column that is about photography these many years, I find it fun to create mini-themes, and let them play out naturally.

(It always happens best that way.)

So the last three weeks, we’ve had Robert Frank’s photographs from the 1950’s, Hugh Mangum’s images from the early 20th Century, all that 19th Century work from last week, and now…

1972-74.

That’s right: the early 70’s.

If we’re looking for parallels to now, there are none better.

The Nixon years.

I was born in 1974, so technically I was alive when Nixon stepped down, but it’s not in my frame-of-reference. I remember TV and pop culture from about 1977 on. (Close Encounters was ’77, I just checked.)

But this mini-era came just after the raging 60’s, and represents the heart of the Vietnam War.

It was chaotic to the extreme.

Dudes wore beards. (Sound familiar?)

A criminal president got busted, and it was so egregious that his own party finally broke, so he resigned, living in ignominy for a few decades, before being re-embraced shortly before he died.

Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was the big thing going, Charles Bronson terrorized the bad guys, and Steve McQueen was still on the scene too.

A rough-and-tumble America was fighting the Cold War, pointed straight towards a political catastrophe of epic proportions.

Yeah, I think we can all agree it’s a relevant phase to contemplate, RIGHT NOW.

How convenient that when I looked at my bookshelf, I noticed “Boardwalk Minus 40,” by Mike Mandel, published as a part of Subscription Series #5 by TBW Books in Oakland. It happened to be filed a foot or so away from “Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink” by Bill Yates, published by Fall Line Press in Atlanta. (Which Bill gave me when he came through Taos this summer.)

I grabbed Mike Mandel’s book first, and recognized some of the images from a show I’d seen of his work at SFMOMA in Spring 2017. (And I later realized I’d reviewed the Subscription series as well.)

The pictures were made around the Santa Cruz boardwalk in 1974, and it’s kind of dry, compared to some of the other work from that show. The pictures are mostly in black and white, but there are two color images that really pop, early on.

Including one featuring a perfect, vintage Pepsi can.

I once spent a long while contemplating William Eggleston’s Coca-Cola red in a show at Pier 24, but Pepsi is a totally different reference.

Pepsi?

We’re Number 2, not Number 1!

The depiction of a place-in-time feels generic, and outside the palm trees, I’m not sure what places me in California.

Is that the point?
That California was generic?

The pictures feel a little like they’re leering, and it’s something I see more clearly now, in #2019, with my 12 year old son calling out sexism on TV and media with regularity.

(They see it so easily, the young, and yet the ideals were so hard won.)

Then it gets a step beyond, as a young woman leans over to show off her breasts, and we see her nipples. Then more, as two images shows men performing or simulating cunnilingus.

It’s important to remember the artist was young at the time, and even today, people photograph sex and nudity. But it’s hard not to see this book through today’s “woke” lens as well.

As to the pictures, they owe a debt to Garry Winogrand, and Henry Wessel, (RIP,) and it makes a lot of sense. In the end text, Mike Mandel admits that as he made conceptual work at SFAI with visiting professor Robert Heinecken, his main professors, Linda Connor and the aforementioned Wessel, would not graduate him with his MFA in 1974.

So he went to Santa Cruz, leaned into a “for fun” project he’d been messing around with, and shot this series of pictures on the boardwalk, seemingly with a 35mm camera.

It was done as an “I’ll show you,” or a spite project, and it worked, because they gave him his degree. I can see why the sex photos, in that era, would have given the work an extra-edgy feel, as “Deep Throat” and “Debbie Does Dallas” came out in ’72 and ’78 respectively.

Mike Mandel’s end-notes close with a Larry David joke, (if you can believe it,) but to me, pulling these photos out, 40 years later, does justice to the aging process, rather than their inherent strengths.

 

Part 3: Florida Kids

With “Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink,” though, we have an equally compelling backstory. Bill Yates had just graduated from University of Southern Florida, after a stint in the Navy, and was soon headed to RISD for an MFA, to study with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.

He’s roaming around Florida in 1972, looking for something to photograph, and stumbles upon the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in a rural spot outside Orlando. He asks to photograph the place, and the owner invites him back at night, when things are hopping.

Thus began a 7-month-deep-dive into 1973 for Bill, where he came back again and again. Everything was shot with a super-crisp medium format set-up, and I think that repeated engagement, plus the extra photo juice from the bigger negative, makes these pictures more memorable.

That the two books were so close on the book shelf was coincidental, but they have so much in common. The West Coast and East Coast versions of sleepy communities about to be eaten by much larger capitalist forces.

(Silicon Valley and Disney World.)

As to the photographs, like Mike Mandel’s antecedents were clear, here the imprint of Diane Arbus is ever-present, nowhere more so than the photo, on page 76 of the wall-eyed young woman and her less-than-intelligent-looking boyfriend.

 

But that’s a time-jump, so let’s take a step back.

The book opens with a very 50’s feel to it. Some greaser hair, the old signage, and there’s that Pepsi logo.

Pepsi binding the two books together?

So strange.

It’s only bit-by-bit that the 70’s-era-hair and clothing make an impression, versus the more Southern, rural feel we get out of the locals.

These pictures are awesome, and make me think of some working class images from Northern England.

The kids smoking.

The world-weariness in the eyes.

The book also has a bit more flesh-ogling than I think you’d see today. However, there’s a photo: a guy, kissing a girl, mad-dogs the crap out of the photographer, so it’s almost like he gets his comeuppance.

Though he trained with some amazing people, (as did Mike Mandel, who’s had a long career as an artist and academic,) Bill Yates went into a career as a commercial photographer.

He more or less pulled these pictures out of a box, 40 years later, and quickly ended up with this book, and a big solo show at the Ogden Museum of Art in New Orleans.

It’s a killer project, and it comes out favorably in comparison “Boardwalk Minus 40.”

But comparing and contrasting, saying which is better, is such a 20th Century concept, man.

Now is the age of win-win, and collaboration, so I’ll just say these two books make quite the pairing, and help give us visual reminders that America, and the world, have lived through tough times before.

Photography stops time and saves it for future generations.

So I suppose these last few columns have been my attempt, (subconsciously,) to remind myself, and all of you, that the arc of history is long.

Bottom Line: two cool books showing two Americas in the early 70s

Bottom Line: two cool books showing two Americas in the early 70s

 

This Week in Photography: East of the Mississippi

 

Part 1: The Intro

I was wondering what to write about this morning.

No strong pull in any direction. (Which is rare.)

So I dropped into a kneeling-Japanese-meditation-pose I learned in Aikido.

I calmed my mind, focused on my breathing, and at first, tried to figure out what my psyche was interested in. The last few stories from London? A new book from the pile? Anything about Chicago?

But I quieted those thoughts, because why else meditate?

After a few minutes, I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw was a book I’d considered for review twice before.

Each time, it didn’t connect.

So of course I picked it up, and fell in love, as it’s perfect for today. (But we’ll get to that.)

 

Part 2: The Album

A month ago or so, I wrote about synchronicity, so of course that was the first thing I thought after re-discovering today’s book.

Synchronicity.

My mind jumped to “Synchronicity,” the album by The Police from somewhere around 1984. (Summer ’83, apparently.)

It was their biggest pop culture breakthrough, and as a kid, (I would have been 9,) I remember it as melodic, with a big anthem song.

Which was it?
(“Every Breath You Take.”)

So I go to Spotify and put on the album. (Or its digital playlist equivalent.)

What did all of America go gaga for in 1983, I asked myself?
What’s the story here?

Right away, it was clear the lyrics and energy in the music were dystopic. Some songs were downright dissonant, which goes against the band’s traditionally excellent harmonics.

And really, that title.

Synchronicity.

It implies synthesis, like connections are a good thing. But the songs were disturbing, and really, I couldn’t connect the dots at all.

It made no sense.
None.

WTF?

So I picked up my phone, and sure enough, the Spotify was stuck on Shuffle Play.

I couldn’t turn it off.

The AI broke, so I wasn’t getting the flow the band intended. Even so, the songs were almost universally creepy, disturbing or violent, even though the melodies were often pleasant.

This was the biggest album in America in #1983, and made The Police briefly the biggest band in the world? (Before they walked away on top.)

What does that all mean?

I decided to go down a rabbit hole for you.

I did some digging, found a lyrics website, hit up Wikipedia and Youtube, some other places, and got info from The Police’s official website as well.

I also listened to the album again, in sequence, manually advancing the titles so I could get the intention, while reading the lyrics.

“Synchronicity I,” the first song, speaks directly to the Jungian principles by which the album was inspired. Carl Jung wrote a book called “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” and Sting read it. He was also into “The Roots of Coincidence” by Arthur Koestler, as The Police named their previous album, “Ghost in the Machine” after one of his novels as well.

Synchronicity was Jung’s theory that events otherwise deemed coincidental might in fact have meaningful connections.

So the album opens by referencing those ideas directly, in a song called “Synchronicity I.”

“A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectable
Nothing is invincible”

We feel you, Sting.

The next song, “Walking in Your Footsteps,” is about dinosaurs, and our relationship to extinction.

“Hey there mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past”

Extinction talk.

In 1983!
Ahead of its time!

Oh, and I should mention the album cover was shot by Duane Michals, (who gave the best lecture I’ve ever seen at theΒ Medium Photo Festival in 2014,) in which Sting posed with dinosaur bones.

 

The “coincidences” mount.

In “Oh My God,” Sting writes,

“Everyone I know is lonely
And God is so far away
And my heart belongs to no one
So now sometimes I pray

Take the space between us
And fill it up some way
Take the space between us
And fill it up”

Totally prescient, as far as our empty digital connections supplanting IRL experience in #2019.

In ‘Mother,’ maybe the less said the better, as Andy Summers screeches about a Mother like he’s Norman Bates.

(Freaky AF, as the kids say.)

Then in Miss Gradenko, Sting wails,

“Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody at all in here?
Nobody but us in here
Nobody but us!”

This is one messed-up piece of art, that somehow got packaged as pop music for the masses.

I need to take a break.

The #1983 vibe is feeling a bit too much like our current moment. They were living under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, due to the Cold War, and we’ve got Trump and climate change.

So.
Let’s talk about the backstory.

Sting, according to Wikipedia, only became a musician due to “happenstance.” He grew up near the shipyards in Northeast England in Northumberland, (and was headed towards that career,) but once saw the queen, who waved at him, and that gave him the courage to turn his back on convention and become a creative person.

He worked his way up, and got married before he was famous, as the three man band laid down hits in their first four albums. (“Zenyatta Mondatta” was always my favorite.)

But by the time The Police made “Synchronicity,” their their final album, Sting was going through a nasty divorce, as he’d taken up with Trudie Styler.

Also, the band supposedly HATED each other.

While “Synchronicity” was made on the island of Montserrat, the three musicians, Sting, Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland, were literally recording in separate rooms.

Separate rooms!

And fistfights were reported as well.

On The Police’s official website, for heavens sake, Stuart Copeland admitted “The whole album was recorded in an unbelievably bad atmosphere.”

In the music video (for MTV,) the three band members are almost always 10-20 feet apart, lip-synching on radically different platforms, and Sting looks like a dead ringer for Billy Idol.

Synchronicity indeed.

Just to add another layer of meaning, Sting wrote some of “Synchronicity” in Jamaica, in a house called Goldeneye, sitting at the same desk where Ian Fleming wrote James Bond.

After Miss Gradenko comes “Synchronicity II,” a song about a tired worn-out-sap who’s about to snap from family, factory work and traffic, all juxtaposed by the rising of an actual monster in a Scottish loch.

Next comes “Every Breath You Take,” which is the most obvious stalker song to ever become a mainstream hit.

“Every breath you take ,and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you,”

And it only gets more specific from there. Lots of watching you, and you belong to me.

How was this song ever considered pop music material?

Sting himself later said, “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.”

Then in order we have “King of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” (we get it,) and “Tea in the Sahara,” which ends with women burning in the desert with cups of sand.

Finally, there’s “Murder By Numbers,” which is about becoming a serial killer.

Dark, dark, dark stuff.
Horrifying, really.

And the only reason I’m writing any of this is because I saw a book when I opened my eyes from meditation, and took it as a “sign,” which led to a creative rabbit hole, which led to this column.

 

Part 3: The Book

It was a trove of photographs from the 19th Century that captured my attention today, in “East of the Mississippi,’ an amazing photobook that turned up in the mail a couple of years ago.

It was published by Yale University Press, for an exhibition mounted by the National Galley of Art, that I eventually saw at the New Orleans Museum of Art at Photo Nola in 2017.

Why didn’t I like this book before?
Why didn’t I write about the show?

What changed?

Well, I changed.

And the day, the year, the light, the circumstance.

Perhaps I’d grown so accustomed to the Western landscape, living in the heart of the American West this last decade and a half.

Big vistas, big mountains.

GRANDIOSITY!!!

East of the Mississippi, they’ve got small mountains and clustered landscapes.

Claustrophobic spaces.
Hollers.

Not nearly as dramatic, or dynamic.

Much more subtle.

Perhaps the equivalent of a cool Bordeaux, in lieu of a bold Ribera del Duero?

There is also a lot in this book that feels historical, or at least done by “lesser” photographers. Men (because let’s be clear, it’s nearly if not all men,) made work that was preserved for us, and on this viewing, I found it all interesting, historically.

(If not brilliant.)

And just as I found myself mentally comparing to Roger Fenton and Gustave LeGray and Carleton Watkins, as opposed to the more regular-guy-work in the book, I’d turn a page and something would jump, done by a clear talent.

George Barnard, one of my favorites, emerged. Or the Bierstadt Brothers. Timothy O’Sullivan, Arthur Dow, Steichen and Stieglitz.

The more talented photographers, or at least the images that had the most gravitas, would elevate the experience. It got me excited, as a viewer, waiting for the killer stuff within the edit.

(In this way, I was introduced to Isaac Bonsall, and Thomas Johnson, whom I didn’t know.)

But the landscape is varied, too, from the Deep South through the Midwest and New England.

So many lovely ones, amid the plenty.

There are train tracks and bridges, steam ships and water falls.

Men of industry, and beasts of burden.

All dead.

It really is the perfect book for today, as it reminds us that time marches on, and no one knows what’s coming.

The people in these albumen prints could no more imagine #1983 or #2019 than we can the 2050’s.

And as for synchronicity?

Taos is finally a trendy tourist destination again; really popular, with its Instagram-ready landscape, and non-American charm.

How did I know we hit the big time again?

Sting played here over Labor Day weekend.

I heard it was off the hook.

Bottom line: Exquisite exhibition catalogue documenting half of the past of America

To purchase “East of the Mississippi” click here

 

This Week in Photography: The Archive of Hugh Mangum

 

β€œThey said I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat–that was tough to beat. Honest Abe, when he wore that hat, that was tough to beat. But I can’t do that, that hat wouldn’t work for me. But I can’t do that…Yeah, I have better hair than he did. But honest Abe was tough to beat.”

President Donald Trump, the other day, #2019

 

I remember in the height of the Great Recession, when I just couldn’t wait for 2009 to end. “Come on, January. Let’s go 2010!Β Bring, it,” I thought.

Now, I don’t need to get into the particulars, but 2010 kicked my ass too. Maybe even harder than ’09.

Afterwards, I thought that “Be careful what you wish for” clichΓ© might have something to it.

I bring this up, because honestly, who knows where all this is headed?

Donald Trump was caught red-handed, doing the one thing the entire Mueller investigation was trying to prove, under the assumption that such behavior was a priori impeachable, but they never found the smoking gun.

This time, Trump and his minions were caught together, plus a cover-up-secret-server? And then, just hours after I initially wrote this, he goes on TV to invite the Chinese government to investigate the Bidens too?

I’ve done this column for 8 years solid now, (Happy Anniversary, yay!) and I truly don’t know where this story lands anymore.

But I began the column with Trump essentially doing stand-up-comedy.

Right? He’s doing a bit?

Like Rodney Dangerfield (RIP) in “Caddyshack,” or Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas?”

That hat, it’s tough to beat. Tough to beat. Honest Abe was tough to beat in that hat.

Good Ol’ Abe.

How is that not funny, and yet with the fate of the free world hinging on this man’s behavior, (Did you read about his idea for alligator and snake moats?) maybe we all just need to laugh, or at least catch our breath for a second?

Break a pattern?

In my case, I remember when Rob set me free to do the travel and cultural criticism pieces I’ve since written over the last six months.

It was liberating.

I’d done book reviews for a few years solid, and wanted to see what would happen if I went out there for you, to eat and drink and look and investigate.

Sitting on the couch flipping through books had gotten stale, but then, after six months of pinging around the world, (East Coast, West Coast, Europe, West Coast, East Coast, Mid-West) my head is more fried than my daughter’s skin this summer when she went to the pool with a friend who didn’t have her re-apply her sunscreen properly.

(Very, very fried.)

So today, while trying to process a president doing stand-up-comedy about the millinery choices of Abe Lincoln, I thought, man, it sure would be nice to pick up a book here in my house.

To do something different.

Instead of crunching my previous experiences into an article, I’d rather read and engage with an existing story in book form.

To look at someone else’s narrative, and see what I can learn.

“Photos: Day or Night, The Archive of Hugh Mangum,” edited by Sarah Stacke, was published last year by Red Hook Editions. It seems straightforward enough, as the book exists to present the digitized, preserved history of a notable Southern photographer who died too young in 1922. (44, RIP)

Sarah Stacke edited the book, wrote one essay, and interviewed Mr. Mangum’s granddaughter, Martha Sumler, at the end of the volume as well. (And shot her portrait.)

During his lifetime, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Hugh Mangum had a darkroom in an old tobacco barn at his family’s country property outside Durham, North Carolina. He also spent time in the city-home as a youth, in Durham, and according to one of the essays, the block was fairly integrated.

Whatever the reason, Hugh Mangum defied the mores of the South in which he was raised by photographing African American and white people, and his interracial practice would have been rare for the time.

Plus, the photographs in here are badass. I mean, like totally good. In some cases, showing me things I still can’t make sense of.

Really, when was the last time I saw something photographic that defied reality in the way Trump’s opening quote does?

(See, I always bring it back around in a book review.)

Mangum sold his prints cheaply, so that his regular-people-clients could afford them. He kept costs down by splitting glass plates into multiple exposures.

Let’s jump to page 38.

There are 15 narratives on one plate.

We’re interested in the middle row.

A woman stares at the camera, severe, in a white high-neck-top and a stylish hat that cascades dark flowers. In the background, below her, to her right, a man, who looks like a Peaky Blinder minus the trademark hat, is staring daggers through the camera.

In the second frame, she looks down and away in a new hat, and he’s in the same spot, eyes just off the camera’s center.

Then, frame three, BOOM, he’s up front, looking right through us, and she’s just off his left shoulder, her face in her left hand, the two of them looking like they just robbed a train and were about to go have sex and then spend a few dollars at the casino afterwards.

Then, he’s next to her, and in an instant, in frame five, he’s receded into the background again, and she owns the frame.

This time, no hat.

If it were a fashion shoot for W magazine, you’d think it was progressive. Or film stills from a German avant garde movie that inspired the guy who inspired the guy who inspired Wim Wenders.

My point is, these photographs exist, and they’re amazing, but they don’t make sense in any way.

Who were they, and what the hell were they doing in that studio?

They’re phantoms out of time.
Like us.

(#2019 feels like it’s ten or fifteen years mashed up into one.)

There are many other such pictures here, images that would captivate, by themselves. Together, they make for the kind of book that will reward upon multiple viewings.

But then, in the end, things get really interesting.

In the closing essay, Martha Sumler admits that as a youth, she and her friends used to throw Hugh Mangum’s glass plates at trees, smashing them to bits.

“I believe all of us regret destroying them,” she said.

Totally caught me off guard.

And then, just when I got over that one, Sarah Stacke asks Ms. Sumler about the rumor that Hugh Mangum had shot naked photographs of local wealthy women?

Say what now?

(Out of nowhere, like it’s the most natural way to end a book.)

“SS: There is this rumor that Hugh made nude images of prominent women in Durham. What do you know about that?

MS: The information came to me from my mother. She told me there were nude pictures of prominent women in Durham… Some of the relatives still had pictures, and that was fine, but she didn’t want the glass plate negatives to get out, so she destroyed them…

SS: So much mystery.

MS: There is. And a lot of things we will never know.”

I’m not sure I can adequately explain how little I expected to read those things in a book like this. One that presents a bit of history, and recontextualizes a fine, almost awkwardly good group of pictures.

This book was made in 2018, and I believe it took six years or so to make. A true labor of love.

No matter.
It’s #2019 through and through.

Bottom Line: Weird, super-interesting book of historical photos from the South

To purchase “Photos: Day or Night” click here

 

This Week in Photography Books: Joshua Dudley Greer

 

I was six years old when Ronald Reagan was elected.

And 10 when he got another four years.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned my parents were staunch Democrats. For whatever reason, they didn’t discuss politics much at the dinner table, and in a pre-Internet era, it was hard to know as much about the issues as we do now.

These days, my son watches Hassan Minaj and John Oliver on Youtube for his news, and recently opined about Boris Johnson with one of our Antidote students.

He’s 11.

But back then, when Reagan wiped the floor with Walter Mondale in ’84, winning 49 states, I assumed everyone liked Reagan, including my parents.

I was no Alex P. Keaton, (though my Mom did dress me like him occasionally,) but as a 10 year old, a 49-1 victory looked pretty convincing.

Nancy Reagan was up on TV all the time saying “Drugs Are Bad,” so I assumed she was telling the truth. (But maybe that’s another story for a different day.)

What I’d rather emphasize is that in 2019, imagining America as that united on ANYTHING, much less a presidential election, seems quaint, quixotic and antiquated. (Three q words. Not bad.)

How could our country have ever agreed to that degree?

It’s gargantuan, and diverse in its local cultures, landscapes, and populations.

Iowa is to Hawaii as Poland is to the Philippines.

Catch my drift?

This morning, while I’m barely recovered from my crazy August, my mind drifted to the millions of miles of highways that knit this massive country together.

As the future is uncertain, I wonder if some of these places, different in so many ways, will ever again cohere around anything beyond a shared language and currency?

Is there hope for us?

Will we ever be one country again, like when everyone watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” or “Fantasy Island” on Network Television on their small cathode ray tube monitors?

I remember being at Pine Forest summer camp in 1984, chanting “USA, USA, USA” in the dining hall on July 4th with everyone, in unison, and there was no irony in sight. Patriotism was something regular people believed in, not just Red State Republicans.

Why am I feeling so nostalgic for times gone by today?
Or perhaps wistful about the majesty of America?

I’m glad you asked.

I felt like looking at a photo book, but didn’t want to leave the Portland series behind, so I picked up “Somewhere Along the Line,” by Joshua Dudley Greer, published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany.

Alexa Becker, a friend and Kehrer Verlag representative, gave me a copy of this book at the photolucida Blue Sky photo book night I mentioned in last week’s column.

She had it specifically set aside, assuming I’d like it. (As word of my taste might have gotten out over the last 8 years, she was spot on.)

I was smitten.

That a German publisher decided to run with such an exhaustive, almost categorical view of the American “on the road” landscape, along our highway system, is not surprising, really.

Not if you’ve heard of the popularity of American road trips among Europeans in the past, and now tourists from all over the world.

(The German filmmaker Wim Wenders made “Paris, Texas,” for heaven’s sake, and that may be the best American on-the-road movie ever made.)

The drawn line on the book’s cover first made me think of a county line, or state line, or even the Mason Dixon line.

But after the first few titled photographs jump from Arizona to Maine, Alabama to Alaska, you get the sense this book means business, and likely presents the title metaphorically. Photo geeks will recognize, in the sharpness and clarity, the likely use of large format cameras.

And probably film. (The end notes confirm.)

Perhaps its inevitable that Red and Blue State Americans hate each other more than they do our outward enemies.

60% of the country roots for Trump to fail, so he can be ousted before he goes for the lifetime Presidency he’s always joking about.

And Republicans hated Obama just as much.

But for me, a book like this, even with its sad photos and clear depiction of America’s tragic contemporary street class, somehow feels a bit optimistic.

The book, through the artist’s many miles, unites the country.
Literally.

He went all over, and recorded everything as one in this book.

I’m not being hokey.

It’s true.

Here is the South and the North.
The West and the East.

And it’s awesome.

Fuck all the haters.

America may be a declining empire, but we’re still cool as hell.

Bottom line: Elegiac, razor sharp look at all of America

To learn more about: “Somewhere Along The Line” click hereΒ 

The Daily Edit – Mark Hanauer: Kashmir: Witness: Huemn Stories

- - Photography Books

Mark Hanauer: Huemn Stories

Nine photojournalist were featured in the award winning book Witness/Kashmir 1986-2016.Β  A book that spans thirty turbulent years that have shaped Kashmir.Β  As many know Kashmir, also knows as “Paradise on Earth” was under a clamp down for the past 14 days. No mobile phone, no internet and many land lines are just now being restored. This book designed by Itu Chaudhuri Design was meant to reflect a casefile, a collection and evidence during those three decades.


Mark Hanauer who had spend time in Kashmir shooting Huemn stories which is an ongoing project with the brand. in 2018 also photographed several of the photojournalists that contributed to this book. Despite Kashmir being on clamp down, today we are sharing images from his trip that remind us of this paradise.


Makhdoom Sahib, a shrine at the top of a hill was extraordinary. Climbed many steps to the entrance. We met a holy man, he smiled at me, took my hand, gave me a blessing and two almonds. I was taken by his warmth and kindness. I still have the almonds, they always remind me of that moment. In the shrine only men are allowed into the inner chamber, the women pray just outside.


“I recall exiting the airport after arriving in Srinagar. The moment we stepped outside, I was hit with a very bright, blue sky, a number of heavily armed soldiers making their presence known, barbed wire and and a fighter jet flying menacingly low overhead. Driving toward Srinigar, I was surprised how different the architecture was to that of anywhere else I had been in India. Many Swiss chalet type structures in the foothills of the Himalayas, very surprising. We arrived in Sriningar and quickly met a few of the people that we were going to work with. I felt welcomed by them and everyone that I met in Srinagar. We drove to a small village to photograph a girl who at the age of 14 was peering out of her window and was shot in the face with rubber pellets by government security, rendering her blind and disfigured. When we met her, she was 16 and had just passed her 10th grade exam and was going on to Delhi Public School, a top school in Srinagar.

Parveena Ahanger, the β€˜Iron Lady of Kashmir’ Her son β€˜disappeared’ along with many other Kashmiri’s. A lawyer, she started the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, to search for those who are missing. The names behind her in the photo are all missing persons. She has won numerous awards for herΒ human rights work.


Hokasir Reserve just to the northwest of Srinagar and the longest rifle ever! For shooting birds.


Dal Lake. Urban lake in Srinagar, stunning place, 3500 or so houseboats on the lake as rentals. Tourism is normally huge here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Daily Edit – Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek: Masses, Office, Monocle

- - Photography Books

Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek

Heidi: Tell us about the first image that sparked this series?
Daniel: The first cat was Elli – the one from my parents at their home in Tirol, Austria. She was also the one who got me in touch with the following cats: Ume, Elli, Flitzie, Nevio and Fiffy.

Are you provoking theΒ catsΒ to jump?
I did not touch any of the cats. It all happens with trust. After many seatings we got very intimate and they started to relax and let lose. Finally they behaves like they always do when nobody is watching. They where just dancing and jumping around for fun. At this point it was super easy for me to take their picture. Im really happy and thankful to be able to share these moments with you.

Are theΒ catsΒ in the project all your ownΒ cats? if not, did you have to cast them?
All mutual friends

At what speed are you shooting?
1/125 of a second

What happened once you posted this project online?
It went quite viral, and now I sell prints and a calendar

How did the alpaca story for the Office come about?
I was driving through the countryside of Austria after a stressful job. Suddenly I saw a field full of Alpacas and stopped my car to catch a glimpse. This was such an intense experience and immediately made me feel relieved. I decided to try to capture that feeling and worked on a project shooting them to send all their positive energy to those who get as much joy as I did from them.Β  I came up with the idea to publish them as a calendar since thats a medium you can look at everyday in your kitchen and hopefully feel a bit better. Office was just the perfect match to publish that calendar with since they understand my ideas and share my love for alpacas.

It’s rare you find an archive welcoming downloading for comping and layout, can you tell me why you included this?
A few years ago everybody was super afraid that their content got stolen in the bad internet. So people started to build up websites that try to make it impossible to download their work; I think that makes no sense. The internet is a endless source of inspiration and it’s made to share and use work of others. So I decided to even go one step further and help people to steal my work and make it easy for editors and creative directors to include my pictures in their mood boards for upcoming projects. I believe in karma and think they will get back to me after they land a job with using my pictures for their pitch.

How was this shoot for Monocle a defining moment for you?
This was a quite special assignment since they had to fight for a very long time to get access to that warship in Dubai. I’m very honored they choose me to cover that story, we decided to also shoot film. I was using two different medium format film cameras (Contax 645 + Mamiya 7) and on the second day I noticed a bit strange sound from my shutter. After I shot a full roll I checked my camera only to find out the shutter was completely broken almost giving me a got a heart attack! I was lucky to have a second backup camera with me (Mamiya 7) After this experience I decided to never ever again work with film on a assignment.

How difficult was it to shoot the Koi farm for Masses?
When I was working in Tokyo for a few assignments for Baron, The Travel Almanac and Monocle, Masses hit me up and asked me to find a Koi farm to shoot for them. This was not as easy as you might think. Shooting on location in Japan was very bureaucratic and not very open for photography. Luckily I had a great producer and she was able to convince a Koi farm to let photograph their farm. I was only allowed to shoot a specific range of Kois. I was not allowed to photograph those fish which were sold since they could not ask all their owners for their permission. I loved how respectful they were to the owners.

 

 

This Week in Photography Books: Alice Wheeler

 

I’ve been lobbing bombs all summer.

(If you’ve been reading, you’re likely aware.)

For whatever reason, I’ve been inspired to channel the earlier me, the younger me, who courted controversy in this column, regularly, when it first began.

Perhaps it’s because I was “liberated” from my 6 year gig at the NYT, or maybe it’s just a coincidence?

I’m not really sure, but the last few months, I’ve done my best to speak truth to power, risking the opprobrium of my former bosses, portfolio review attendees, and some angry wankers on Twitter. (Not naming names this time…)

All of which is to say, after several months of writing 2500 word, 4 part mega-columns, in which I bare my soul, (and create new formats for the blog,) I’m pretty worn out.

Plus, I’m leaving for NorCal for a wedding this week, and am therefore writing on a Tuesday, so that everything can be done and dusted early. (Practicality is required, if you never miss a deadline in nearly 8 years.)

So here I sat, wondering how to summon the energy to tilt at windmills again, when I had a great idea.

Wouldn’t it be nice to look at a photo book, think for a few minutes, and then write a short, sweet column?

(If I’m ready for a break, maybe you readers are too?)

How about something that comes in under 1000 words, so we can all go about our business without trying to shake the Earth? (Maybe that’s a bad metaphor, as I’m headed to Earthquake country.)

As a result, I went to my book stack, which has been packed away for a few months, and grabbed the first box I saw.

Thank goodness for luck, because I discovered “Outcasts & Innocents,” by Alice Wheeler, which was published a few years ago by Minor Matters Books in Seattle.

And boy, is this book perfect for today.

I was just reading a few pages of “The Medium is the Massage,” by the great media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and he said the following, back in 1967:

“Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions.”

(Everything old is new again indeed.)

If I, or anyone else, had written that about 2019, it would sound just about right.

But what about 1999?

Might it not make sense then too, on the cusp of the new Millennium?

Or what about 1992 for that matter? (The First Gulf War, the end of the (extended) Reagan Era, the birth of Grunge, etc?)

This book takes me back, and features a group of musicians, artists, cool kids, anarchists, weirdos, and street freaks that remind me why I became an artist in the first place.

My wife and I just binge-watched “Mozart in the Jungle,” on Amazon, and were inspired/entertained/enthralled by the deep dive into the power of art, and the mysterious need to create that so many of us feel. (4 stars, highly recommended.)

While some people are out there shouting “Make America White Again,” or “Send her back,” or “Jews will not replace us,” all across this (great?) country, there are an equal if not greater number of people who embrace difference, push boundaries, and don’t hate people based on the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation.

Rather, they hate people for being racist, exploiting the poor, or for running corporations that ravage the planet.

This book shows us Nirvana, before they were huge. And WTO protesters, who claimed that Globalization would impact us in nefarious ways not yet contemplated.

It gives us transvestites alive and well, and lying supine in coffins, perhaps dead of AIDS?

There are references to the Green River Killer, who preyed on women, and Bikini Kill, a female punk band that probably would have shoved a drumstick up his ass, and broken it off, if they’d been given half the chance.

We see black and white, and “living” color, but all of it represents a time, now gone, before the internet and social media changed everything?

Or did they?

Students of history know that revolutions in technology have ripped apart existing world orders many times before, and likely will again.

So this summer, which for most has been the hottest ever, (thankfully not for us in Taos,) is a good time to remember that if humanity survives, we’ll likely solve one batch of problems just in time for another to crop up.

That’s just the way it goes.

Bottom Line: Cool, edgy, life-affirming look at the Seattle music scene, back in the day

To purchase “Outcasts & Innocents,” click hereΒ 

This Week in Photography Books: Peter Funch

 

Have you heard about the Uighurs?

In Xinjiang?

They’re people, of Muslim descent, who are getting royally screwed in China these days.

According to reports, as many as 1 million Uighurs are locked up in re-education camps, in Western China, where they’re forced to eat pork and renounce their God.

Happy times!

Seriously, as far as dark humor goes, when I was discussing the Uighur situation with friends in London, I joked that at least they weren’t getting discriminated against, really.

China will re-educate anybody!

(And of course I’m joking.)

The story got a bit of press last month, as I recall reading an editorial or two about the situation. In one article, (maybe in the Guardian?) it mentioned they were using surveillance tech, and digital tracking, to follow people by their routine.

Meaning, any deviation from your normal physical travel route, or usual digital activity, and they would have reason to be suspicious of you.

While Sartre suggested that Hell is other people, the Chinese are using tech to turn your regular routine into a form of prison, if not outright torture.

Welcome to 2019!

(Cue the creepy music. Maybe low-tone piano, with a lumbering pace?)

I’m thinking of this today, having just put down “42nd and Vanderbilt,” a superb book by Peter Funch, which came in last year from TBW Books. (But was published in 2017.)

I told you guys that in the midst of a crazy summer, filled with travel and adventure, there might come a time when I’d lean back on a book review, just to catch my breath.

To create an interval, of even a week, in which I can let my experiences settle into memories, and then decide which ones are worth sharing. (Because everything feels intense and fraught with meaning, when you’re on the road and in the moment.)

So a few minutes ago, I was on the floor stretching, when this book caught my eye on the shelf, still wrapped in plastic. Paul Schiek, a friend of the column, and publisher of TBW Books in Oakland, has been kind to send books over the years, and I haven’t had the chance to review them all.

This one, apparently, was shelved without being perused.
(My apologies.)

We’ll rectify the indignity today though, while also highlighting an amazing project that I’m glad to know about.

I mentioned previously that I’m coming out with my first book this year, and just wrote a statement about how I’m always going on about context, when I write for you.

What do you need to know to understand a book?

Well, this one cuts to the heart of it like the evil dude in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (Sorry for conjuring that visual.)

The book opens with a short statement: “Between 8:30 am and 9:30 am, from 2007 to 2016, at the southern corner of 42nd St and Vanderbilt Avenue in New York City.”

In other words, you don’t need to know anything more than that.

When I first hear 42nd St, I think Times Square.
Midtown.

All the tourist hustle.

But immediately, it becomes clear this is not a story about tourists. Given that I wrote last month about NYC becoming a global city for outsiders, this book presents a series of images that is as old school as it gets.

Shit, it makes me think of Old New York in the best possible way.

Because right away, you notice that people are repeating. With ever so slight differences.

Clothing choice.
Wind in the hair.

These people are on their morning commute!

Commuters!

I love it.

But where?

New York City is famous for a grid, and the Avenues along 42nd Street are numbered.

Where’s Vanderbilt?

I thought about it for a minute or two, and though it should have been obvious, it was not. So finally I opened up Apple Maps. (I’ve been breaking my no-research rule more often lately.)

Of course, Vanderbilt runs alongside Grand Central Station!

Not only are these people commuters, they might not even be New Yorkers. Because the photographer brilliantly stationed himself right next to the biggest transport hub in the city.

(I didn’t know Vanderbilt, because as a Jersey Boy, I’ve always used Penn Station. The trains from NJ don’t go to Grand Central.)

These pictures are so damn good.

The book is like Where’s Waldo mixed with William Christenberry, with a touch of Paul Graham thrown in for good measure.

Just fantastic.

And perfect for an early summer’s day.

I wonder if the streets of New York smell like garbage yet?

Bottom Line: Amazing, conceptual NYC street portraits that play with time

To purchase “42nd and Vanderbilt” click here

 

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 1

 

Part I

My father always said, American politics acts like a pendulum.

It swings to the left and right, at its edges, but seems to course correct before going too far in either direction.

In general, I agree with him.

But my Dad also said that Trump would be removed from office within his first year. (He was sure of it.) As did my brilliant, former graduate-school professor, and he has a PhD.

Each went so far as to pick out a 3 month window during which Trump would go down in 2017.

Honestly, though, I never believed it.

Not for a second.

I countered that no matter how guilty Trump was, no matter how obvious the crime, Republicans would always have to fold en masse for Trump to go down, and I didn’t see it happening.

No matter what.

“If the Republicans won’t turn on him, they can’t convict him in the Senate,” I said, “which means he can do whatever the fuck he pleases.”

And here we are, in 2019.

So it’s no surprise that Bob Mueller comes out and says that he didn’t charge the President because he didn’t have the constitutional authority. And then he drops, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation…”

It’s been noted that that Mueller said, “when,” not “if,” while beseeching everyone to take him at his literal word.

So we wonder how much further it can go, this erosion of our checks and balances?

Do the Republicans want to control everything forever?

One party rule?

Now Trump is again “joking” about serving 4 or 5 terms.

At what point do we take that seriously?

Countries that support one-party rule are not democracies, nor republics. They’re autocracies, or communist entities, or totalitarian states.

A healthy America needs two healthy political parties.

These days, it’s hard not to wonder if our system will withstand the Trump years?

 

Part II

I stayed with my buddy Hugo in London last week. (He made appearances in the column in 2012 and ’13.) Hugo will turn up in the London stories, for sure, though his black Porsche has been sold, I’m afraid.

“Hugo at the bus stop”

As soon as we got to discussing American politics, (Hugo grew up in NYC, but has lived in England since 2007,) he just kept talking about “Divide and Conquer,” shaking his head.

Like, could you Americans be so stupid as to fall for this shit again?

He and I commiserated, as when we were at Pratt, in the early aughts, Post-Modern theory was all the rage then as well. Identity politics were a part of it, but back then, it was more Derrida-heavy.

Like, “Nobody can say anything about anything, because all language is a loaded construct. Every single word can be deconstructed, so nothing means anything in the end.”

It depends upon your definition of the word “is.”
That sort of thing.

These days, it’s been taken a step further, to become: “Nobody can say anything about anything that is outside their personal construct of: gender, class, social status, sexual orientation, race, age, etc.”

Strategically, “Divide and Conquer” works, which is why some rich folks dispatched Steve Bannon over to Europe to organize the far right groups, and simultaneously attack European Unity.

(If you’ve been reading the news, it’s been working. Beyond Italy and Germany and France, even in England, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is thriving.)

But in the American left, and especially in media and the arts, identity politics taken to this extreme is literally succumbing to a divide and conquer strategy.

I’ve written about this stay-in-your-lane-ism for several years, and was perhaps early in identifying it. So let me be the first to say, I think the wave may be cresting.

These ideas were so out there, so front-and-center at Photolucida last month, I expect that we might see a restoration of balance, with respect to any room for concepts of Universalism, or General Humanism, within the photo community.

(Has the shark been jumped?)

At the reviews, multiple photographers showed up at my table near tears, or having recently been in tears, as their work had been attacked for being improper, based upon who they were.

I really don’t know how many people I met who told me their photographs had been considered controversial because they weren’t of a certain ethnic or racial group, or class, so they should not be commenting outside their lane.

Lots of hurt feelings, that’s for sure.

 

Part III

Why ask these questions?
Why go here today?

Well, we’ve found ourselves in Part 1 of The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida, but we’ve done it in a round-about way.

Rather than do a book review, or show you jpegs of portfolios, we’re going to take a short look at three books that ended up in my bag during the week.

The first is “Across the Omo Valley: The Ethnic Groups of Southern Ethiopia,” which I was given during a review by Kelly Fogel.

Now, Kelly was obviously white, and seemed to be a young Jewish-American woman from LA. (She later added that she’s blonde.) Kelly sat down to show me photographs from Africa that seemed to hybridize fashion and art into hip, stylish documents.

I liked the photographs right away, on merit, but could see where the problem was.

Which Kelly quickly confirmed.

She said something along the lines of “What is a white, blonde female photographer from California allowed to shoot these days?”

It’s a paraphrase, yes, but I heard some version of that sentiment again and again. In each case, I assured the photographer that I was open-minded, and willing to consider their work in the context they presented to me.

(I got a lot of smiles of relief each time I said that.)

Ideas flow in cycles, just like politics, and life itself.

I agreed to show Kelly’s work here on APE immediately, but it wasn’t until this morning that I re-discovered she’d slipped me a slim book, and I’m happy to share it with you here. The text pages confirm that Kelly works with organizations, and teaches teens.

 

Now that I think about it, both of the other books I’ll show today were slipped to me by friends, one old and one new, and they both made it into the same little bag I raided this morning, looking for a story to write.

First off: “Days on the Mountain,” by Ken Rosenthal, published by Dark Spring Press in Tucson.

Ken, like Hugo, has made appearances in the column before, as he was with me on that legendary, (and scary as Hell) meth-town-pit-stop in Van Horn, Texas on the way to Marfa.

We’ve been doing these stories here for 9 years now, and I’m lucky to have had friends who pop up now and again over time.

With Ken, though, I haven’t seen much of him the last few years. You’ll have to trust me that he’s been dealing with some really difficult family issues. The kind of shit you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

He’s also a guy I helped get out of a mugging in Tucson back in 2010, and he recently had his next-door-neighbor accidentally shoot a shotgun shell through his wall, right above where his young daughter sleeps.

In other words, luck is not always kind to Ken.

But he’s also a very successful artist with gallery representation, exhibitions, books, you name it.

All the trappings of success.

So when he gave this book to me, I teared up as I flipped through it.

The work was just so different from what I was used to seeing from him. It’s raw, and personal in a way that stripped back artifice.

It’s as close as a diary-for-sanity as I’ve seen, (given that I know him,) and the beauty of the book felt sweeter to me, knowing it was well-earned.

Bugs and bats and bees and trees.
Nature and forest and summer in Washington as salvation.

Not a bad way to kick off the post-Memorial Day weekend summer season.

 

But I like to keep it real, so rather than end typically happy, like Hollywood would, I’m going to finish up with a Hollywood story, but not the one you’re expecting.

On the first morning of the festival, at the first reviewer breakfast, I had a date to meet and chat with Alison Nordstrom, and she kept a seat open for me as a result.

Next to my reserved seat was a young guy I hadn’t met yet: Gregory Eddi Jones, an artist, writer, educator and publisher based in Philly.

He got his MFA at the Visual Studies Workshop, and was a part of a Rochester-NY-educated crew that I’m just learning exists in the wide Photo Land.

Greg and I hung out a few times, and I got to see some of his new work, which is currently being exhibited at the Foam Talent exhibition in London.

In Portland, on the last morning of the event, just as people were departing, Greg gave me a copy of his 2014 book “Another Twenty-Six Gas Stations.”

(Pause.)

OK. Did you have your judgmental thoughts yet?

About how nobody can possibly bring anything new to Ed Ruscha’s classic-LA concept?

Are you done?

Because I had the thought, and I saw it flash before a few peoples’ eyes when I described the book to them too.

But…these are screenshots from gas station surveillance video feeds broadcast online.

The mayhem and horror predate the Trump era, obviously, because the project is 5 years old. Yet it feels so NOW, so of the moment, so “Cops” on Molly laced with fentanyl.

I love it, and I bet you will too.

See you next week.

This Week in Photography Books: Trace

 

Let’s be honest.

The right piece of advice, at just the right time, can make all the difference.

For example, a friend once told me, when the voices in your head get too loud, turn the music up even louder.

(That’s wisdom, people.)

I decided to try it on Tuesday, as I twitched and shook from the collective exhaustion of a full-week on the road in Portland, followed by a 2-day-trip-home, after flight cancellations and delays saw me land in Albuquerque in the middle of the night.

I had one song that I thought might do the trick, once I finally got home, so I ran a hot bath, and turned that shit up as loud as it would go.

What was my magic musical potion, you ask?

The “Old Town Road Remix” by Lil’ Nas X.

Have you heard it yet?

That shit is so hot it makes my eyeballs melt. A genuine 2019 fusion that shakes the rump and boggles the mind.

And given that not ONE but TWO top African-American NFL draft picks ran videos of them riding their horses, last week during the draft telecast, this song is totally of the now.

Straight out of the Dirty South.

Who knows why places have their moment at a given time?

In Hip-Hop, of course there’s the Bronx and Queens for the early days, and the world would be very different if Ice Cube and Dre had never come along out there in California. (You too, EZ.)

But that Atlanta trap sound over the last few years, with artists like Migos, has felt like a true cultural breakthrough in the age of Trump.

And perhaps it actually arose in opposition?

It’s definitely a theme I discovered at Photolucida last week. So many photographers, (including me,) had their stories of a project, or image, that was catalyzed by the campaign/election/inauguration/Trump’s first two years.

Quick synopsis: the trip was genuinely brilliant, and one of the best I’ve ever had.

But I’m far to tired and woozy, (or Bad and Bougie,) to get into the details today.

Especially as Portland will certainly be a 3 or 4 part series in the coming months.

Rather, we’re going to do a short-ish book review, so I can go drool on myself in the corner and try not to operate heavy machinery.

A few months ago, “Trace,” a little, sleek, 3-book-collection turned up in the mail from Yoffy Press in, (you guessed it,) Atlanta, GA.

I’ve reviewed two of their publications before, the experimental “1864,” by Matthew Brandt, and the excellent, photography-to-combat-depression-movement-building “Too Tired For Sunshine,” by Tara Wray.

In a world of true confessions, the publisher, Jennifer Yoffy, is a long time colleague who came out to ski this February, and we’re in discussions to do a book together, which will be my first. (If you can believe it.)

I’ve gone on the record before with these relationships, so you can decide for yourself if I’m showing you good work, or being nepotistic. (Or both.)

But in this case, I’ve supported her program in the column before, and this book arrived before we even decided to work together, so I feel like we’re in the clear. (You may, of course, disagree.)

“Trace” is a compilation of 3 small books, as I said, and it’s not hard to keep them in order, once they come out of the slip, because the title spells itself out across the collection.

Kota Ezawa’s book is first, and it’s a head trip for sure. The truth is, they all are. This book is a literal embodiment of how I feel as a human being right now, and for that, I love it.

For his book, Kota Ezawa presents an image that builds piece by piece, and is clearly not photographic. Only at the end, or nearly the end, do we realize that it’s built upon one of the most iconic images ever made: JFK’s family by his graveside.

The image grows, section by section, and then you know what it is. Of course that last picture, adding in John Jr, tugs at your heart in a surprising way.

Book 2 is by my long-time colleague Tabitha Soren, by now an acclaimed artist, who was once known as a very-young VJ on MTV, in another lifetime.

I saw these pictures, from the project “Surface Tension,” at Euqinom Gallery in San Francisco in 2017, and thought they were incredible. Ironically, she’d once showed me an early version, on a tablet, at a festival, and I didn’t get it.

I was dubious.

But as prints on the wall, and in book form, (and fully finished,) this project is as smart as it is visually arresting. Scary cats, scary Harvey Weinstein, it’s all the same.

Our made marks, and our attentions spun, are all pulsing through our devices these days.

The Matrix has arrived, and we’re all plugging in willingly.

Final shout out to the title page on Tabitha’s book, as they are surprisingly good. I’ll be sure to photograph it for below.

Finally, the package has a book by Penelope Umbrico, an artist I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak twice, and have interviewed for the column as well. (Check out the long read here.)

Penelope is easily one of the smartest artists I’ve encountered, and yet she manages to use visuals well too. (Total package.)

This project features just the digital circles and made marks, the trace lines around defects on used screens being sold on Ebay.

She spends hours and hours, collectively years of her life, pursuing the digital rabbit holes that help us understand the world around us.

Penelope, I salute you.

And now, as I still have to work today, and even tomorrow, (before I get the nap I so dearly deserve,) I will leave you.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, smart, killer little compilation

To purchase “Trace” click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Alexa Vachon

 

It’s Passover coming up this weekend.

(Or Easter, depending on your religious affiliation.)

It’s a holy time of year for the Jewish people, as it represents the Israelites escape from Egypt, fleeing slavery. According to the Torah, (or the Old Testament,) the Jews then spent 40 years in the desert before being allowed into the kingdom of Israel.

To Christians, Jesus was killed during Passover, crucified for his beliefs. Then, according to the New Testament, he was resurrected, as Jesus was the son of God.

I know that in Iran, they have a New Year, or renewal celebration in Spring as well.

Maybe it’s called Narwaz?

(Pause…rare Google break…)

Nowruz. (So close.)

Just like pagan mid-winter celebrations became Christmas, and Catholic churches were built atop Aztec religious sites, ancient belief structures are embedded within later ones, and some human behaviors have remained constant.

Chief among them: when groups of people are threatened with death, they flee.

Whether Jews from the Pharaoh, (or the Nazis thousands of years later,) or Syrians and Afghans in the 21st Century, running for your life is nothing new.

And even countries like ours, famed for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis-Island ethos, have also turned backs on immigrant groups in the past, be they Chinese, Jewish, or Mexican.

To me, little in life is more evil than demonizing the very people who are running from killers. Whether threatened by criminal gangs, like MS-13 in El Salvador, or political groups like the Taliban or ISIS, refugees choose between certain death if they stay put, or the hope of a better life if they make way successfully to the US, Germany, or Sweden.

That a nationalistic counter-reaction was also launched is no surprise, given what we know of history. That DARK, DARK past, from the 19-teens through the mid-1940’s is a reminder that we must take nativism very seriously.

Propagating positive narratives, and humanizing refugees is a pretty excellent way to spend one’s time, if you believe any of what I wrote above to be true.

So big shout out to Alexa Vachon, who sent me her new book “Rise” late last year. It arrived from Berlin with a nice note, and the book is in English, German, and several Central Asian languages I didn’t recognize. (Persian, for sure.)

I think it’s self-published, and there is grant funding thanked at the end, so it seems plausible, despite the excellent production values.

Early on, I parsed that the hand-written text, on certain picture pages, was diaristic by the artist. It is in English, and she mentions being an immigrant, so while I’d normally think American, something reminded me that she could be Canadian as well.

The end notes confirm a Canadian Council for the Arts grant, so we can assume that Ms. Vachon is a Canadian artist living in Berlin, and it seems like she’s been around a while.

The narrative, which I’d call super-inspiring, centers upon CHAMPIONS ohne GRENZEN, a Berlin organization that hooks up native Germans with new refugee immigrants, so they can play soccer together.

Many of the young women have not played before, so it’s a way of integrating people and culture simultaneously.

There are a lot of excellent photos, and also various forms of interview text confirming that running for your life from ISIS, or the Taliban is not for the faint of heart.

If I have any criticism, (and I do,) it’s that there is probably too much of everything here. It could do with a trim of images and text, just because it would tighten the impact of both, I’d suggest.

On balance, though, it’s an excellent book, and in particular I like the subsection of dot-grain-type-black-and-white pictures.Β I always recommend something to break up the narrative, and this is both clever and cool.

The aforementioned thank you page includes some big names, (including oft-thanked-Alec-Soth,) so it’s clear that Ms. Vachon has some good mentors and/or teachers.

No surprise, given the book’s quality.

But since she sent it to me, I’ll stress the lesson that sometimes, or most of the time, really, less is more. Especially when the heart of your story is so compelling.

Overall, though, a great, inspiring book for the season of renewal and rebirth.

See you next week.

Bottom Line: Lovely, heart-warming book about refugee soccer players in Berlin

To purchase “Rise” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Katherine Longly

 

America is a fast food nation.

We know this.

You may not eat at McDonalds, or Wendy’s, or Burger King, but millions of other people do.

Why?

Because it’s fast, cheap, and packed with flavor and fat. (Of course, all cooks know those last two go together.) Sure, chemical companies supply products that boost the food’s tastiness, but most people don’t care what’s in the crap, as long as it fills them up.

This is not news to you, of course, as billions of words have been written about America’s obesity crisis, and whether anything can be done to slim down our collective waist line.

I know how to keep myself fit, these days, mostly because I’ve had phases in life when I put on weight. I was never obese, thankfully, but chubby, fat, heavy, puffy, or rotund would not have been inappropriate adjectives for me at different times. (As a youth, at my wedding, or the summer of 2016, when I had knee tendinitis.)

Eventually, I realized the body weight math is pretty simple. If you burn more calories than you ingest, you won’t get fat. If you eat a lot more than you burn, consistently, you’re screwed.

In my life, times of weight gain tended to track with stress and unhappiness, but were ALWAYS accompanied by a lack of exercise.

If you eat lots of pizza, drink plenty of beer, and don’t exercise, you’re going to gain weight.

It’s just math.

These days, I’ve added exercise into my life in several ways, and it can be as addictive as the bad substances. So keeping fit, and not going too heavy on the sweets has helped me reach an equilibrium.

(But it took 42 years to figure that shit out, which is nothing to brag about.)

People’s relationship to food often determines whether they’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight, but even more, it depends on their relationships with other people. Over-eating and under-eating, both of which can make a person sick, are often coping strategies, or outlets, for people with unresolved emotional issues.

It’s a fact.

Once the pounds are on, of course, they’re much harder to take off. And when it happens to an entire society, as it has here in America, who the fuck knows how to solve the problem?

Today, though, I’m not actually thinking about it as an American issue. Rather, as most of the world knows, the United States has exported many, if not most, of our major fast food franchises.

So other countries, and their citizenries, are now forced to deal with the same issues, even in places that have long had their own, indigenous, healthy cuisines.

How messed up is that? Our corporations actively make some people, in far-flung places, fat and sick.

USA!
USA!
USA!

(Yes, that was an ironic chant.)

Why am I on about this today? Why not write about all the brilliant food I ate in NYC this week? (I’ll get to that in an upcoming travel piece. With photos this time!)

Well, my musings were inspired by “To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit.”, a small-batch photo-book that turned up in the mail late last year by Belgian artist Katherine Longly.

Man, is this book cool. Honestly, if I can get more edgy, artsy projects like this from you guys, I’m willing to step off my soap-box and stop bitching about how all photo books look alike.

This submission is different than any before, as Ms. Longly reached out, and offered to send the book to me, if I’d sent it back. (She provided return postage.)

When she explained that it was a prototype, one built by hand, with countless hours of exacting labor, I said, “Sure, why not?” and eventually it turned up in the mail.

Apparently, Ms. Longly spent some time doing residencies in Japan, and this amazing little object was the result.

It opens up with a photo in a sleeve, facing backwards, and when you take it out, you see a photo of a chubby young girl. Right away, I assumed it was the artist. (Not sure why.)

Overall, the book does a deep dive into Japan’s relationship to food, as men have seen an uptick in obesity over the years, some of which is directly attributable to a more Americanized diet. (In particular in Okinawa, due to its US Military history.)

Women, though, face the opposite problem. Due to cultural pressures that are, and are not unique to Japan, (media saturation with young, skinny models and actresses,) many young Japanese women are underweight.

In a society of plenty, (as opposed to their Post-WWII scarcity,) Japanese women are seeing higher rates of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

This is not something for which we can blame Trump, (despite his love of fast food,) but it does seem as if the West has made Japan sicker. (Simultaneously, we fell in love with sushi, which we’ve imported over here like crazy, despite the falling rates of fish in the sea.)

The book features some slick, weird photos at the outset, but then switches to a conceptual approach, in which a set of people living in Japan were asked to make disposable-camera-photographs of their food intake, and share stories about their relationship to it.

Some have eating disorders, some battle with childhood fears of being fat, and others long to cook the best food they possibly can. (Even if it means changing up the type of apples in a family cake recipe.)

Throughout, really cool graphics and research documentation are included, so that facts and stats are mixed with the personal narratives.

And then in the end, we get to see another 4×6 photo of the artist, this time as a grown-up, in a plastic sleeve. (A nice connection to the beginning.)

Like last week, this is a book begging to be photographed, so I’ll make sure to include a lot of pictures down below.

Today wasn’t the day to brag about my New York gluttony, but I’ll get to that in the coming weeks. (Thankfully, I walked so many miles in the city that I came home without any extra pounds.)

Rather, I’ll leave you to contemplate this killer book, which somehow manages to be personal, while also exposing the artist, (and by extension, us,) to an alien culture filled with flavored kit kats and fermented bar snacks.

Bon Appetit!

Bottom Line: Fantastic, original maquette about Japanese food culture

To contact the artist about the book, click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Oliver Wasow

 

Last week, I dropped 1800 words on you.

That’s a lot.

I also resuscitated a dormant format here on the blog, by writing what was essentially a straight travel piece. (And only one measly picture at the end?)

This morning, I received an email from a Denver-based reader suggesting that they have quite enough people living there, thank you very much, and perhaps I shouldn’t entice any more.

Point taken.

Before too long, they’ll have a solid line of helicopters flying the rich folks West to the ski areas, while the plebes sit in 7 hour traffic on I-70.

I mention it here today, because it felt good to fire up my creativity and take the column in a new direction. But also… because after asking you to read what was essentially an extra column last week, today, as I strive for balance, I’ll keep it short.

Might it have something to do with the massive to-do list I’ve got to check off before I leave town Thursday morning?

Yes, it might.

But the bigger reason is that I love the week-to-week connections that develop in a platform like this. The way ideas can drop with the last period of a column, and pick up again the next week.

One of the things I’ve been banging on about lately is that so many photo books look alike. Just last week, in an unsuccessful 3-book-run through the book pile before I decided to go off-script, I looked at a book for the second time, and still, couldn’t get to the end, because it looked so much like everything else.

Landscape.
Portrait.
Interior.
Pretty picture.

Landscape.
Landscape.
Portrait.
Interior.
Ugly landscape.

Pick any place, anywhere, and then substitute all the other places that look like it, (or are similar culturally,) and your mind slowly begins to rot from the inside.

I also made a plea for more submissions of the weird, small batch, artsy stuff I used to get from photo-eye, in the years they lent books for the column.

So imagine my surprise when I reached into the same stack, sifted through a box of books, and came out with “Friends Enemies and Strangers,” a photobook by Oliver Wasow, published last year by Saint Lucy Books in Baltimore.

(Speaking of Baltimore, random tangent, but I’m sure you’ve all seen David Simon’s seminal “The Wire” by now. But if you haven’t seen “Treme,” his subsequent, far-less-well-known love letter to New Orleans, check it now for free on Prime Video.)

I gather from reading the stellar essays by Rabih Almeddine and Matthew Weinstein that Oliver Wasow has been around for a while, and is something of an art world darling. Certainly, the essays suggest he was messing around with digital manipulations in the 80’s, and that Photoshop is his jam.

The title, and the structure of the book hint at the concept, as it contains “made” photos of people Mr. Wasow knows, found images that we later learn were sourced from the internet, and then tackily-on-purpose altered renderings of Republican political enemies, as an act of post-2016 rebellion.

Honestly, I wish I’d thought of fucking with pictures of Bannon, Miller, Trump, Don Jr, Eric, Ivanka, Jared, Sarah Sanders, Sean Spicer and the whole lot of them.

You may be surprised that I didn’t write a Trump column after the Mueller report landed, but really, what is there left to say that I haven’t already said?

I promised you a short column, and I aim to deliver.

This book is mental, as the English might say, but I mean that as a compliment. It’s strange, weird, odd, and off-putting in all the right ways. But it also has a heart, as the photos of friends and family against painted backgrounds are cool, and not totally ironic either.

I’ll photograph a few extra pics below, so you can get a proper feel for this one.

Now I’m off to strike another item of my to-do list. (Yes, I wrote it by hand on a yellow legal pad. Old school!)

Bottom Line: Odd, fun, political, cool book of manipulated pictures

To Purchase: “Friends Enemies and Strangers” click here

PS: I normally don’t notice (or mention) these things, but this book is only $30 with free US shipping

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Ingvar Kenne

 

I’m going back to Jersey next month.

(It’s been a while.)

My cousin’s daughter is having a Bat Mitzvah in early April, and if I told you it took me two months to plan my trip, you’ll have to trust that I mean it.

The amount of phone calls, texts, internet searches, Orbitz fuckovers, and general stress that went into it were enough to give me an ulcer.

Well, that’s not true.
I don’t have an ulcer.

I don’t even really know what that means.

It just sounded good.

You could imagine me shaking my finger at you, raging like a grumpy old man, about how much stress my travel plans caused me.

(It’s all because Mercury is in retrograde, I was recently told.)

Things are mostly locked down now, thankfully, and I can officially report I’ll be visiting AIPAD on Friday April 5th, in the early afternoon, in case you’d like to say hello. (APE audience meet-up?)

It looks like I’ll be taking cars, trains, planes, monorails, cabs, Ubers, boats, and an airport shuttle, all just to ping around the Tri-State area like the pinball that is Donald Trump Jr’s attention span.

“Dad, can I have a puppy? I mean a new go-kart. I mean Richard Pryor. No, I mean a gold fish. No, a football team. Daddy, can you buy me a football team? Buy me a football team, Daddy! But not in the NFL. I want a team in the USFL, Daddy, the USFL!”

The upshot is, I’m going to get drunk at a 13 year old girl’s birthday party.

Now, if you know me, you probably think I’m being ironic here. That I’m making fun of the situation. (Or taking the piss, as the English say.)

But I’d never do that because it would get back to my cousin Stefanie, and she’s so tough she’d cut me.

So I’m definitely not making fun of this party.

Rather, I’m excited.

People go all out back there in Jersey, when it comes to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Great food, booze, entertainment, music, dancing.

Everyone’s in a good mood.

Dancing Grandma’s are always a great visual, and needless to say people always hide out in the parking lot to smoke a ton of @#$#%$#$.

For whatever reason, this ancient Jewish rite of passage, in which 13 signifies being a grown up, (I’m sure it probably all comes from marrying kids off young. Yes, it’s gross. But that’s not the point today,) morphed into a 20th/21st Century tradition of getting dressed up, dropping a ton of cash on the whole experience, and partying like the caviar is running out of the sea.

(Oh wait. Bad example.)

I haven’t been to one of these in a few years, and even that one was in Boulder, which is the Jewish equivalent of Norway, compared to the mother-land of the greater NYC area.

I’m properly fired up.

I mean, it’s not like I’m gearing up for a bachelor party.

That would be inauthentic, as I’ve never been to one. (Not even my own.) I had a bougie weekend with my brother and two friends, eating prosciutto-wrapped, barbecued oysters and drinking expensive wine in Napa, and if I had it to do over again, I’m pretty sure I’d go in a different direction.

My Australian buddy Pappy was there with me, enjoying each and every bit of the gluttony, but secretly, deep down, I think he knew that I was copping out.

Hard.

Those Aussies.

They don’t do partying half-way.
No, sir.

Don’t you wish you could be a fly on the wall for all that insanity, when the Australians really let it go?

I bet you do.

What’s that?
Can I help you?

Why yes, I suppose I can.

I could show you “The Ball,” by Ingvar Kenne, published by Journal, which turned up in the mail early this year. (Can you believe 2019 is already 1/4 over? WTF?)

This book is exactly, perfectly, just what I was looking for today.

(Thank you, party gods.)

I’m being serious, though, as I set down the first book I looked at today, a book I liked. It was perfectly nice, had nice-looking pictures with good light, and great color, but it didn’t have a POV that I could discern.

The pictures were taken all over the world, and I found them pleasing. They were likable, like Beto O’Rourke. But the second I put the book down and tried to write, my fingers wouldn’t move.

I asked myself to remember one image.
Just one.

But I couldn’t do it.

(Even though they were really good.)

Instead, I thought of the negative review I could write. Telling this person to get herself or himself some deeper life experience, if she or he were going to submit these photographs, these “reality fragments,” for our collective viewing.

I always tell my students, the aesthetics are the punch in the face. The thing that gets people’s attention and stops them in their tracks.

Then what?

What do you have to say?

That comes next, once your viewer is paying attention.

With that book I put down, I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything about the world, beyond the fact that the photographer was a good technician, and had a massive travel budget.

But here, with this new book, “The Ball,” I had no worries for lack of opinionated content.

No one, today, needs to worry about a wishy-washy book, nor of seeing things that they’ve seen before. (Unless you’re young and Australian.)

According to some smart-yet-spare end text, (including a written correspondence with Australian writer Tim Winton,) we learn that the Bachelor and Spinster Balls are a part of the culture.

Upon second examination, I realized I still don’t know that that means. Are they bachelor and bachelorette parties rolled into one?

(Pause.)

OK, I’m back.

Took a rare Google break. Looks like they’re just big parties for young people, out in the bush.

So…

The writings discuss ideas like the historical role of initiation rituals, and whether this fits in as a cultural right-of-passage.

Like when the Amish kids go wild.
What do they call that? Rumspringa?

As a photo critic who very recently was complaining of getting tired of the same old thing…

I give you, the Bachelor and Spinster Ball.

Humans doing disgusting things!

Enjoy.

And see you next week.

Bottom Line: Awesome, crazy pictures of Aussie kids behaving badly

To purchase “The Ball” click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Peggy Levison Nolan

 

Parenting isn’t glamourous.

That’s for sure.

I always knew I’d have kids, and given how much I relish being a Dad, I guess I had it right.

(I used the word “relish” here, because I don’t know if “enjoy” is quite right.)

I love my children more than anything, and would take a bullet for either of them, as I would for my wife.

No question.

And each of the kids, both 21st creatures through and through, are funny, thoughtful, sweet and smart.

I enjoy them as people, no question. They’re awesome.

Just last night, when I was putting my daughter to bed, I tickled her, she ripped a huge fart as a result, and we laughed so hard my belly hurt. (Or maybe that was the lard-bomb-enchiladas my wife brought home…)

I cherish being a parent.
I value it.
It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Being a parent has made me a smarter, more capable, more compassionate, empathetic, successful person.

But it’s not “fun.” (And I don’t love the parenting, I love the kids.)

It’s way too hard to be fun, generally speaking.

There are parts of the experience that are great, and specific time periods or vacations that, as an exception, might be pure bliss.

But on a macro-level, it is grueling to constantly find the energy to be a full-time professional, and a full-time Dad.

We hear about that all the time, with respect to the impossibility of working Moms having it all, or being perfect in each arena, but we guys have the same problem too!

With each successive generation, new parents learn just how comprehensive it is to give life, and then sustain it.

But with each successive generation, one group of people get to have all the fun, without (almost) any of the responsibility: the grandparents.

Hell, Jessie and I moved back to Taos so that we could raise our children, (then hypothetical,) among two sets of grandparents: for the help, the support, the encouragement, the diapers funds, and all sorts of privileges that come from having built-in help.

It’s likely that I haven’t said thank you often enough, (though it’s a word I bandy about often,) because the grandparents treat the entire experience, (the same one that’s giving me gray beard-hairs,) like it’s a big trip to Six Flags on Ecstasy all day, every day.

Who wants more ice cream?
How about some chocolate sauce on top?

And don’t let me forget to pour the whipped cream directly into your mouth! (Just joking, Dad, you know I think it’s cute.)

Grand-parenting looks like the “fun-do-over” that all parents realize they want, (too late with their own kids,) because they were too stressed and freaked out to enjoy it when their babies were young and adorable.

I mention this now, having just put down “Real Pictures,” a book that arrived last fall from Peggy Levison Nolan, published by Daylight. According to the end text, Ms. Nolan is the mother of 7 children, whom she’s photographed all along, but this book focuses squarely on their lives as adult children, with a slew of grand-kids in tow.

This is one of the books I mentioned recently, as I’d looked at it once and deemed it too similar to “Born,” which I reviewed not too long ago. But it seemed like it was worth re-visiting, as I knew I’d first viewed it in a bad mood, and it was at least intriguing enough to get into the maybe stack.

(In fairness, I missed the page with the subtitle “Tales of a Badass Grandma” the first time around.)

Today, the book’s bright, reddish-orange color caught the sunlight, and I picked it up again with fresh eyes.

Almost immediately, I was attracted to the cheeky insouciance with which these parenting adventures were photographed. There’s a brief opening statement in which the artist shares that she has kids, and honors her oldest daughter, who apparently led her younger siblings on a Western migration.

I was consistently intrigued by this sense of remove, of watching the action from the slightest distance, while still being in the room.

The pictures certainly don’t feel like they’re made of strangers, especially given the intimacy of the several baby butt shots. (Which I won’t photograph below, for obvious reasons.)

The kid in the diaper up the pole is a great image, and it’s paired with the dirty, painted feet standing on a chair. Most of the images use color and light well, (Thanks, California,) while also showing the behind-the-curtain, absurdist mundanity of it all.

The end text shares that Peggy Levison Nolan makes photo albums for each of her children, and the pictures are the same ones in this book. They may look like art, but to her, (and her family,) they are a personal history that we all get to share.

Just before the essays, there’s a short poem about (presumably) the artist waking up to thrift-store-painted portraits on the wall, rather than the sounds of her family.

And the last photo is (presumably) of her aged feet in bed.

It’s a powerful way to bring the story home, and I’m glad I gave this strong book another look.

Bottom Line: Visions from a hip grandma

To Purchase “Real Pictures” click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, andΒ artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program.Β 

This Week in Photography Books: Nick St. Oegger

 

Sometimes, I feel like an armchair Tony Bourdain.

(Minus the depression, thankfully.)

I still have a hard time thinking about Tony, as his death both hit me hard, and exposed the power of his through-the-camera-charm.

When Tony killed himself, there was an outpouring of global grief that I’ve seen very few times.

It was big when Pope John Paul died.
Sure.

And David Bowie.
People got really upset about that one.

But even a President like Ronald Fucking Reagan made barely a blip, when he finally gave up the ghost, while a Jewish-French Jersey boy, a former heroin addict who eventually got hooked on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, managed to shake the world with his passing.

Why?

It’s a fair question to ask, now that it’s been long enough for the emotions to have settled.

Tony lived a huge chunk of his late life on camera, and the guy that emerged for his audience was cool, smart, curious, funny, interested, intellectual, and above all, respectful.

He treated each person he met, in every country, with an innate dignity that made that person like and respect him right back.

Beyond the cool, party-guy, hard-drinking persona, there was the soul of an artist, as well as a cook. (Cooks don’t often call themselves chefs, and vice versa.)

I can’t imagine how a guy with that much to live for could feel so awful as to believe that a noose was his only way out.

He must have felt really, really shitty to do what he did.

But I can imagine how it must have felt, all those years into the job, when he began to truly understand just how alike all the places in the world were.

At some point, (the law of diminishing returns,) it simply must have been impossible to summon the energy to ask one more question, no matter how interesting his counterpart might be.

(I’m not saying I’m burned out, because that’s not true.)

Last week, I went into my own memory to pull out an important book to share with you, because I could. That creative freedom is special, and probably the number one reason why I have avoided boredom or flamed out.

Rather, after 7.5 years of doing this each week, the world has come to me several times over. A few years back, I wrote that I’d reviewed projects from every continent, and now it’s likely been twice.

These days, there are really few places that I haven’t seen, virtually, via photographs.

As such, all the meta-stories become really obvious.

Most people just try to raise their families in a safe environment, get as nice a lifestyle as they can, and live in an area that offers economic opportunity, a clean environment, and lots of social and cultural options.

Good luck finding a magic place like that.

And the ones that do exist, and are well known, have become inaccessibly expensive for most “regular” people. (I’m looking at you New York, San Francisco, and from, what I hear, LA.)

Money and power have always ruled the world, and always will. Those resources congregate in cities, which means that there is deep rural poverty across much of the world.

In those out-of-the-way places, young people flock to cities for the aforementioned reasons. Older people are left to run the vestiges of an agricultural economy, with a dwindling population, and few resources.

The natural resources that sustain these rural communities, (unless they’re in some of the few global countries that have strong, enforceable environmental protections,) will likely be manipulated by larger, governmental and corporate interests.

Those power players often trade environmental degradation for cash, or energy development, at the expense of those poor rural villagers who lack the funds, education, and/or organizing capacity to fight back in any meaningful way.

(Or, just as likely, the country in which that happens lacks the rule of law at all.)

So I was both engaged, and not entirely surprised, to read of the plight of the Vjosa river in Albania.

I was looking at “KuΓ§edra: Portraits of Life on Europe’s Last Wild River,” by Nick St. Oegger, which was self-published last year. (With funding from Patagonia and several other environmental organizations.)

It showed up from Ireland, though the bio at the end says that Nick was born in California. (So I’m not sure if he’s an American living in Ireland, or an Irishman who was born in America.)

Though it’s far from brilliant, I like this book, and am writing about it, which is always the number one compliment I can give. It inspired my creativity, and made me think about something.

(In this case, Tony Bourdain.)

I’ve never been to Albania, and outside of working for an Albanian guy in a restaurant in the East Village, (he fired me,) I don’t know much about the place.

It occupies that Macedonian region, south of the old Yugoslavia, but North of that whole Greece/Turkey axis.

What’s it like?

An early map shows how much Adriatic coastline it sports, (and it made me think, hmmmm, I bet there are some cool beach towns there,) but the Vjosa only dead ends in the sea, so this is a more inland affair.

(With wandering, ambling, fresh water, in lieu of the endless, salty horizon of the sea. Like I said last week, I need a vacation.)

The Vjosa interlinks ancient rural communities who indeed face the problems I wrote of above.

Dwindling populations, no jobs.

A strong, clear essay at the beginning, by a professor in Slovenia, tells us that women used to marry upriver, and move into their husbands’ communities over the generations.

The metaphor she uses, of upstream representing fresh and new, of young and vibrant, makes sense in an old-school DNA way, as in small villages, if you keep moving in one direction, your cousins will always be behind you. (Meaning, you won’t marry them.)

It keeps the genetics fresh, which is so important in isolated, rural communities. (Remember, I live in one.)

As the federal power structure has begun to dam the river, in search of hydro power, the culture and environment are both at risk, and communities have organized to battle.

But really, in 2019, how many of us think the villagers will win?

The text tells us the EU is trying to strong-arm Albania into behaving better, environmentally, but they’re doing what they want now, in case they do ever join the EU, and give up sovereignty.

I like the pictures, and the light in particular. They’re certainly lovely, in some cases outright beautiful. One concern, though, before I knew whether Nick was Irish or American, was why he was in Albania in the first place?

Where was the intentionality, or deep connection to time and place?

And these did not seem like they were shot over a long duration.

In the portraits, the villagers are often guarded, or look away, which is a tell-tale sign that there is a large chasm between the photographer and the subject.

Last week, I bemoaned the fact that so many of these books look alike these days. (A plea, perhaps, for some edgy submissions?)

This one is not dramatically different in style or content from most books, and I know I’ve equated Albania with many other places, but overall, the book does give us a sense of the smell in the air, I’d say.

And it is undoubtedly the first book I’ve seen from Albania, which is always high on my list of getting a review: showing us perspectives we’ve never seen before.

As I looked at it, I did wonder if its raison d’Γͺtre might be that it was funded by environmental interests, or a national tourism board.

It’s got something of that feel, and in the end, we learn that’s what transpired. Eco-tourism is one of the few potentially clean economic engines for places like the Vjosa, so I wish those warriors well as they fight the powers that be.

Now I can say I know what rural, agricultural Albania looks like, and so can you.

We’re along for the ride together, and I never forget it.

Bottom Line: An beautiful eco-tale from Albania

To purchase “KuΓ§edra” click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We currently have a several month backlog, and are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program.

This Week in Photography Books: Cristina Garcia Rodero

I’m turning 45 on Monday.

(Halfway to 90.)

As of then, I can say I’ve been an artist for more than half my life, as I picked up the habit at 22, and it hasn’t let go yet.

Lately, though, I find I don’t have quite the thrill for photography that I used to.

It makes sense, as it’s been my primary medium the entire time. (Though one could argue I’ve been writing more than shooting the last few years.)

Still, doing the same thing, over and over again, will make almost anyone bored. (I say almost, because now that I’ve studied Japanese martial arts for 2 months, I already have a better handle on their obsession with repetition.)

Add in the fact that as resident book reviewer here, (400+ posts and counting,) I see a lot of photo projects, and it’s understandable that I’d get a bit jaded from time to time.

(I probably just need a vacation.)

Still, I love to be surprised, to see new things, and to keep it fresh for you, my loyal global audience.

Today, I was loathe to review the first few books I checked out, as they were reminiscent of things I’d reviewed quite recently. So I sat here on my couch, willing myself to be inspired to write.

Got to hit that deadline.

No inspiration, no column.

I closed my eyes, thinking about the feeling of inspiration. The rush of adrenaline as your mind expands in real time. The thrill of looking at things that make you want to create, or travel, or both.

In my imagination, I was back in Albuquerque at UNM, in 1997. I was studying Photo 1 at the time, and at the encouragement of my professor, Jeff Tomlinson, I headed to the Fine Arts library to look at some photo books.

Walking the stacks, creeping around like Inspector Javert, I ran my fingers across the spines in the photo section, cocking my head sideways to read the titles.

I stopped at “EspaΓ±a Oculta: Public Celebrations in Spain 1974-89,” by Cristina Garcia Rodero, published by Smithsonian Books, and pulled it from its neighboring tomes.

“What are you,” I asked, curious to know?

15 years is a long time, and as I’m coming up on my 14th anniversary of moving back to New Mexico, I should know. It represents the length of this project, and even then, as a pure beginner, I wondered how anyone could sustain that kind of interest in one subject for that long.

The focus.
The discipline.

These days, I can imagine a Spaniard, around 30 or so, who enjoyed shooting at festivals in her native country, and checked in from time to time over a decade and a half. It doesn’t seem impossible, though at 23, that’s exactly how I viewed it.

The consistent surreality of the scenes won me over, and still does. The disbelief that these were real people, in real situations, and not staged fantasies.

Even then, as young-20-something who’d only been around New Mexico for 10 years, I’d heard stories of local Penitente societies still active, in which believers self-flagellated, and wore hoods.

Here, in the book, were versions of that before me, only exponentially more intricate. The Baroque nature of Spanish Catholicism was on full display, with crucifixion rituals, baby coffins, and midget bull-fighters. (Sorry. Little People.)

I bought the book soon afterwards, at the ICP bookstore in Manhattan, likely 3 or 4 locations back.

And even though it remains my favorite photo-book of all time, somehow, in between all the moves…

I lost it.

Luckily, Ms. Garcia Rodero is a member of Magnum, and they have a digital copy of the entire book on their site, which is a very 21st Century experience. (Even if it’s not the equal of those excellent reproductions on paper.)

The pictures feel relevant to me in a totally new way, on the day when Michael Cohen is testifying about his former-boss-and-buddy Donald J Trump.

Trumpism and Nationalism can be easily mistaken for each other, these days, though I might be generous and declare the latter is at least based on a proper love for the cultures and traditions of a place on Earth.

(Again, if I’m being kind. Trumpism is nothing more than narcissism having an incest baby with geopolitics.)

Here in America, we’re all from somewhere else. All of us. (Even our indigenous folks walked in 15,000 years ago.)

Our culture is polyglot and hybridic by nature. Many Americans, (myself included,) are Europhiles, either because their ancestors came from there, or because the allure of age and aesthetics entice us to stare longingly at rituals that make no sense next to Walmart and McDonalds.

These pictures revel in the “Spanishness” that you read, in think-pieces, is at risk of disappearing. The very specificity of place and time that gets annihilated when beanie-wearing-hipsters FaceTime with each other across national borders, giggling at outmoded concepts like local culture while fiddling with their Apple watches.

The Globalists.

Was that even a word when I first saw this book, back before the internet was even a thing?

Probably not.

But certain ideas represented in “EspaΓ±a Oculta” never go out of style. Creative excellence, formal craftsmanship, patience and hard work, and shooting thousands of rolls of film.

After all these years, I’ve never reviewed a book from memory before, but there’s a first time for everything.

If you can find a copy of this one, by all means buy it. (Or probably anything else of hers you can get your hands on.) I once stumbled upon her show, at MoMAPS1, in which she’d made images of Voodoo rituals in Haiti that practically gave me nightmares.

Truth be told, I feel better now than I did before I found her images online, and reconnected with this marvelous narrative.

It’s an example of the best our medium has to offer, IMO, and reminds me why it’s so important to keep pushing that rock up the hill each day.

Bottom Line: A Baroque, Spanish masterpiece


ο»ΏIf you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We currently have a several month backlog, and are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program.

This Week in Photography Books: Lawrence Schwartzwald

I made a few resolutions last month.

I give myself guidelines, each New Year, for things I’d like to work on. (Ways to better myself.)

This year, at the top of my list, I’m trying hard to talk less shit about other people.

That’s my number one goal.

I lost a few friends a couple of years ago, and am pretty sure that gossip-mongering played a role in it. (Not that I take the blame squarely, just that I own my part in it.)

On one hand, it makes me value my closest friends even more, as I know they’ll keep my confidence, but on a deeper level, I kept reliving the problem until I realized I needed to change.

For some reason, I didn’t understand that talking shit about people always gets back around to them. On steroids. (There’s nothing people love more than passing along a juicy story.)

More than that, though, it really is a karma thing.

Summoning that negative energy, and spreading it further, even if it feels funny, snarky or cathartic in the moment, has the habit of creating ripples of bad juju.

Coincidentally, last week, my Aikido Sensei told the class that he felt he had no enemies in life, and attributed it to the fact that he never talked shit about people.

He even used the same expression I do. (“Talking shit” is an American colloquialism that means speaking ill of people; going out of your way to denigrate them in front of others, at times for tactical purposes.)

Aikido, what I’m learning now, stresses ideas of reconciliation, rather than conflict. Even the fighting part is meant to minimize permanent damage to your opponent.

Wrist, hand and elbow locks can temporarily immobilize someone, but they will walk away unharmed, as long as they cooperate. (The techniques can be used to tear and break joints too.)

The truth is, you really never know when your enemy will become your friend, or your friend your enemy.

But if you keep your karma clean, good things will come your way.

In particular, I’m thinking about the story of Lawrence Schwartzwald, a photographer I met at a portfolio review a few years ago. We chatted briefly, but I didn’t see his work officially, and promised at a dinner party that if he followed up, I’d check out whatever he sent me.

Because it was the end of the festival, and I was drinking a glass of wine, chatting with a friend, I didn’t ask too many questions.

Therefore, I was pretty surprised when Lawrence emailed me in December of 2017 with a link to this Artnet news story about him winning a lawsuit against Gerhard Steidl.

THE Gerhard Steidl.

I was especially surprised, as it was right around the time that gushing New Yorker piece about Steidl came out, (which I referenced here in the column,) and this seemed like a wacky tale.

To synopsize, Lawrence Schwartzwald wanted compensation for a submission portfolio that Steidl lost, and accused the famed publisher of backing out of a deal to publish his book. Steidl responded that books take time, as it’s a creative process, and that the artist was fortunate to be chosen for a book in a highly competitive process.

The end result seemed to be that Steidl now owed him some money, but maintained they’d planned to publish his book all along.

(Awkward.)

So I was even more surprised, truly, genuinely surprised, when the next email I got from Lawrence Schwartzwald was one asking if I’d like a review copy of his upcoming book.

Published by Steidl.

(Cough, cough.) Say what now?

(Crickets.)

I’m rarely speechless.

But I swear, at first, I thought it was a joke. (As I did the other day on the ski lift, when my friend Derek started accosting the stranger sitting to my right, with whom we would be trapped for the next 5 minutes. Never a good time to pick a fight.)

Eventually, I opened the book today, in late February, 2019. So let’s figure out what all the fuss was about, shall we?

“The Art of Reading,” by Lawrence Schwartzwald, published by Steidl, is a book that seems straightforward, as it is mostly a series of documentary/fine art photos of people reading.

(Hence the title.)

But not all of them.

Some are photos of books.
Or photos of people with books who are not reading them.

It opens with a really cool statement by the artist, as he was college-aged in the early 70’s, and discovered photography through Diane Arbus, when he bought her book after she died.

That, and a Kertesz photobook of people reading, inspired him to pursue photography, and he went on to work as a freelance photojournalist for the New York Post for many years.

He also did some celebrity freelance photography, which I take to mean paparazzi pictures. (But I could be wrong.)

As everyone and everything are interconnected, (a theme in the blog so far this year,) I happened to notice a Facebook post Lawrence made the other day, saying that his book was selling well, and he hoped it might be reviewed before it sold out.

It wasn’t a direct appeal to me, and given that I’ve been spending a fraction of the time on social media I used to, (a 2018 resolution,) it was yet another coincidence.

A coincidence, like noticing Amy Winehouse at a diner, with her full bee-hive hairdo kicking, and snapping a quick shot. (Which became the cover and signature image.)

Or spotting Anne Hathaway eating breakfast one morning, or a slightly disheveled Carl Bernstein licking ice cream above a Post headline about the anthrax scare in 2001.

Given the acrimony behind the book’s beginnings, this one does feel a bit disjointed to me. Like it didn’t cohere properly, despite the excellent text-piece-opening, which primed my curiosity.

While there are strong pictures throughout, the image quality is not amazing overall, though of course many of the photographs are sweet, thoughtful, and generally likable.

No, I’m not sure that’s true.

At first, I didn’t like this book, and I put it down.

I walked away.

But with its pretty blue cover, it roped me in again, and this time, I began to think about all photographers, (out in the world,) who watch others.

Look for their stories.
Steal their moments.

Is creeping on a pretty actress THAT different from being out shooting street photography, watching a stranger sit on a stoop, reading quietly?

How many of us have done that before? (I know I have.)

What if it’s one of those classic, incredibly New York stoops in Soho, with just the right amount of stairs, and one of those huge glass window-doors above it.

You know what I’m talking about.

On Prince Street.
Somewhere near there.

You notice her.

She’s so quiet.

She has the Annie Hall hat on. And a man’s shirt. Or maybe it’s a light windbreaker? It’s hard to tell without staring outright.

Her shoes look sensible, and it’s possible she stepped outside her apartment to get some air with her book.

On her stoop.
Maybe she lives there?

But in 2015, when the photo was taken, rents in this neighborhood were already exorbitant. Can she afford it on her salary, with her sensible shoes?

Or was she out for a walk on a beautiful day, taking her book from stoop to park bench to stair railing, all day following the sun from spot to spot like a luxuriant cat.

You turn away, so as not to arouse her suspicion, and look into the store window before you. There’s a beautiful, no-doubt-expensive necklace in the window, but that’s not what draws your attention.

It’s her! There she is again.

In all her reflected glory.

You take your time now, secure in the knowledge no one will even recognize you’re framing up your composition, preparing to make this incredible photograph.

On page 23.

I love this one, because it’s perfect, but also because it evoked a strong memory for me.

I’m standing beside a light-rail stop in San Francisco, and I spot a charcoal-gray pearl necklace in the shop window next to me. I buy it for my girlfriend, wait to give it to her, and then am ultimately crestfallen when she hates it.

I was looking at this book, thinking about why it didn’t work for me, when all of a sudden, I was deep inside a memory.

Which led to another.
And another still.

(Big props to “The Art of Reading” for tunneling into my brain for a few minutes.)

Even now, as I flip back and forth, I notice some really excellent pictures, and some that seem like one-step-above snapshots.

There are a lot of down-on-their-luck folks, a lot of happy people immersed in their stories, and one photograph, (p 57) in which it appears that a tall man is going to murder an older couple with his book, so menacing is his physical stance relative to theirs.

So there you have it.

This book falls somewhere in the middle, for me, as I really like parts of it, and it certainly makes me think, but then, it also feels like it needed a much tighter edit, and a stronger reason for being. (Other than a court order.)

Sorry. That was a mean joke.

Forgive me.

Bottom Line: Street photos of people reading, with a fascinating backstory

To Purchase “The Art of Reading,” click here

ο»ΏIf you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We currently have a several month backlog, and are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program.