This Week in Photography: In the Mood for Love

 

 

 

Someone was selling firewood.

In a truck.
By the side of the road.

I saw it this morning.

(Winter is coming.)

 

 

 

 

 

It’s August 11th, (high summer some places,) and my kids just went back to school.

My daughter is in 5th grade, and when I began this column, in September of 2011, she wasn’t born yet.

(It’s been a wild ride.)

Over the course of my time here, (week in, week out,) I’ve had the chance to travel to some pretty amazing places, and report back to you.

Beyond Derby, London and Amsterdam, all my city reports have come from here in the good old US of A.

 

Hotel room view, Amsterdam, Feb 2020
Taking a selfie in a room full of people talking selfies in the Eric Gyamfi exhibition, Foam, Amsterdam, Feb 2020

 

 

Off the top of my head, since 2011, I’ve written about Austin, Albuquerque, Carmel, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, LA, Marfa, Monterey, New Jersey, New Orleans, NYC, Portland, Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco, Taos, Tucson, and Washington, DC.

I’m a lucky guy.

As of now, I’m supposed to visit NJ, Chicago and New Orleans later this year.

 

Lake Michigan, Chicago, Oct 2021
The French Quarter, New Orleans, Dec 2021

 

So we’ll have plenty more travel content in 2022-3, with the attendant gallery, museum, restaurant reviews, etc.

It’s a far cry from pandemic lockdown, thank goodness, when so many people just stayed home.

(Including me.)

Traveling, visiting new ports of call, seeing new cities, tasting new foods…

Few things are better for our personal (and brain) development.

Doing new things makes new neural pathways in your brain, and every moment in a new travel environment counts as doing something new.

(Yes, that was 4 uses of new in one sentence.)

But getting to truly see the world, put my eyes on China and Japan, Australia and Brazil?

Egypt and India?

I mean, to see all of it?

I can’t even imagine.

Yet that’s the feeling I got, when I put down today’s book.

That I’d just taken a wild, elegant, extremely well-seen and well-crafted journey around world in the 21st Century.

The work felt current, fresh, edgy, and smart, with great technique.

But let me back up a second…

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found two boxes at the bottom of the pile today, from March 2021.

Somehow, they’d been skipped, so of course they’re both vaulted to the top of the pile.

The first of them was called “Ibidem,” by Giovanni Del Brenna; seemingly self-published with a professional team.

But I’ll flip the script, for once, and share a bit of info from the back of the book.

One essay, by Carole Naggar was dated 2011, and I thought, that’s odd?

Why publish an essay written so long ago?

Then the copyright on the next page said 2012.

Yet my initial impressions were the book was super current and of the moment, and it was submitted in 2021?

Strange.

In an excellent footnote section at the end, the artist writes he was born in Genoa, Italy, (but never lived there,) raised in Brazil in a French school, and has lived in many other places.

It seems he comes honestly by his Sofia Coppola/”Lost in Translation,” globetrotting, “In the Mood for Love”/Wong Kar-wai, seen-it-all before, and I know the best noodle shop in 30 cities vibe.

 

“In the Mood for Love,” image courtesy of RogerEbert.com
“In the Mood for Love,” courtesy of The Criterion Collection and the NY Times

 

Saying how all cities are alike in some ways.

I love it.

As I turned the page, page after page, the photographs were standout.

The edit jumps at you, like a bored dog seeking affection.

Lots of dynamic use of color and light, with emotional energy.

Inspiring stuff.

And the design was on point too, with photos bleeding onto subsequent spreads, with smaller spreads mixed within, so you’re changing paper sizes constantly. While each spread connects to the next through fabulous color, and repeating motifs, like flying fish.

The photos challenge our sense of perception, with lots of figure/ground manipulations, use of repeating patterns, and then optical illusions like advertisements or painted buildings.

Just standout.

The design and photographs also wrong-foot us by reclaiming the gutter space, where most artists fear to tread.

(I mean, it’s literally called the gutter.)

Again and again, the gutter creates a symmetrical split, with vital info right there over the seam.

Scandalous!

I found the book to be flawless, right up until the end.

Page after page of nodding my head, saying, “Yes, that’s just right!”

And then towards the back, there was one image, of some guy in a jacket and tie in the light and shadow of a doorway, and it broke the spell.

Like, every single other photo I loved, but then why this guy?

Right afterwards, there were two traditional-type-explanatory-essays, and I felt they, too, were unnecessary.

(The pictures spoke for themselves, meaning-wise.)

 

 

 

 

I recognized photographs being made in Japan and China, Italy and France, but clearly there were many more locations I couldn’t place. The excellent thumb-nail index, at the end, tells us the book records travels from 2002-8, in those places, plus London, New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, and a host of other locations.

(In fairness, I did pick out a sleeping London banker on a train, and could recognize NYC on my second viewing.)

I kept saying to myself, as I looked, “Is that Italy, France, or somewhere else entirely?”

How do these things feel chic and generic, yet universal?

Which gorgeous city are we seeing in this photo?

Does it even matter?

With the index and footnotes, we get just the right bit of context, if we MUST know which city we were seeing, or what his travels were like, where his brother lived, all from the artist’s own perspective.

Ending there, followed by an insert in French and Italian, the book sticks the landing.

And last page credits Del Brenna, Teun van der Heijden, and Fred Ritchin as editors, and Heijdens Karwei for the design, so major kudos on this one.

So glad I found it at the bottom of the pile.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Ibidem” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The 70’s

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard of Jack Reacher?

 

 

I was (mostly) unaware he existed until this year, when Amazon Prime dropped an easily-bingeable series, called “Reacher.”

At some point, I’d heard Tom Cruise starred in a movie or two called Reacher, and that a global fan base was pissed off about it, given how little he resembled the character.

 

Courtesy of Imdb.com

 

I’m mentioning it today, because a few weeks ago, I noticed a stack of soft-cover Reacher books on a new friend’s shelf.

He lent me one, and after I devoured it, he passed along 5 more.

I’m about to start the final book, so I have a better understanding of how this character, (and the extensive #1 best-selling book series Lee Child wrote based upon him,) could occupy such a powerful spot in the collective imagination of millions of people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to see why people rejected Tom Cruise.

(Despite the fact he’s since become an actual super-hero, jumping out of planes and climbing the Burj Khalifa w/o a net.)

Jack Reacher is 6’5″, 250 lbs, and that fact is repeated again and again.

(In one book, they even call him Bigfoot and The Incredible Hulk.)

 

Courtesy of jack-reacher.fandom.com

 

His sheer size makes him attractive, as he’s a true badass, in all the important ways.

(Great at hand-to-hand combat, weapons trained, you name it.)

Beyond that, Reacher is always the smartest guy in the room, and the wisest.

It’s part Sherlock Holmes, (with all the great deductive reasoning,) part Mr. Wolf from “Pulp Fiction,” (able to fix any jam, and dispose of any body,) and part Batman, minus the cape and extreme wealth. (Reacher is basically a vagrant.)

The character just roams the world, (like David Carradine in “Kung Fu,”) helping people, free of charge, based upon a moral code he learned in the US Army. (Where he was a Major as a top-level MP.)

Interestingly, Lee Child is an Englishman, (born in Coventry,) so near as I can tell, he came up with the archetype of a Wild West gunslinger meets UFC champion, and sends him into one, violent, dramatic, insane-but-slightly plausible situation after another.

And people just can’t get enough.

Because they want to be Jack Reacher.

The want to have it all.

Be the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the wisest, the most honorable, and to always get the girl.

Reacher owns nothing but a tooth-brush, and goes when and where he pleases.

He can take out seven bikers all by himself, and is therefore the embodiment of the type of American power most people see as slipping into the dustbin of history.

So there’s also a wistful nostalgia about the whole thing.

If Dirty Harry captured the American id of the crazy 70’s, Reacher is just right for the 2020’s, as he kicks ass, but also treats people with respect.

(Were you to meet Reacher in real life, you would feel seen, and understood.)

 

 

 

 

 

I mention all this today, having just put down a photo book.

The submission came in a year ago, so I had no idea what was inside the box, and was therefore surprised to see “Snapshots 1971-77” by Michael Lesy, published by Blast Books in New York.

(I reviewed another of his books a few years ago, which also featured images from a historical archive.)

That appears to be his thing, sifting through archives, (as we learn in the opening essay,) so this fits neatly into Michael Lesy’s life obsession.

He confirms this in the essay, but also drops an interesting theory on us:

“Looked at individually, as visual documents, they reveal- or allude to- the hopes, fears, and desires of the people who made them. Sometimes snapshots tell the truth, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they do both.

Looked at in large numbers- in batches of a dozen or a hundred or a thousand- they line up lie bits of colored glass in a kaleidoscope and form patterns… patterns of shared belief, patterns of shared meaning.”

I took that to mean if you glance at archives out of the corner of your eye, and digest image after image, you get a sense of a culture.

A place in time.

(And we’ve all heard the clichés about how to make a photograph meaningful: put it in a box for 40 or 50 years.)

The book features a host of snapshots scrounged from garbage dumpster; the outtakes of a San Francisco photo lab in the early-mid 70’s, but there are also some images from a photo lab in Cleveland.

(Not the tidiest premise, mixing them both up, but hey, you get what you get.)

I came away with a few impressions.

First off, Damn!, have Instagram filters, and the ease of cell-phone-camera operation, made regular people better at photography.

We’ve got a lot of bad crops, blurry images, and downright strange compositions overall.

The fashion is great, (as it is in all old pictures,) but mostly we see celebrations, or human gatherings.

Birthdays, weddings, confirmations, funerals, and drinking with one’s buddies.

There are a few images that would have been described as “racy” at the time, and one in which a topless, awkward woman is juxtaposed against a photo of a painting of a clown, which I thought was unnecessarily mean.

Overall, though, the book is fun.

It was a funky, crazy, powerful, illogical time, the 70’s, and I was reminded of “Airplane,” which mocked the whole era.

 

 

 

 

 

Just the other day, I encouraged my daughter to read a book alongside me, and we found “Deenie,” by Judy Blume, on a shelf in a closet.

 

 

It was written in 1973, and I was aghast at how much culture has changed.

Everyone was named Midge.

It was acceptable to insult people based upon appearances.

And there were words used that aren’t even in the dictionary anymore. (Have you ever heard of Klunk?)

I’m not sure I learned too much more about 1970’s America, looking at today’s photo book, but then again, I lived through it.

So maybe it’s important, that books like this explain the past to the future.

All those Gen Z kids need to know what it looked like back then, to understand where the world was, and where it’s going.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Snapshots 1971-77” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: An Elegy

 

 

 

I published Jim Ferguson’s work in the column a while back.

(Probably five years ago, if I had to guess.)

 

 

 

 

I met Jim at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, but had already heard of him, as he was buddies with my client Allen.

I always encourage artists to build out their friend and peer network, (especially at festivals,) because no matter how much we cross our fingers and hope the gallerist/curator/publisher/editor across the table will give you your “big break,” as often as not, it’s your friends who hook you up.

(Anyone who’s gone to art school knows this is true, and of course it’s not like I invented the concept.)

Art education is literally built upon the idea that other peoples’ informed opinions help you grow.

Of course, knowing whom to trust is a learning process, and occasionally we all have to tune out the noise and listen to our internal compass.

But 9 times out of 10, if your peer network is telling you the same thing, that means something.

So when Allen said he and Jim did that for each other, and were in critique groups together, I took that as a good sign.

By the time I met Jim, I expected to like his work, and in fact I did.

He showed me a series of urban, abstracted (but not abstract) images he made that reflected his “compromised” vision.

As I recall, Jim had little-to-no depth perception, so his photographs flattened out the picture plane, to the point a viewer could sense how that type of vision might affect a person.

Most of his photos were black and white, and the compositions and tonality were also strong, so it was easy for me to include him in one of my lengthy, rambling articles featuring the best work I saw at Filter that year.

 

Images courtesy of jimfphoto.com

 

I’m pretty sure I bumped into Jim once or twice again in Chicago, but wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Regardless, I was impressed by the man, and his talent, but I meet more than a hundred photographers each year, (due to my regular travels on the festival circuit,) and that was that.

Not-quite-a-year ago, I noticed a book come in the mail, with Jim’s return address, so I chucked it in the submission pile with the rest of the books, and didn’t give it another thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long thereafter, (probably a month or two,) Allen reached out to tell me Jim had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and was very ill.

The end was imminent, Allen wrote, and then he followed up a day or two later to tell me Jim had passed away.

It caught me off guard, because within a year or so, I’d also learned of the passing of two artists I’d reviewed at festivals: Paula Riff and Nicholas Fedak.

Everyone dies.

I get it.

But I have a near-photographic memory, (for faces as well,) so I remember almost everyone I’ve met in the photo world over the past 13 years.

(Since I attended my first portfolio review in 2009.)

And up until that point, everyone was still around, as far as I knew.

They say things come in threes.

I get it.

This, however, was no fun at all.

And as soon as Allen told me about Jim’s death, I realized eventually, I’d need to open the book package and see what lay inside.

Today is that day.

 

 

 

 

 

Two days ago, here in Taos, the season changed.

It went from high summer to late summer, and it happens every freaking year, right around now.

The light shifts, and if you didn’t live here, (and weren’t a photographer,) you might not notice.

But the temperature changes subtly as well, so you need a long-sleeve shirt and sweat-pants in the mornings, and an extra blanket at night.

My daughter actually grabbed a fleece jacket this morning, when she woke up, and I didn’t blame her.

While much of America basks in pure-summer-frivolity, at the end of July here, I start thinking about winter.

It’s strange, I admit, but then again, my next-door-neighbor still has lights on a Christmas tree, inside his insanely-expensive-but-abandoned barn, so things just work differently in New Mexico.

(I’m not in Jersey anymore, that’s for sure.)

 

 

 

 

 

Frankly, if Jim hadn’t passed away, I’m not sure I’d be reviewing this book.

It’s a self-published, Blurb-book-type offering, called “Deflated Xmas,” and inside it has the subtitle: Ohhh, the plasticity!

The pictures read like point-and-shoot-pics, (more likely from a cell phone,) and given the rigorous craftsmanship of Jim’s previous work, I was taken aback.

This doesn’t seem like a serious art project, but it is fascinating as a cultural artifact, without question.

(Where I live, houses don’t look like this.)

And no one has inflatable Santas.

Nor reindeers, Olafs, or Abominable Snow Men.

But in Chicago, (or perhaps the Greater MidWest,) they’re obviously popular, because Jim was able to fill a small book with images of sad, wilted, nearly-dead Santas.

What stands for celebration, joy, and seasonal good cheer, when they’re inflated, reads as garbage when they’re crumpled on the brown, dead grass.

(Though more than one image featured a verdant lawn, so I guess Sad Santa sat out there for a while.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

True story: I had an inflatable Elmo balloon in my “Party City is the Devil” exhibition at the Harwood Museum of Art, here in Taos, in 2019.

(It closed one month before Covid was discovered in Wuhan.)

One night, a new janitor walked through my show, decided Elmo must be trash, (despite the accompanying placard, and the fact he was tethered to the wall,) so he cut the ribbon and threw it away.

The museum called me the next day, mortified, and they actually went to Santa Fe to get a replacement.

Deflated Elmo was so pathetic, the janitor could not conceive of him as art, so tossed him in the bin.

 

 

And that’s what this book feels like.

It’s a well-observed take on a strange-ass phenomenon, one I definitely have not seen before.

(Which makes it review-worthy.)

I don’t know the circumstances under which this book was made, and I can’t ask Jim Ferguson.

I feel like he’d be psyched to have it reviewed, and perhaps he used this little side-project as a distraction, while his body betrayed him.

I guess we’ll never know.

But this summer has felt like an inflection point, where big changes are afoot, even beyond the calendar ticking from high to late summer.

And no one really knows what’s up ahead, do they?

See you next week, and I hope you’re enjoying some relaxation, or vacation, should you have the chance to take it down a notch.

 

To purchase “Deflated Xmas,” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: City vs Country

 

 

 

I just had some friends in from Houston.

(Texas clears out in summer.)

As is our custom with visitors, I took them on a big hike around the farm and adjoining neighborhood.

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, perfect for a nice long walk, and as they’d already acclimated to the altitude, all was good.

Except for Houston. (The dog. And her name is pronounced HOW-ston, like the street in lower Manhattan.)

 

Houston St, NYC. (Image courtesy of Joshua Bright and the NYT.)

 

Houston, from Houston, had the time of her life.

A city-dog, born and raised, she was used to civilized walks around her Texas-urban neighborhood. (Meaning, low-density, car-driving city life, unlike NYC.)

Apparently, Houston has a best friend in Houston named Gracie, and they play together in dog parks.

(Those small patches of land devoted to off-leash dogs; a city-dog salvation.)

Here, however, on a 60 acre spread, with hills, cliffs, a stream, and an acequia, Houston went ape-shit.

For real.

That cute little terrier was sprinting around, smelling everything, rolling in horse dung, splashing through the water, and generally acting like a proper-wild-animal.

Given she resembled a black-and-white version of the famous dog from “Frazier,” it was quite the visual, and definitely entertaining.

Little Houston even snarled at, and backed down, our part-Pit Bull Haley, who is Wild-West-battle-tested.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but that little city-dog came out to the country, and made it her turf.

Well done, Houston!

 

Houston. (Image courtesy of her parent.)

 

 

 

 

Of course, I had no idea she’d inspire the column.

I hadn’t looked at a book yet, much less grabbed one from the submission stack.

But once I did, everything fell into place.

I happened to pull a package from Wray Sinclair, which arrived in August of 2021, so I was clueless as to what laid within.

I found “Kyanite Miners,” a well-produced, self-published book, which was made in a remote, rare-mineral mine in Central Virginia.

One of my oldest desires as a critic is for a book, (or any work of art, really,) to show me something I haven’t seen before.

To introduce me to a world, a micro-community, or subculture that gives me more insight into existence than I had before.

These days, I review pretty-much every book that comes in, but some obviously are able to open my eyes, (or my mind,) while others leave me wanting more.

Today’s book, “Kyanite Miners,” fits the bill, because I’ve never even heard of Kyanite before.

Much less had I any knowledge of the landscape or culture of Central Virginia, so that’s one point for Wray Sinclair right there.

(Yes, I use the point system IRL, but only brought it to the column last week, for Nancy Baron’s cool ‘Zine.)

The book opens with a contextualizing essay, (as so many do,) but it took a slightly more philosophical approach, specifically referencing the detrimental nature of the Urban/Rural divide in America.

We all know it’s there, and I remember calling out John McCain, in 2008, for his coded Republican Presidential campaign slogan, “Country First,” which is a double-entendre, if you think about it.

 

(Image courtesy of Mary Altaffer/AP, via the NYT.)

 

These days, Country folk love to mock City folk, and vice versa.

Hating the other side has become a force of habit, yet how many people ask themselves whether America can properly function without either crew respecting the other?

Everyone knows that personal interaction can minimize prejudice, but also that Americans have self-segregated into area-bubbles that reinforce their worldview.

(And that’s likely to get worse, once people start choosing their State based upon abortion access, or a lack thereof.)

 

 

 

 

 

So, to get to the point, I like this book.

The portraits are well-made, and show the subjects in a respectful light.

(This is one of those books where the dudes will appreciate the way they’re depicted.)

The flow of portraits, “action” shots, and landscapes is good, especially as it’s a short book, and I love that the proper “establishment shot” is saved for the end.

(Most editors would have started there.)

The closing credits admit that Kyanite Mining was a client here, so we need to keep that in mind.

These images were likely NOT made solely as art, or a personal project, but I don’t think we ought to consider that a black mark on the artist.

(Everyone’s got to eat, after all.)

Wray wrote me a nice note, in which he admitted being a fan of the column, so I’ll return the favor.

Nice job, Wray!

Thanks for sending your book along.

As to the rest of you, see you next week!

 

To purchase “Kyanite Miners” click here

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Riders on the Storm

 

 

 

 

I’m binge-watching “Power” at the moment.

(Season 6, the last of the original series, before it begat 3 spinoffs.)

 

Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

 

 

What brought me to this moment, (having now invested countless hours in a televised story,) is a classic case of Capitalism, straight out of one of my Economics textbooks at Duke University, back in the day.

They even have a name for it: the drug-dealer model.

Give someone a free sample of a (potentially) addictive product, and you may have yourself a customer for life.

The tactic is so good, it even works on people who know the potential risk.

In my case, a few weeks ago, I realized a new season of “Outlander” had come and gone, which meant I could probably watch it with a free week of Starz, courtesy of Amazon Prime.

(The world knows no better Capitalist than Future-Emperor Jeffrey Bezos.)

Now, in admitting I like “Outlander,” I’m outing myself as a sucker for high-quality-production values, and solid acting, in an immersive, period show, featuring great-looking leads with cool accents.

OK.
You got me.
It’s true.

But even if you take out the period element, (I majored in History as well as Economics in college,) if a show is truly immersive, and does a deep-dive into a subculture that teaches me about the world, I’ll probably get hooked.

So after I finished “Outlander,” knowing full-well I might risk overstaying my free week, I jumped into “Power” through the backdoor.

I began with a 2022 Spinoff, “Power Book IV: Force,” because I thought Joseph Sikora did a great job in “Ozark,” and his face was on the photo/graphic advertising the show.

 

Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

 

Set in Chicago, it’s only one season, so I was quickly ready for “Power,” Season 1, the NYC-based OG of the Power-Verse, (produced by low-key, mega-mogul 50 Cent,) and it’s been living in my brain ever since.

Do you want to know their trick?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drop the viewer into the middle of an ongoing story.

Whatever semblance of stability might have existed with the main characters, as the series begins, interrupt that status quo with some SERIOUS drama.

Basically…shit goes wrong, right away.

And then… it never stops.

Drama, violence, sex, loyalty, betrayal, shady-backroom-dealing, exploding skulls, slit necks, slip-skirts slipping off in yet another sex scene… just never let it stop.

I’ve since learned that “Power” was one of the most highly watched shows in the history of Pay Cable, (or what used to be Pay Cable,) and I’m not surprised it spawned ongoing storytelling.

Once you have, (against all odds,) created rock-solid, original IP, that shit doesn’t EVER stop making money.

(It’s why we have Harry Potter theme parks.)

And even though “Stranger Things” and “The Boys” haven’t even ended their runs yet, deep down, we know we’ll be absorbing some version of that IP until we die.

Now, where was I?

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I watched “Power,” paying attention to the story-telling tricks, (including taboo-for-shock-value, to keep them hooked,) it made me think of one story-telling, IP-Empire in particular.

I was consistently reminded of “Sons of Anarchy” which I binge-watched on Netflix 4 or 5 years ago.

(Honestly, who can remember?)

 

Courtesy of Imdb.com

 

SoA first taught me the cardinal rule of addictive television: Make crazy shit happen to your characters, ALWAYS, and then amp it up, CONSTANTLY.

If you never give the characters a minute to breathe, and are willing to put outer-edge violence and violation on-screen, with good actors in a fascinating sub-culture, you’re good to go.

“Sons of Anarchy,” created by Jersey Boy Kurt Sutter, was set in an Outlaw biker gang in Southern California.

I knew nothing about that world, but quickly learned some Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs function like Mexican drug cartels. (Who were also featured prominently in the show.)

Bit by bit, SoA shares a fictionalized version of the Biker-Gang-world, complete with its own lingo, and set of rituals.

To be clear, (as far as I know,) not all Motorcycle clubs are gangs, nor criminal organizations.

But some are, which means if you see a certain type of biker, with a certain type of cut, (or leather sleeveless vest,) and he comes up behind your car on his chopper, looking like a movie-bad-guy-henchman, well, you let that guy pass as soon as he wants to.

Which I did.
Yesterday.

As I drove my daughter to her summer camp, where she’d be playing a pirate in a local children’s production.

My daughter asked about the biker on the chopper, and even though she’s 9, it quickly led to a conversation about Capitalism, and the international market for illegal drugs, which is dominated by organized, criminal gangs in every country on Earth.

(I swear, that’s just how it happened.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told her how to read the Motorcycle club, and local chapter, from the guy’s cut, or sleeveless leather vest.

(Brother’s Keeper, Alamosa, Colorado.)

Then I said, because selling “drugs” was illegal, but people still wanted to buy them, someone always had, and always would, rise up to sell it to them.

(The concepts of Supply and Demand are the core of Economics.)

She asked about which countries had big Mafias, so we discussed Italy, Mexico, Russia, China, and how as far as I knew, the Yakuza mostly stayed in Japan.

All the while, the guy on the chopper was right in front of us, cruising the highway into Taos.

Out of nowhere, the dude had became an official “topic of discussion,” which lead to a chat about the Global Drug Economy, with an inquisitive 9-year-old.

I’m telling you, those bikers have a SERIOUS presence.

 

 

 

 

 

OK, let’s keep it moving.

Photographer Nancy Baron, from Southern California, reached out a couple of weeks ago, and offered to send a little ‘Zine she’d just made.

From what I gathered, it had something to do with bikers on the highway.

In Southern California.

“Riders on the Ten” opens with a backwards orientation, and while I did peek at the accompanying post-card, which told me where to be begin, the other side says “Do Not Enter/ Wrong Way,” so design-wise, it’s a nice clue.

(Score one point for Nancy Baron.)

The title makes me think of “Riders on the Storm,” by The Doors, so then I’ve got Jim Morrison in my head.

And I fucking love that song.

 

 

(Score another point for Nancy Baron.)

From there, after the opening paragraph, informing us it’s the road between LA and Palm Springs, what you see is what you get.

(The front cover is actually a portly guy in a funny-visor helmet, on a Vespa, which is funny, so one more point for Nancy.)

It’s such a cute, little ‘Zine.

None of the dudes is as menacing as the guy we saw here in New Mexico, but just as you’re settling in to the whimsy, we have a run of images where the riders start staring Nancy down.

It’s such a tonal change, you notice right away.

And loved it, as I write here, all the time, how much I enjoy a good change of pace, to help hold a viewer’s attention.

Just when I wondered how far she’d take the stare-down pictures, we get a photo of a cop, giving us the peace sign, and then the ‘Zine is done.

Short and sweet.

Which is more than I can say for this week’s column.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Riders on the Ten” click here

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Vanishing Points

 

 

 

Last Friday, I took the day off.

 

 

Normally, I tell you ahead of time, (and plan a proper get-away,) to help rejuvenate my creativity.

It’s a solid trick, and normally works well, but this time was different.

Rather than taking an actual vacation, I used the week-off to deal with some serious life stress.

Just like a mental-health-day isn’t really a “day off,” last week was about crisis management, and I guess the crises were averted.

But I can’t exactly say I feel refreshed.

(C’est la vie.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not mentioning this to complain.

(Though I know it might look like that.)

Rather, at the end of June, I gave a webinar for the Los Angeles Center of Photography, which was all about sharing strategies to maintain and support our creativity, over the long-term.

 

 

I’ve been a working artist for 25 years, so I created a list of 25 ideas that enable our creativity to flourish.

Much of the teaching would be familiar to you, (if you’ve been reading the column for years,) but of course some of it was new.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture, I discussed the fact that outside forces in our lives, be they relational or geo-political, can have a massive impact on our creativity. (In addition to our happiness.)

Perpetual stress is hard on the body, and while creative practice is a brilliant form of self-care, sometimes it can get overwhelmed, and then diminished.

So today, feeling really bad, deep in my heart, I wondered how I was going to force myself to write the column, when all I wanted to do was put on my headphones and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist?

Denial doesn’t work, though, so I unboxed a book, read/looked at it, and went for a short walk to prep my thoughts. (As I often do.)

Don’t worry, I’m giving you all this context for a reason.

The truth is, I want you to decide for yourself whether the rest of this column, (the actual book review part,) is being colored by a bad mood, or whether I’m able to separate my emotions from my thoughts, on an admittedly difficult day.

Let’s get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

“Vanishing Points,” by Michael Sherwin, published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany, showed up in the mail a year ago.

This is one I remember requesting, and I even recalled a bit about its concept, which seemed promising.

So I wasn’t flying blind.

I was excited to receive it, because the book directly challenged the current status quo, with respect to theories about staying in one’s lane.

Near as I can tell, it’s a book by a White, male American, that attempts to tell stories, and gather information, about historical, Indigenous/ Native American sacred sites across the United States.

“Vanishing Points” is the exact book we’ve been hearing, for several years now, should not be made.

It’s the opposite of a project made by an inside member of a culture, and as I believe we should be allowed our creative freedom, I was hoping the book would be awesome, enlightening, fascinating.

(Alas, I’m not loving it, though I really hoped I would.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it because I’m in a bad mood?

I really don’t think so.

“Vanishing Points” begins with a typical writerly essay, and then we get a statement by the artist, providing the backstory.

As I understand it, Michael Sherwin believes Indigenous philosophies might hold the key to a healthier relationship with nature, in a Climate Change era, and of course we’ve heard such things a million times before.

(I am not immune, living as I do in the midst of a historical Indigenous community in Taos, NM. Many gringos have been similarly seduced, through the centuries. And a more holistic relationship with the Earth would absolutely be a good thing.)

Again, I actually believe the roots of Michael Sherwin’s investigation are valid, and should be on-limits, so my problem lies with the execution.

The book is a jumble of actual landscapes, cultural landscapes, obvious tropes, and trash artifacts removed from sacred sites, then photographed in a studio environment.

While there are captions at the end, to give us the specifics, it reads too much like a typical-photo-book template, (replete with a final, academic essay telling us what we just saw,) and the solid, but expected quality of the story-telling, and image-making, left me wanting.

The photographs of earthen-mound-architecture were the stand-outs, and given how little most people know about the grassy structures, (which are so different from Mexico’s pyramids,) I think there could have been a much stronger project, had the artist done a deep-dive there.

With a dearth of general-cultural-knowledge about ancient, large-scale settlements like Cahokia, I believe this could have been something special, as a book.

But just as a Lenni Lenape warrior in 1700, in what is now New Jersey, could not have imagined Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, linking so much of Native America together this way, through the experiences of a wandering, White photographer… I couldn’t make it work, as a critic.

And I wanted to.
Truly.

I sat there, after putting the book down, and asked myself how to write the review?

How to honor the artist’s right to his vision, and applaud the effort that went into crafting it, while still finding fault with the results?

Being a critic can be hard sometimes.

But so can being an artist.

As always, we do the best we can, and take one day at a time.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “Vanishing Points,” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Hitting the Beach

 

 

“There is something deeply Universal about this human instinct to rest and rejuvenate by the sea.”

Jonathan Blaustein, January 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never quoted myself to open the column.

(That’s a new one, for sure.)

But there’s a reason, I promise, and we’ll get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The other day, my daughter asked what I used to do in Summer, when I was her age?

I told her my folks sent my brother and me to sleep-away-camp, beginning when we were 6 and 8 respectively.

We’d go off to rural Pennsylvania, (or later Upstate New York,) for two months at a time, over an 8 year period.

 

JB at Pine Forest Camp, circa 1985. (Can you tell which one is me?)

 

She was surprised, as that is wildly out of her life experience, growing up here in Northern New Mexico.

But, I assured her, though we weren’t packing her off like that, it was pretty common among suburban, Jersey Jewish kids, back in the day.

Before and after we left for camp, though, on nice days we went to the beach.

Down the Shore.

(Jersey in the 80’s was like living in a John Hughes’ film.)

 

Image courtesy of Sebastian Galaviz/ Spotify

 

It was pretty rad, I must say.

In fact, given it’s June 23rd, (as I’m writing,) there’s a good chance I would have been at the beach on this exact date, 40 years ago.

Damn!

I miss it.

Living in the mountains, the nearest, large body of water is 700 miles away, and that’s the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico in Texas, the Pacific Ocean in SoCal, and the Great Lakes, all are nearly 1000 miles from here.

(It’s enough to make a Jersey-Shore-boy heartsick.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But wouldn’t you know it?

I had a vicarious trip to the sea in a photo-book today.

(We’ll get there in a minute.)

After looking at the book, and ruminating on that urge to be near the ocean, I laid down on a rug in the living room, imagining the waves crashing and cresting.

Back in Jersey, on the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a particular smell to the water.

(Like sweetly rotting clams.)

I’d love to have that odor in my nose right now.

But that’s 2000 miles away.

(At least California is closer.)

So I started thinking of the big, blue waves of the Pacific.

“Wait a second,” I thought.

I have a solution to this.

We just need to get digital!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed my phone, and ran to a closet.

Finger-scrolling furiously, I found a video I made on the beach in San Diego, nearly six months ago, and it was as if past-me were speaking to current-me.

(Some legit, time-travel-type shit.)

Check it out.

 

 

OK, I know most of you don’t watch the videos.

Fine.

But context matters, such that (except for the embarrassing fingers-on-the-lens moment,) I was strolling along the oceanfront, narrating for you guys, (and my current-self,) how nice it is to relax by the ocean when you can.

(It’s where the column-opening-quote came from.)

Standing in the closet, remembering how nice the sounds and breezes were, I felt the heartsickness subsiding.

Then I found a video of my last look at the Pacific, seconds before we turned away, to head back East across the Great American West.

It’s so lovely, that one perfect moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, enough of the waxing philosophical.

(I saw a photo-book that put me on this rant. It wasn’t planned.)

My book stack is big, as I’ve said, so I reached in and pulled out a box from Summer 2021, published in 2020, so it’s not exactly ripped from the headlines.

Surely, I had no idea what would be inside.

I found the attention-grabbing “Aquas De Ouro,” from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, published by Radius Books in Santa Fe.

Straight up, Radius is known for craftsmanship and design, and I mean this cover!

Shimmering Gold!

I don’t speak Portuguese, but as I know some Spanish, Italian and French, I guessed the title meant Waters of Gold, and the coastline in the graphic made me think of Rio de Janeiro, though I’ve never been.

Sure enough, that’s what the book’s about, as it seems the artist was born there, spent a chunk of her life in England, and then returned to make these photos.

(I’m not clear if it was a part-time, or full-time return to make the work in the book.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter.

I write all the time that books are experiences, and this one actually felt like that was the main point.

Creating a real, lived-in experience for the viewer.

All those close-ups!

The movement, in and out of the crowds.

In and out of the water.

I was re-watching “Friday Night Lights” recently, and after looking over my shoulder, my wife said she’d forgotten how the many jump-cuts, and constant change of camera-angle coverage, made her feel like she really was in that small, West Texas town.

That’s what this book did for me.

It brought me to Ipanema Beach for a few minutes.

(Which is pretty cool.)

The print quality is super-high, as I’d expect from Radius, and frankly, I bought some weed in Santa Fe recently that got me super-high, so shout out to the quality that city’s turning out!

Big Ups to Santa Fe!

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the book, though.

The photos are dynamic, as I said, and there are a lot of them.

Probably, if I’d been editing, I’d have chopped it just a tad.

But text bits, in Portuguese and English, are sprinkled throughout, on different paper stock, so that does keep the narrative moving, and alleviates any potential viewer boredom.

(Especially as none of the text is overly-long.)

In keeping with my shorter, breezier, Summer style… this is a very well-made book.

I enjoyed my time with it, both for the art itself, and the fact it sent me back to my own digital archive, to re-live memories of the sea, from past sunny days.

(As I can’t get quite get there at the moment.)

Hope you’re enjoying your Summer so far.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Aguas De Ouro,” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Hustle Hard

 

 

 

 

I’m a loyal dude, if you have my back.

 

 

 

Earlier this month, it was my 12th Anniversary writing for this website.

My wife and I have been together nearly 25 years, (married for 18,) and I’ve kept up this weekly column since September 2011.

(I also wrote for the New York Times for 6 years, until they shut our blog.)

If you turn on me though, or treat me badly these days, I’m out the door.

It’s a new development, and I’ve been trying it on for size.

Stress chemicals prematurely age us, make us sick, and can kill us in various ways.

So I’m currently trying to limit my exposure to toxic people.

But I’m only here, at this new point in mid-life, because I made so many mistakes, over and over again.

Failure is the best teacher, if you’re willing to listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My son was 2 years old when I began writing for A Photo Editor.

I was 36.

(A youngish, new father to a toddler.)

 

36 years old, covering a portfolio review for APE

 

Now it’s 2022, and I’m the 48-year-old Dad to a teenager, and a soon-to-be tween daughter.

All along, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, and this blog has become interwoven with my life.

That’s quite the run here, and I think it’s because Rob and I share common values and beliefs.

One core tenet: Respect the Hustle.

It’s a hard world out there, and very few of us are ever given anything at all.

(If we are, let’s hope we’re humble and appreciative.)

To become successful in any field takes intelligence, planning, social skills, hard work, grit and determination.

Battling rejection.

Handling the almost moments, when it didn’t happen.

I mean, I once got accepted into a big NYC gallery, less than a year out of graduate school, only to have it fall apart when they didn’t like the color of my picture frames.

(Now that’s a kick in the nuts.)

Perseverance is a valuable trait; one that’s only learned through suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

As always, there’s a point to my musings.

We’re going to talk about a book today; one that waited quite a while for review.

It arrived in May 2021, and sat patiently in its red plastic pouch.

When it’s been that long, I never have any idea what’s inside, and this one was a self-published book by Alex Palombo called “The 20 2020 Project: The Pursuit of a Dream.”

There are two ways to talk about this book, and I aim to investigate both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First off, I respect the hustle this book entails.

The photographer shares, in the opening statement, how tricky it was going to be, to photograph and interview 20 athletes training for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

It was a budget stretch, and Alex meant to stick to the Northeast corridor of the US, from DC to the South to Montreal in the North.

(He lives in New York.)

There is an anecdote about a highway mishap in Upstate NY, which lead to driving 5 hours in the wrong direction towards Buffalo.

Ouch.

(Can’t not share here that my Mom and Dad inadvertently headed West from Vail not-too-long-ago, instead of East towards Denver, and only realized it when they were well into Utah. Must have been some strong-ass reefer.)

 

Image courtesy of Turn the Page

 

Sorry.

Back on topic.

There was a lot of effort funneled into this book, as a passion project, BEFORE Covid hit, and then it became nearly impossible.

But somehow, here it is.

Hard-cover, serious business.

We have athletes, and their stories, which are themselves inspiring.

Each had to sacrifice.

To suffer.

To chase a dream.

In the world of sports, no cliché is ever too big.

All the meta-narratives have been told, (certainly since the US Hockey team won Gold in 1980,) yet they get us every time, such is their power.

{ED note: Just last night, Stephen Curry and his buddies proved the “aging vets who still have one more in the tank” narrative never gets old.}

 

Courtesy of NBC Sports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m the first person to admit I’ve become more cynical since 2016, and try to push back against those instincts.

Sports help me do that.

Not only do I admire the Grit’N’Grind that saw this book through to creation, self-published, but also how it amplifies that positive message with the powerful stories within.

These moments motivate us to do more.
Be better.
Dig deep.

That is the context through which I prefer to view this book, and one for which I have much admiration.

However…

 

 

 

 

 

The other context.

Do I think the photographs are special?

Is the pacing spot on?

Can I groove with the graphic design?

What about the fonts, image placement, and the balance of text and image?

Weekly, I judge books on those merits, and in many ways this one comes up short.

So I don’t want to wimp out, and not say what I’m thinking.

It’s not a “great” book.

But I don’t want to over-invest in that narrative, as the kids say these days.

The truth is, I review books of all types, intentions, and levels of craftsmanship.

Context matters.

I hope some, or even most of these fencers, wrestlers, sprinters, judokas, boxers, and synchronized swimmers made it to Tokyo in 2021.

And I hope you dig this fun, positive book on a warm summer day.

Wherever you are.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “The 20 2020 Project: The Pursuit of a Dream” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

This Week in Photography: Finding Inspiration

 

 

 

Throughout 2022, I’ve been bombarding you with think-pieces.

 

 

Week after week, I’ve delved deep into massive, often depressing subjects.

It was fun when those two stories went viral, (about photo-book publishing and NFT’s,) but as a reader, if you’re here each week, it can be intense.

I get it.

But now it’s Summer.

Things slow down when it’s hot outside.

We seek out the water.
Listen to the leaves quake in the breeze.
Smell the flowers.
Bask in the color of the sky.

Because nature is soothing.
It makes us feel better.

(Thank goodness.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, knowing I wanted to keep it short and sweet, I took a look at the book-submission-pile, but it was too daunting.

And I’ve mined my shelves enough to know that wasn’t going to work either.

(We can only use the same trick so many times.)

No travel stories or portfolio review articles were ready to go.

“What’s a hard-working columnist to do,” I wondered?

At that exact moment, (I swear, no lie,) I looked down and saw two coffee-table-books on the arm of the couch.

They’d clearly been moved there from the cedar-chest-coffee-table, for children’s play, and I hadn’t noticed them before.

Immediately, I recognized a coffee-table-book that used to reside on my mother-in-law’s shelf, one of only four or five art books in their massive library.

(So it was memorable.)

The book is by one of my all-time-favorite artists: Andy Goldsworthy.

Yet somehow, I’d never picked it up before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in graduate school, I had to go into Manhattan one day to catch a film at an indie-cinema-house.

It was assigned: “Rivers and Tides,” about Andy Goldsworthy.

 

 

(I should give it a re-watch, because it’s so damn inspirational.)

The art in the film, and in this book, “Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature,” published by Abrams in 1990,  is among the most remarkable I’ve ever seen.

And I’m not alone.

Just yesterday, after I’d finished this review, my daughter picked up the book, flipped page-by-page, and it was like a blind person restored to sight.

She simply could not believe what she saw, continuously exclaiming, “What! How! How did he do that? Insane! What! How? I don’t even understand! Amazing! What? How did he do that?”

(And I’m not exaggerating. It went on for five minutes.)

To make art in nature, out of nature, that conjures the powerful feelings and emotions that nature engenders?

Simply genius.

 

 

 

 

 

Though he’s super-famous, in case you’re unfamiliar, Andy Goldsworthy uses everything from snow, ice, rocks, trees, leaves, sand, and decaying heron feathers, in locations as far flung as England, Wales, Scotland, Arizona, The North Pole, France and Japan.

He builds sculptures, or nature installations, and many (if not most,) are temporary.

So the photographs become the evidence; the record of art made for the moment, rather than for an audience of humans.

The execution, creativity, patience, and connection to the Zen spirit of the world, are breathtaking.

But the grounded, Down-to-Earth, whimsical magnificence Andy Goldsworthy projects, (in “Rivers and Tides,”) his general likability, adds to the enjoyment as well.

And it always boiled down to one scene for me. (Which became an in-joke with Jessie, when we lived in New York.)

In the film, the camera captures Andy laying on the ground, spread eagle, on the grass outside, along the road, and a kindly neighbor strolls up.

“Hey, Andy. What are you doing there,” the neighbor asks?

A fair question.

“Working,” he replies, with a grin on his face.

In the book, we see how he landed that particular investigation, as the outline of his human form is recorded on the Earth, with powders.

(It doesn’t get much better than that.)

 

 

 

 

 

The past few years, (when I’ve been able to travel,) I mostly lost the taste for hitting up the galleries and museums.

It felt a bit “been-there-done-that,” as if I’d seen so much, over the years, that all the art began to blend together.

I forgot just how powerful it can be to experience the type of greatness that makes you want to strive for more.

(To leave a mark, even if it’s a small one.)

The last 2.5 years have felt like 10, and I don’t want to get old too quickly.

Exhaustion, cynicism, and horrific-world-events can rightly get us down.

But this book, from my Alzheimer’s-ridden mother-in-law, Bonnie, rekindled my passion to see great art again.

(What a gift.)

See you next week!

 

 

This Week in Photography: Say What?

 

 

 

Let’s be real.

 

To keep this weekly column going, for 10.5 years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

If I were an actor, the “self” I share would be considered a character, like when Jerry Seinfeld played a “version” of Jerry Seinfeld on his hit 90’s television show, “Seinfeld.”

 

Image courtesy of Seinfeld Memes

 

But I’m not an actor.

I’m a blogger.

So people assume the “me” I’m sharing is authentic, whole, and thoroughly considered.

Really, it’s two out of three, as I present a slightly more daring, absurd, and risky side of myself here, for entertainment purposes.

 

Why am I telling you today?

Good question.

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, I wrote a passionate long-read, taking down all of San Francisco as “uncool,” due to decades of unabated gentrification, rabid capitalism, raging income inequality, and failed public policy.

I held nothing back, and was heavily motivated by the heavenly metaphors embedded in the human shit I kept finding at my feet.

(Not subtle, those metaphor gods, when I was in San Francisco.)

But the “aging hipster calls whole city uncool, as way of reifying his own cool status” narrative…

I get it.

So when I got called out on Twitter by my buddy Matjaz Tancic, who last I checked was in a LITERAL FUCKING LOCKDOWN in Shanghai, I heard what he said.

There is more to every story, and unless you’re running around late at night, seeing what the parties look like, listening to the bands, checking out the underground galleries, it’s not exactly fair to judge.

 

 

I hear you, Matjaz!

So I admitted my “take” was a little reductive.

But I’m claiming the columnist’s privilege:

Sometimes, we see a particular narrative form in our heads, think it over for a bit, and then write it up as it happened, because it makes for such a great story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matjaz was not alone in his critique, though.

Over the many years of this column, one person has kept reading all along, while consistently sticking his neck out to share opinions in the comment section.

(It’s like having a super-fan, but one who cares enough about books, ideas, and photography that he’s willing to add his perspective, making the article better for the extra chunks of wisdom at the end.)

This person is Stan Banos, based in San Francisco, and I’ve certainly given him random shout outs over the years.

In my opinion, Stan is always intelligent, considered, historical, and contextual in his commenting.

I don’t know if I’ve ever disagreed with anything he’s written, in all my years.

His karma is good by me.

So when Stan commented that I need to get out of my SF bubble, even in jest, I felt it was worth hearing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to the book stack this morning.

I found a package from May 2021, and it seemed the one for today.

But just below it was a Blurb book, which must have come in around the same time.

Certainly, it had been here so long I didn’t know what it was, and the post-mark was beyond-smudged.

There was no way to know exactly how old the book was, but it felt right.

So I opened the Blurb book box, (with the smudged postmark,) and would you believe what I found?

A beautiful, little production named “SAY WHAT?” by none other than Stan Banos himself.

Perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I treated his work with the same critical eye I would anyone else’s, but it made me think of a theory I just shared with a client the other day.

“Remember,” I said,  “a book is an experience.”

From start to finish.

So as artists, we need to plan every aspect of that viewing experience.

How long does it take to get through?

Where does it lag?

How can we keep the viewer’s attention locked in our story, whatever it may be?

This book, “SAY WHAT?”, totally nailed that for me.

It’s short, poignant, focused, and uses text very well.

Good job, Stan!

 

 

 

 

 

The cover and page 1 show us images of graffiti in an urban environment, and sure enough, that’s the theme.

Page 2 has a concise, direct statement from the artist, (Stan,) theorizing there are declarations of need, cries for help, hidden messages, and occasional wit encoded on the streets and super-structures, if only one would take the time to look.

Again and again, we see images of messages; things I would have walked past.

Things so many of us HAVE walked past.

But not Stan.

 

 

 

 

 

Collecting these photos in one sequence, as a book, is a home run for me.

It’s lovely.

At one point, we see an image of some sort of screed, or manifesto up on a wall, by Zoe Leonard, and after I squinted to read it, realized it was printed right there for me, below.

Page after page, I took time to read each piece of graffiti, and then imagined the photographer, walking slowly around his neglected city.

It made me think about how quickly I rushed up and down the hills.

How quickly I rushed to judgement.

Because this book is cool, and Stan’s cool.

So there must be other great things still going on in San Francisco.

Right?

Mea culpa.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “SAY WHAT?” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: The Boys

 

 

It’s been a long week.

(A long year, really.)

Fuck. Maybe we should just say a long decade?

But it’s Thursday, and you know what that means.

(As I said in San Diego last Friday, everyone dicks around until the deadline.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was in California on Saturday.

 

Poolside, on a break at the Medium Festival of Photography

 

Sunday was a blur.

And I’ve been tending to sick kids all week, while beating back the self-destructive tendencies of a normally-great teenager.

(Like I said, I’m beat.)

Then again, my teenager reads the column, and we were discussing photo books as we waited at the fire-house-bus-stop this morning.

 

The fire-house-bus-stop

 

(He really liked both books we featured the past two weeks.)

For the first time, I brought my camera along on the morning ritual, as yesterday, I noticed the light was gorgeous at 7am.

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t spot on today, as there were high clouds, which burned off shortly thereafter, returning our hyper-dry, uber-blue-sky days.

I’d had a shot in mind since yesterday, and as I lined it up, the light, which glimmered a second before, flattened out.

I stood there, camera to my eye, and decided to pass on clicking the shutter.

Just then, literally a second after I lowered the camera, I saw a flash of brown to my left.

(Thankfully, not the kind of brown flash that killed a soldier in Alaska recently.)

Rather, it was a deer, bounding across the field, less than 50 feet away.

As I’ve written before, I’ve been shooting here in Taos since late December 2020, and have images of all sorts of animals: dogs, snakes, cows, spiders, horses.

 

Odessa, who died in March of this year

 

But no deer.

I’ve wanted the deer, but really, how often are you standing there, with your camera all dialed in, and a deer wanders into the frame?

Turns out, it was a whole family of deer, hopping along, one at a time, so I got a few shots.

The light wasn’t perfect, but the whole thing was so random.

Right place.
Right time.

 

 

 

 

 

Some artists have an idea in mind, and make the art to fit the vision.

Others shoot whatever they see, over months or years, then build a jigsaw puzzle out of the resulting edit.

Neither way is “better,” but in my copious experience, I’ve come to believe groups of images that are pre-conceived, or made to cohere to a concept or structure, often have a slightly enhanced sense of intent.

(That’s my two cents, anyway.)

And the last two weeks, it seemed like we featured books where the images were shot, and then the story was built after-the-fact.

(Can’t be sure with Stacy’s amazing “The Moon Belongs to Everyone,” but that was the vibe, anyway.)

 

 

Today, we’re going in a completely different direction.

Let’s look at a book that represents a very personal story.

A book that’s about life, death, and friendship.

A book that melds archival imagery, poignant vignettes, intricate design, and well-crafted, large-format, contemporary portraiture.

Let’s look at “The Boys,” by Rick Schatzberg, published in 2020, by powerHouse in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure, before I say anything else, I worked with Rick during the book’s production process.

I’ve written before that I consult with artists on photo books, and have a policy not to review books I’ve created with my clients.

(I am included in the final credits for “The Boys.”)

However, this time, the maquette was made, most of the text was written, the photos were shot, and in retrospect, my role was quite minimal.

As such, since it’s an excellent book, and he sent it to me with no expectation of review, I decided it was fair game.

Let’s get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like me, Rick grew up Jewish, in the suburbs of NYC.

Unlike me, Rick is from Long Island, and as he’s 20 years older, he and his friends are really the test-case for suburban living in the United States.

(Total coincidence, but I saw this hilarious tweet this morning, as a Slovakian tried to make sense of America’s suburbs in 2022.)

 

 

“The Boys” is not about me, in any way, but I think all suburban kids can relate to what these guys used to do.

Find some woods behind the neighborhood, before everything was developed, and wander.

Hang out.

Go somewhere, even if it was an empty field, as there really was nowhere else.

But I was a total goody-goody, and Rick and his crew were proto-Jewish hipsters.

Stoners.

Disaffected kids, listening to music, drinking, and scattering when the cops showed up at their favorite hangout: The Pits.

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, I reviewed a book by Karen Marshall, in which she followed a group of New York kids, and then reconnected with them when they were grown.

This flips that methodology on its head, as in “The Boys,” Rick gives us photos of his bros, (as we call them today,) with their Jewfros, jean jackets, bandanas, and beers.

We see these guys in various stages of life, including the 80’s power suits, and the vacation photos, from when they went on Boys Trips.

As a pure Pisces, always moving forward, always changing, I don’t hang out with my middle/high school buddies anymore.

I don’t have a frame of reference for the love these men feel for each other.

Nor for what it’s like as they pass away, one by one.

(A group of 14 is now down to 10.)

Tragically, for Rick and The Boys, two men chronicled in the book actually died before final publication.

What a bummer.

 

 

 

 

 

I like almost everything about this book, though I don’t think the insert essay at the back, by Rick Moody, was particularly necessary.

Often, publishers like to see big name writers attached to a project, to make it easier to market.

It’s the done-thing, and I don’t blame Rick for going that route.

Hell, he and I spent time brainstorming which writer would be a good fit, before he networked his way to the other Rick.

But it’s a compliment, what I’m saying. For an untrained writer, Rick S.’s stories pop.

They engage, and present the kind of first-person narrative that reels viewers in, and allows our imaginations to fill in the details.

Strong stuff, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the personal, though, a case can be made that “The Boys” also explores the reality of the aging, White Baby Boomer.

Those dudes take a lot of shit these days for destroying the world. Maybe rightly so.

(OK Boomer?)

But Rick made the interesting choice to photograph his remaining friends shirtless.

We see the aging flesh, mottled with spots.

We see the scars.

The sagging muscles.

You might disagree, but I think there’s bravery in being vulnerable for the camera like this.

There is a vignette in which Rick describes why he chose to include himself, with the high-end selfies.

And how hard it was to overcome vanity, and not create more flattering portraits for himself than he did for Joelie, Brad, and the crew.

 

 

 

 

 

Just the other week, I wrote about the passing of my friend, Dave.

This week, his sister Monica gifted me Dave’s Aikido gi.

(He switched to Kung Fu about 15 years ago, which we trained together, but he kept his Japanese fighting robe.)

And now it’s mine.

My Sensei suggested I wear it to train, to honor my friend.

I’ve been under the weather since I got it, (the whole family has,) and haven’t had the chance to put it on yet.

But I’m excited to feel that connection to my departed compadre.

Lately, I find myself talking to Dave. Almost daily.

I haven’t lost many people before, so I don’t know if that’s normal. Thinking they’re up there, somewhere.

Listening.

So I’d like to offer Rick my condolences, and also my compliments, for a job well done.

See you next week!

 

To purchase a copy of “The Boys” click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Moon Belongs to Everyone

 

 

It’s Monday, and the skies are clear.

(Thank goodness.)

 

 

 

Yesterday, the smoke from New Mexico wildfires was unpleasant enough that we stayed inside all day. (Until it filtered out in the evening.)

To have fires here in April and early May is something I simply cannot recall.

Sure, it’s a drought, and La Niña is a bitch.

 

 

 

But early-spring fires?

Never.

(Climate Change is NOT joking around.)

 

 

 

 

 

In art school, we learned that Kant considered the Sublime to contain a degree of the awful, or the terrifying.

(Maybe awe-inspiring is the better term? I graduated in 2004, so it’s a little rusty.)

But as I remember, it’s more than just beauty, the Sublime.

Three quarters of a day with my reality constrained by smoke pollution, and as soon as I got outside again, the world shimmered.

 

Sunday evening, after the smoke blew out
This morning, before the smoke blew in

 

 

Yet billions of people live with pollution every day.

(I consider myself fortunate.)

Frankly, people around the planet live in all sorts of places, and all manner of ways.

It’s a big world out there.

 

 

 

 

 

I bring this up right now, having just put down “The Moon Belongs To Everyone,” a phenomenal photo-book that arrived in the mail last June, by Stacy Arezou Mehrfar, published by GOST.

(Like I said to Shawn Records last week, thanks for your patience, Stacy!)

Really, this book is terrific.

I love it.

Last week, I wrote that because of the clear, Joseph-Campbell-inspired-structure, Shawn’s book didn’t make us think too hard.

This one is the opposite, as its lack of text, and great variety of imagery types and styles, make you guess what the heck is going on, as you turn each page.

No lie, we see frozen waterfalls, jungles, desert, oceans, and rock formations, just off the top of my head.

The paper changes, through the book, which I also loved, including these eerie portraits that seem almost like silver ink on black paper.

(Though I can’t say for sure.)

We see nature, and food, in various forms, including a killer photo of a super-intense-looking pomegranate.

The pomegranate was also featured in a design-trick I thought was clever, in which some images have a color sampled from within, and it’s turned into an entire color-block-page.

This happened a few times.

(Orange, magenta and red, if I recall.)

 

 

 

 

 

Books like this, which use only photos to tell non-linear, abstracted stories, are often called “poetic.”

And sure enough, the only text in the entire book, (beyond the credits,) was a poem by the artist that I read twice, much as I did with the photos.

If I’m being honest, at first I was a bit skeptical, but kept an open mind, (all those slashes,) but by the time I was done with the second pass, I was convinced.

Cool rhythms, repeating motifs, and if you pay attention, the message is there.

Like the imagery, it’s non-linear and abstracted, so it makes for a fitting close.

The poem speaks to immigrants, and emigrants.

To where we begin, where we end up, and who are we anyway?

How does it always come down to the patch of Earth on which you were born, or the spot you choose to put down your roots?

This book definitely qualifies as a work of art, in my opinion.

Sleek and pretty, but with just a hint of menace.

Job well done.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “The Moon Belongs to Everyone” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: A Real Life Hero

 

 

 

My friend, Dave, died last week.

On Friday.

Of Covid.

(Not long after I posted the column.)

 

 

 

 

It’s been rough.

I’m 48, yet lack significant experience with grief.

(Knock on wood.)

I hadn’t known anyone who suffered horribly from Covid, much less perished.

Man, what a shitty situation.

A million dead, here in the US, and so many friends and loved ones left with holes in their hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was particularly cruel, though, as I’d begged Dave to get a booster shot.

(He’d only had the J&J vaccine, last summer, due to an employer mandate.)

But he said no, despite knowing his lifestyle, weight-lifting at the gym, working security at the local bar, meant he was almost certain to contract the virus at some point.

 

Dave in Kit Carson Park, Taos, September 2021

 

Dave, who was conservative politically, and came from a religious background, wasn’t willing to engage in further vaccination.

We even spoke about what would happen if he got Covid.

That he would end up with unpayable medical bills.

That he might die, due to pre-existing conditions.

And now he’s gone.

(Such a bummer.)

 

 

 

 

 

In my mind, Dave was a hero.

He was kind, selfless, curious, and wise.

He went out of his way to help people, and took his job in security seriously.

(This week, I saw an FB comment that Dave used to walk a woman into work each day, at 4am, during his rounds.)

When we’d train in the public park, (for hours at a time,) unhoused, or very drunk people would stop to talk to us, or watch what we were doing.

Every time, Dave treated the person with so much respect and compassion.

It was amazing to see how polite he was, under the circumstances.

(An inspiration, really.)

When that neighbor pulled a gun on me last year, Dave was the first person I texted for advice.

When I had a beef with my Sifu, Dave pushed me to grow, repeatedly advising me to be humble, apologize, and move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Dave was an action-movie hero, but in real life.

An experienced Aikidoka, and Wing Chun Kung Fu expert, (in addition to his knowledge of firearms,) Dave should have been the next Danny Trejo.

 

Danny Trejo, Courtesy of Estevan Oriol/Getty and The Daily Beast

 

Dave lived through things, and it showed.

Plus, his deep, gravely voice, (from years of smoking cigarettes,) was a perfect complement to his massive biceps, and calm demeanor.

While training in the park last year, I pitched Dave on the idea of being an action-movie hero, for real.

I suggested we write a film, in which he could star, so we could get him the type of recognition he deserved.

He was dubious, but I developed plot points, and as we punched and kicked at each other, he began to see the possibilities.

But a fucking virus put a stop to that.

 

 

 

 

 

Hero is such a powerful word.

It gets tossed around, willy-nilly, but what does it mean?

Maybe it’s someone who does the right thing, even in difficult circumstances?

A person who rises to the challenge, lives by a code of honor, and tries to improve every day?

Maybe, like Spiderman, a hero believes she/he/they has a responsibility to help, and if blessed with being strong and powerful, uses that to the benefit of others?

(That can serve as a working definition, anyway.)

But as long as there have been humans who could walk and talk, there have been heroes.

The protagonists of our stories.

The leaders we admire.

The guideposts for how to live.

How do I know?

Just ask Joseph Campbell.

 

 

 

 

If you’re reading this, you likely work in a creative field, or are at least creative-adjacent.

So you’ve probably heard of Joseph Campbell.

He was a genius academic, writer, lecturer and researcher who, like Jung, delved deep into the human consciousness.

Predominantly, he did this by researching origin stories, myths, and cultural bedrock tales, from around the world, to look for commonalities.

Like pyramids being built in Egypt and Peru simultaneously, thousands of years ago, with no possibly of crossover, certain creation mythologies popped up again and again, across the world.

One of Campbell’s seminal books, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” breaks down traditional narratives structures, from different cultures through time, in the ancient world.

 

 

It’s fascinating, if you’ve never read it. (I have, in bits and pieces, but never cover-to-cover.)

And trust me, it’s relevant to today’s discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

Because I’m finally reviewing photo-book today!

Feels like it’s been a month, (or more,) since we last did a book review, but today, it’s back to the bread and butter.

And what book did I grab, randomly, from the book pile?

Glad you asked!

It’s “Hero,” by Shawn Records, published by aint bad, which turned up in the mail nearly a year ago.

(Thanks for your patience, Shawn!)

It’s a cool little book, for sure, but not one that needs deep analysis.

(No pun intended.)

Because it presents its structure in an obvious way, then tells the story abstractly, but in a manner that will make many a photo-book lover happy.

In this one, it’s all about the pictures, and many are very good.

(Not brilliant, but they don’t need be.)

 

 

 

 

There is almost no text in the book.

We have the end credits, and a crucial title page, which apes the structure of “The Hero’s Journey.”

Literally.

Each supposed chapter has a page number, and that’s it. (And only those pages are numbered.)

So I looked at it twice.

First, I flipped slowly, taking it in.

There were strong photos, for sure.

Like the dog peeking its head out of a hole in a garage door, and the great monkey shot, (as we saw in Rich-Joseph Facun’s excellent “Black Diamonds,”) makes me wonder if that’s not the new “put a bird on it.”

But surely, I liked the images, because they are very photographic.

Implied narratives, cool compositions, impending drama, dynamic colors, well-captured light.

It’s all there.

As I said about John Hesketh’s work last week, what’s not to like?

 

 

 

 

 

On second viewing, I tracked the chapter titles to specific images, and sure, they are suggested in the photos.

Not screamed, or shouted.

(Perhaps murmured would be a better verb.)

The credits page tells us the images were made between 2006-19, so this strikes me as the product of a photographer who shot for years, and then found the through-line after-the-fact.

Nothing wrong with that methodology, and it likely adds to the ambiguity.

So, to wrap it up, as my brain is tired from grief, (and a long trip to the pediatric dentist in Los Alamos yesterday,) I think this is the kind of book that collectors, and photo lovers, will like a lot.

It’s smart in its allusions, but doesn’t make you think too hard.

You can just look, admire the quality, then move on with your day.

Speaking of which… see you next week.

 

To purchase “Hero” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The End of the Line

 

 

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s disease.

(I’ve mentioned this before.)

Watching her deteriorate day-by-day, over the course of 2020 and 2021, was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.

Without question.

But the worst is over now.

 

October 3, 2020
October 28, 2020
November 21, 2020
December 4, 2020
March 7, 2021

 

 

 

 

Now that Bonnie has settled into a status quo, in which she can’t really communicate, or move around much, one would imagine that would be rock bottom.

But it’s not, actually.

She’s relatively happy, under the circumstances, and clearly wants to live.

(Her body just outlasted her mind.)

It’s fucked up, though, as prior to her decline, she asked her daughters to kill her, before she completely lost her faculties.

While Bonnie was still mentally competent, she did not want to live like this, but lacking an assisted suicide law in New Mexico, my wife and her sister were unwilling to comply.

Now, here we are, yet she eats up a storm, and chimes into conversations with meaningless babble from time to time.

Every medical practitioner I’ve heard speak on the subject, (as well as Bonnie’s experienced care-givers,) all say the same thing: when a person is ready to die, they stop eating.

They give up, hasten the process, and pass on.

And that’s not happening here.

Bonnie wants to live, so she lives.

She assumed she’d rather die than live like this, (when she could still think clearly,) but her body and spirit have different plans.

How strange.

 

May 14, 2021. (The last photo I took of Bonnie, b/c after this, I no longer felt she could give consent.)

 

 

 

 

 

The phase where every day, Bonnie would be less and less capable, was horrifying.

At first she’d simply forget words, or lose her wallet, but it quickly spiraled into personality changes, (like physically attacking my father-in-law, insisting he was an imposter,) and then truly tragic moments, where she knew what was happening, but was powerless to stop it.

I remember the time she looked at me, smacked her head hard, twice, and said, “my bran is broken.”

Not brain.
Bran.

That was awful.

Here in March 2022, though, she keeps on trucking.

I think about that, as I watch the horror of what’s happening in Ukraine, and keep landing on humankind’s survival instinct.

Staying alive is so deeply ingrained in our psyche.

In our souls.

Because no one knows what comes next.

It’s the great mystery, and almost everyone alive is terrified to find the answer.

(Better to not know, and keep living as long as possible.)

 

 

 

 

 

Truth be told, I wouldn’t be me if the above rant were not inspired by a photo-book.

I had no plans to write any of it.

Rather, I spent a few minutes with the short, sleek, supremely-well-designed “Terminus,” by John Divola, published by Mack in 2021, and came out with a new set of ideas.

Full disclosure, (as they say,) I know John personally, having interviewed him twice for Vice and the NYT, and then we had brunch and lunch together IRL.

 

 

We caught up on Zoom a few months ago, and I’ve written about him here before.

I’ve reviewed many books by people I know, but as John is something of an art-star, with a recent history of controversy, I thought it appropriate to come clean.

Because I wouldn’t want you to read this without context.

Frankly, for a while there, as I was turning the pages, I was more worried about how he’d respond to a negative review.

(Which is where we were trending, until near the book’s end.)

 

 

 

 

 

I know from speaking with John, and from his Instagram and FB feeds, that he’s been working for years at an abandoned Air Force base in Victorville, California.

I also know he’s insanely bright, and has his own ideas about what his work means.

When I interviewed him years ago, convinced he was just being a graffiti punk, back in the 70s, wreaking havoc in abandoned buildings, in the spirit of “The Warriors” era time period, he shot all my theories down.

No, not at all, he said.

He was making marks.
Painting abstraction.

The spaces were there, empty, so he made his paintings in the quiet.

The broken glass, piss on the floors, and general mayhem evidenced in his seminal “Zuma” series, shot in Malibu of all places, was incidental to the process.

Not the point.

These days, I feel more comfortable disagreeing, because of course he knows what his motivations were, but he can’t claim supreme knowledge of what the art is actually “about.”

 

All “Zuma” images courtesy of Divola.com

 

 

 

 

I’ve loved most of what I saw from his new project.

It’s anarchic and cool.

Like a late-career revisiting of “Zuma,” but now he’s transgressing on American Military property.

And there is a nice range of imagery within the larger work.

But not in “Terminus.”

No.

The title, (which means the end of the line,) is foreboding, but still the book reveals itself slowly.

Like the gorgeous black orb on the cover, page after page, we see orb-like black paint, graffiti style, as the end of a hallway.

(Rather, I assume it’s several hallways.)

As I turned the pages, I literally thought to myself, “Damn, the audience is going to hate this one, and hate me for reviewing it.”

They’ll think, “How myopic can you get? One meta-image, over and over again? Why make a book?”

I wondered, in a project with a range of images, why just this one repeating motif?

Over and over again.

The orb in the distance.

But then, something changed.

The orb was no longer looming ahead.

It was getting closer.

And closer.

Until finally, it was close enough to make me feel compressed.
Claustrophobic.

WTF?

Then it was there, so close you could touch it, and after literally breaking through, to see to the other side, what did we get?

More black void.

Right in your face.

I reminded myself to take a few breaths, because my understanding of the book changed so quickly.

So drastically.

This is about death.

The end.

And just when you think you can peek behind, to see what’s there, it’s even bleaker.

More void.

(That’s heavy, dude.)

 

 

 

 

As with many Mack books, this one is lean and spare in its textual offerings.

There is almost no text at all.

But on the last page, the artist writes, “Terminus is a singular work, not a collection of related images.”

(Tell me something I don’t know.)

John Divola can, and might, disagree with my reading.

Perhaps he’ll find it too literal.
Or metaphorical?

If so, I would say he’s wrong.

This book is about as good a symbolic representation of the the human condition as I’ve seen.

We all know we’re going to die, eventually.

But no one wants it to happen, and we all hope to get the longest possible lives.

Because Death is so permanent.

My mother-in-law, Bonnie, is/was one of the fiercest people I’ve ever met.

Strong of body and mind.

Capable of intense love, and a massive maternal instinct.

She thought she’d never want to live in such a compromised state.

But she was wrong.

Because, as I’ve seen with my own eyes, she isn’t ready to die.

And neither, (I suspect,) is John Divola.

Hopefully he’ll keep making provocative art for us, to nourish our minds and our spirits.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Terminus” click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Festivals Are Back

 

 

It’s my birthday today.

And thankfully, my wish was granted.

Photo festivals are back!

 

Birthday week selfie, mad-dogging the camera

 

From my perspective, they’re the life-blood of the photo world, here in the US.

Few things have the potential to change your career, (and your life,) more than spending time among a group of your talented peers, where you can make new connections, create friendships, receive feedback on your work, see new art for inspiration, listen to lectures that light up your ideas, discover new opportunities, eat different food, and walk around a fresh environment.

It literally builds new neural pathways in your brain.

Photo festivals rock!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our regular readers know I reviewed portfolios at most of the major American photography festivals, in the years leading up to the pandemic.

At one point or another, I attended Medium in San Diego, Filter in Chicago, PhotoNOLA in New Orleans , the NYT review, LACP’s Exposure, the Academy of Art University review in San Francisco, a festival in Santa Fe, and Photolucida in Portland.

Additionally, I was meant to go to the MOP Denver reviews last year, but they were held online, and I’ll be visiting the PhotoAlliance review in San Francisco in two weeks.

 

Courtesy of PhotoAlliance.com

 

For some reason, there has always been push-back against the idea of “pay-to-play,” and I was resistant to attending festivals myself, before a few colleagues talked sense to me in 2009.

I’ve reaped tremendous rewards, both as an artist and writer, and I’m telling you: it’s worth the financial and time investment.

(Plus, your tuition goes to support a non-profit organization, which is putting its energy directly into the community.)

The phrase “it takes money to make money” is correct, but that doesn’t mean it has to take A LOT of money.

Rather, it’s about finding value.

 

 

 

 

 

Good output requires good input.

Just as you wouldn’t expect to be healthy if you ate like Morgan Spurlock, when he filmed “Super Size Me,” it’s hard to make your best work if you’re not learning and growing.

 

Courtesy of MorganSpurlock.com

 

If you can’t see great art IRL, and share energy with people who are like-minded, but also very different from you, you’ll get stuck.

Which is where the festival circuit comes in.

If you attend a local event, you can likely save a lot of money on travel and accommodations.

So that’s a route to take, if your budget is tight.

(Many festivals also offer online components now, which is another value play, though you’ll miss out on most of what I’m hyping.)

 

 

 

 

 

Just off the top of my head, we’re talking about San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, Santa Fe, Boston, New York and Atlanta.

Which means most American photographers have a proper festival within a day’s drive.

(I guess the Hawaiians and Alaskans are shit out of luck.)

And the great thing about going to an event, with an open mind, an open heart, and the intention to press the flesh, is you simply don’t know what will come of it.

The combination of learning, wandering, listening, looking, laughing, eating, talking, drinking, thinking, and meeting new people is always worth the cost, because you’re guaranteed to emerge from the weekend a different person.

(Again, if you put yourself out there. Sitting quietly by yourself, and refusing to engage with others, or get out of your comfort zone if you’re an introvert, will undermine the effort, and exceeds the limits of my guarantee.)

 

 

 

 

 

One of the last festivals I attended before the world shut down was Photolucida, in Portland, April 2019.

The memories are so vivid.

I walked for miles, saw scores of photo projects, and ate amazing Thai food.

 

Walking around Portland.

 

I attended my first Hardcore Metal show, and was introduced to an entire subculture I didn’t even know existed.

I interviewed the bouncers there, at Dante’s, and then reported to you about the organized street fights, between different left and right-wing “gangs,” (for lack of a better word,) which was pretty cutting edge info, given what happened in PDX the following year.

(And is still happening, unfortunately.)

 

At Dante’s, where earplugs were a necessity

 

I’d never been to Portland before, and trying to understand an entirely new local culture, walking around the oddly-compressed downtown, (where I struggled to find the perfect vantage point to get my bearings,) smoking weed on the famed river bridges while talking to a great friend, it all made me richer, emotionally.

Smarter.
Happier.
Better.

If I close my eyes now, I can see events play out in my mind’s eye.

These are the types of experiences we all need, to rebuild our psyches, our creativity, and our sense of self, after one of the most brutal two-year stretches in American history.

(As the President himself said, in his State of the Union address the other night.)

And that’s without even mentioning the PTSD people feel this week, watching an unjust war play out in Ukraine, on their device screens, helpless to stop the onslaught of death and misery.

You feel me?

 

 

 

 

 

While I was in Portland, I also met some of the members of the local arts group, the Small Talk Collective.

 

Courtesy of Smalltalkcollective.com

 

Like many artists before them, these women joined forces, to support each other as people, as creators, and to make new opportunities for themselves, and members of the “female-identifying, nonbinary, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+” community.

When positive, supportive people stick together, and pull in the same direction towards a common goal, really good things happen.

And wouldn’t you know it, but today, I pulled a little envelope sleeve from my book stack, (which arrived in June 2021,) and it had a postmark from the Small Talk Collective, featuring a slim publication to publicize a new venture.

According to the letter affixed to the outside of the attached ‘zine, the group started their own gallery, Strange Paradise, in the Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center, which is pretty phenomenal.

(And their text mentioned how important such gestures are, coming out of a period of intense isolation.)

The very simple ‘zine, called “Reverberations: Vol.1,” featured work from the first two solo shows the gallery presented, in May/June/July 2021, by Kelda Van Patten and Marilyn Montufar.

It’s a sleek, cool little offering, for sure.

 

 

 

 

The ‘zine reads more like a promotional piece, than a proper art object in its own right, but so what?

(Not everything can nail the gestalt effect, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.)

Partly, it’s because the writing skews towards artist statement, rather than audience engagement, and because the two included projects are not an obvious fit.

They compliment each other with color palette, and overall image quality, but Kelda Van Patten makes IRL/digital collage work, from still lives, and Marilyn Montufar documented local culture in the hinterlands of Northern Mexico.

(In Chihuahua, where most tourists never, ever go.)

Now, before you assume this is one of those reviews that skews negative, I like this ‘zine a lot.

It’s well-produced and engaging, featuring strong photography within, and all the information you need to figure out its intent.

Furthermore, given most people focused on the high-end production fees I shared, in my recent “Making a Book” column, few seemed to grasp the embedded advice, that a professional-looking publication can impress, on next-to-no money.

This is a great example.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m assuming it was printed with a fine-art inkjet printer, double-sided, on a simple, low-weight rag paper, (or newsprint,) but it’s possible these pages come from a high-quality color copier.

You can imagine the Small Talk Collective members, (Audra Osborne, Jennifer Timmer Trail, Kristy Hruska, and Marico Fayre) patiently folding the 4-printed-pages together, with a straight edge, then carefully jamming two staples into the middle, thereby taking separate papers, and making them into a holistic object.

How much could each copy possibly cost to produce? (Not including postage.)

$1?
$2?
$3?

There’s no way it cost more than that, yet here I am, impressed, writing about it.

I now know who these artists are, (again, a benefit, if you’re promoting their exhibitions,) I know the Small Talk Collective has a gallery, and that they’re making publications.

I like this ‘zine, which means I also now have a positive impression of the Small Talk Collective, whereas yesterday, they were not in my consciousness.

If you think back to the mega-column on publishing, I wrote about combining your budget and your vision, with a sense of value and purpose.

Today’s publication is a perfect example of that.

Don’t spend more than you can afford.

And don’t overcomplicate things, if you don’t have to.

Hope that advice is helpful.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Reverberations: Vol. 1” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: Make America Great Again?

 

 

 

I’m keeping it short today.

(For real this time.)

 

 

 

I’m currently on my 4th coffee, at 11am, because I didn’t sleep well.

My daughter climbed into our bed, in the middle of the night, as she’d had a bad dream.

Right now, she’s sprawled on the rug, just outside my bedroom door, lounging in her pink, Hello Kitty pajamas.

(It’s a snow day. Again.)

It’s disorienting, as if I’ve traveled back to March 2020, when all of us were on top of each other, 24/7.

Remember that time when you didn’t go anywhere for a year?

(I sure do.)

 

 

 

 

If it weren’t for the pandemic, having the kids home today, happy, while snow glimmers on the ground outside, would be the best thing ever.

Who doesn’t feel nostalgia for snow days?

Staying home from school.

Sledding.

Drinking hot chocolate.

Watching bad re-runs on TV.

(The Brady Bunch, The Munsters, ChiPs, Leave it to Beaver, The Addams family, The Andy Griffith show… man, did they some have cheesy programs, back in the day.)

 

Image courtesy of TV Guide

 

But just as 9/11 was the seminal event for Generation X, cleaving reality into the before and after times, the last two years have been exactly that, for much of the world.

A turning point, where everything seems to have changed, and both new and old rules apply.

Look no further than today’s news to know it’s true: Russia just invaded Ukraine, with a goal of occupying and then assimilating a separate country, the first step in re-building the Soviet Empire, under Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Everyone keeps writing it’s the biggest European invasion since WWII, so the expectation of national sovereignty, which was taken for granted for decades, is no longer realistic.

 

 

Yet conservative Americans, the ones who drove the Red Scare under Joe McCarthy, are now actively siding with Russia, against their own country, because Vlad represents the AlphaChristianWhiteMale, and they all want to be like him.

He’s physically tough, personally ruthless, fabulously rich, answers to no one, hates everyone who’s different, and takes what he wants, when he wants to.

That’s as old school as it gets, and when half of America prefers the dictator model to a democratic republic, we are in deep shit.

(Sorry, guess a lack of sleep has damaged my optimism today.)

 

 

 

 

Or, more likely, it’s that I just looked at a depressing, almost nihilistic photo book. (Though I doubt the artist sees his own work that way.)

“Past Time,” by Paul Shambroom, was published in 2020, by Fall Line Press in Atlanta, and showed up in the mail a year ago.

While it would have made for good viewing then, (with Trump barely out of office,) the fact it marinated on my book pile for a year is beneficial to us all.

Because boy, does it feel relevant today.

 

 

 

 

To be honest, I didn’t “like” the book very much.

It’s well-made, with a strong concept, but wasn’t created to engender happy feelings.

(No sir.)

The book is built around a project in which Paul Shambroom photographed in small towns across America, as metaphors for nostalgia towards our country’s white-bread, MAGA past.

While everyone was talking about what the Trumpers wanted to return to, (a world where they could say and do as they pleased, without worrying about anyone’s feelings; where people of color were a permanent underclass,) Paul went out and documented what those places were actually like.

Make America Great Again?

What was so great, according to the Putin-loving-hordes?

Well, we see a lot of hometowns.

Ronald Reagan.
Andy Griffith.
Walt Disney.
Mark Twain.
Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Norman Rockwell.
Thomas Kinkade.

(It reads like a list of idealized Americans, if your version of ideal is White, Christian and Dead.)

Interspersed with the photographs are historical images, jigsaw puzzles, and even a racist coloring book.

Surprisingly, though Paul Shambroom is a very talented artist, whose work is in the biggest collections, (like MoMA,) and showed in the Whitney Biennial, the image quality here is intentionally scattershot.

Bad light throughout, a lack of high-resolution-sharpness, and a heap of lazy crops.

But with an artist of this caliber, we can’t assume the crops are lazy, but rather the images are designed to be off-putting.

Gursky proved you can take bleak light and make a masterpiece, but I think the anti-aesthetic here is being used on purpose, as a way of showing how low America has sunk.

 

Andreas Gursky, “Schiphol,” courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

How sad are its quaint little towns, the places people wish were still like Mayberry, or Pleasantville?

 

“Pleasantville,” 1998, courtesy of RogerEbert.com

 

There is a well-written essay at the end, by Tim Davis, and an in-depth interview between Paul Shambroom and publisher Bill Boling, and both texts suggest this book is more positive than I gathered.

There is talk of all Americans having the desire for safety, and housing for their children in common, and they mention the book by that dude everyone always references, which states people are safer and better off now than at any point in human history.

I get it.

But looking at this book, I came away feeling like the nostalgia bubble was being popped, because things were crap back then, and they’re still crap.

Not hard to feel that way, after the last two pandemic years, but these images predate that.

They’re more a reaction to pure MAGA, and given how much Trump is cheering on this new wave of territorial aggression, I guess maybe the book has a point.

(I mean, it opens with an image from “Leave it to Beaver,” so it’s not subtle.)

I wanted to review “Past Time” today because not only is it well-built; it has a strong point of view.

It’s an excellent book, even if I don’t “like” it.

It’s bleak, sure, but certainly fits with the 2020’s vibe.

Anyway, sending all the good energy to the folks of Ukraine!

See you next week.

 

To purchase “Past Time” click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

This Week in Photography: Keeping It Real

 

 

Dave Chappelle had a crazy skit.

(On the seminal, brilliant, early-aughts “Chappelle’s Show.”)

 

 

 

It was called, “When ‘Keeping It Real’ Goes Wrong.”

Man, was it twisted.

The gist is, sometimes you dig yourself in so deep, worrying about how you’re perceived, protecting your rep, that you can go down with the ship, rather than saving your skin.

(Or so I recall. I’m posting a Youtube clip here.)

 

 

The skit pops into my mind, because Dave has been in the news again recently, this time threatening to remove $65 million in proposed investments, from the Ohio town in which he lives, because he was opposed to the low-income portion of an impending housing project.

I tried to get the details.

Was it really that it was going to be near his backyard?

Overall, just a bad look, and another picked battle against groups he could just as easily support, if he were still cool.

(Like the trans community. Give it a rest trolling them, please, Dave.)

 

 

 

 

 

Still, a buddy recommended I watch Dave’s most recent Netflix comedy special, so I could see what all the fuss was about.

(I haven’t done it yet, because I just remembered the suggestion now, as I was typing.)

The same friend told me to watch the Italian mafia show “Gomorrah,” since I was re-watching “The Sopranos,” and he thought the former show to be superior.

 

Courtesy of IMDB

 

Speaking of superior, that was the attitude I took with him, in our conversation.

“How could ‘The Sopranos’ not be better? It’s art! One of the best shows ever!”

Mea culpa.

I already sent the apology text, as “Gomorrah,” set in Napoli, (where I once got robbed,) is flat-out-dynamite.

Gripping stuff.

My buddy had implied characters on “The Sopranos” were really caricatures, over-acted or under-acted parts that conform to our stereotypical beliefs.

The killers in “Gomorrah” are more clearly anti-social, but also victims of larger cultural circumstances.

The life is both more brutal, and less glamorized, if that makes sense.

This friend was always telling me the guys he grew up with, in a Mafia neighborhood, were proper hard men.

And that’s how these dudes roll in the Camorra, if this show is to be believed.

They “Keep it Real” for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

The subject’s been coming up a lot for me lately.

Just a few weeks ago, my son began making Hip Hop music on the app Rap Chat, and his younger sister followed.

At this point, the stuff he’s recording is pretty amazing, and I say that as an honest critic.

He wanted feedback, and I gave it, because a couple of his early efforts, (after a charming breakthrough song,) were seemingly written by another person.

Theo rapped about things that were simply untrue, and touched on inappropriate subjects, which did not come from his own life.

(Misogyny, drugs, sex, violence, guns, threatening boasts.)

He wanted my honest advice, so I told him to “Keep It Real.”

Write about your life.

Who you are.

What you know.

While plenty of artists did live “that” life, slinging, from NWA through Biggie, Jay Z and Migos, that was not Theo, and never would be.

 

 

He took the advice to heart, and ran with it.

So here’s a shout out to his new song.

He earned it, by being self-reflective, taking criticism, and then working hard on his craft, 7 days a week, since he discovered the passion.

When you find your voice, in art, it can come in an instant, or in a slower gurgle.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of “Keeping It Real,” this morning, as I was groaning about being super-brain-fried, Jessie joked I should “Keep It Real.”

Just review a good book; one that didn’t need me to say anything at all.

For something new, just go with:

“Here’s a good book.

Enjoy!”

(I mean, there’s a first time for everything.)

Imagine me, doing a simple, short article and leaving the book to speak for itself?

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed a book from March 2021, assuming it was about as old as I’ve got in the stack, and sure enough, it connected directly to last week’s column.

(I had no idea what it was about, so it’s just good luck.)

Thankfully, I unboxed “Party Pictures,” a terrific 2020 production, featuring a lesser-known series by long-time Philadelphia artist, and college professor William Earle Williams, published in honor of a solo exhibition he had at The Print Center back in 2011.

I was unfamiliar with the work, but the book offered context right away, both with a compact, well-written, info-dense opening statement by Print Center ED Elizabeth Spungen, and then a longer, academic-style-essay by John Caperton, who’d curated the 2011 exhibition.

The reading set the scene, and also gave historical info about William Earle Williams, as he was a history major in college, who then went on to get an MFA at Yale, upon the advice of his one-time friend Walker Evans.

 

 

 

 

 

If ever there were a book to present, without all the bells and whistles of my review style, this would be the one.

The pictures are great.

The cover is gorgeous, and the writings set up the awesome plates.

Who wouldn’t be fascinated, in 2022, by a stark, contrasty set of images of Philadelphia, Main Line, Blue Blood, old-money-high-society-types, at the apex of their power, in the 70’s and 80’s?

(All made by a young, Black photographer wearing a tuxedo.)

The artist set up a long-term project by sending out introduction letters, getting offers to photograph the parties, and then tracking the scene through the society page in the newspapers, so he’d know where to turn up.

Some affairs crossed cultural lines, but most did not.

Is that Frank Sinatra?
Brooke Shields?
Andy Warhol?

Yes, yes, and yes.

As to the connection to last week’s review, the opening text tells us Philly had, and has, a long history of private clubs, and The Print Center, in fact, used to be The Print Club.

Some were anti-Semitic, so Philly news magnate Walter Annenberg, and his buddies, needed to open up their own clubs, having been rejected from others.

(My jaw dropped when I read it, as I was totally happy to let last week’s issues drop. And then the NYT came out with its own Jewish-cultural-critic-takes-on-anti-Semitism article! )

That said, after the writing, and the well-constructed images, there is also the design to note, as the photos change size, and some layouts create a sense of movement by using repetition.

The end brings us an informative Q&A between the artist and Edith Newhall, a famed Philly art critic, which gives a sense of his personality, history, and connection to his forebears.

(William Earle Williams definitely comes across as a humble, cool guy.)

The caption pages at the back give additional context, (for those who care to keep reading,) and are organized by cute, little thumbnail photos.

What else is there to say?

I loved this book, and recommend it highly.

 

To purchase “Party Pictures” click here

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

This Week in Photography: Personal History

 

 

Jews have been in the news lately.

(A lot.)

It’s not surprising, as Trumpism, and the right-wing in general, have been ascendant the last five years, and those cats are big on hating “the other.”

So while we’ve all become familiar with the term BIPOC, and saw the anti-racism protest movement thrive, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, there has been no concomitant popular movement to combat anti-Semitism.

I wonder why?

 

 

 

 

The Jews are a small ethnic/religious group, relative to most other cultures in the world.

Though Christianity and Islam were both born from our religion, those two groups actively sought converts, over the last two thousand + years, and grew their numbers with purpose.

Judaism, on the other hand, makes it difficult to convert, as we consider ourselves the “Chosen People,” and there has never been an active movement to grow the religion’s population.

So while Christians and Muslims range in the billions, there are only 15 + million Jews in the world, and we’re a minority in every country on Earth, save Israel.

(All because my ancestors, ever the rebels, were dumb enough to stand up to the Roman Empire, and were kicked out of their homeland as punishment.)

 

Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” image courtesy of FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

 

Like Cain, doomed to wander the world with an obvious mark, Jews tried to make homes in other places, ever the outsiders.

And though contemporary culture deems us “white,” and is therefore skeptical of the roots of anti-Semitism, it’s only recently that most Jews have assimilated, dressing and acting as others do.

The Orthodox members of the religion, however, many of whom dress in heavy black suits, with odd haircuts, big hats, and women who cover all their skin beyond the face, (a slight variation on Islam’s burqa,) stick out like sore thumbs wherever they go.

They’re easy targets, as “the other,” and of course before the 2nd half of the 20th Century, (and into the 21st,) most Jews dressed like that wherever they were.

Which made them targets of pogroms, (murderous riots,) ghettoization, and discrimination, much as so many are mistreated today because of the color of their skin, their gender identity, or sexual preference.

 

A Jewish Pogrom in Frankfurt in 1819, courtesy of Wikipedia

 

One would imagine all historically marginalized cultures would band together, but when it comes to the Jews, somehow, we don’t typically make the cut.

(I mean, in the last few weeks, we had the terrorism hostage situation in Texas, the Whoopi Goldberg saga, a Washington Commanders football player telling everyone he’d love to have dinner with Hitler, and a WaPo columnist writing a PC op-ed that seemed to minimize the Holocaust’s effort to extinguish the Jews.)

Not to mention when I went my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah in New Jersey in April 2019, there was an armed guard at the door.

Honestly, before the last 5 months, I don’t think I’ve ever written about anti-Semitism in the column, and this is now the third time it’s come up since.

(Even three years ago, I was joking I’d rather be know as a Jewish-American than a “white guy,” and I’d have to think hard about that these days.)

 

 

 

 

 

From where I stand, all people are worthy of kindness and respect, as long as that’s how they treat others.

It’s easy to demonize certain Red-State cultural traits, (and I have,) but over my decade + writing here, I’ve also attempted to empathize with people who were vanquished in War, and then had to make nice with the victors, as the South did.)

Empathy, kindness and respect are the opposite of hatred, blame, and vilification.

So while I’m under no illusion my column will change hearts and minds, I take this platform seriously, and wanted to challenge the increasingly popular notion that it’s OK to dislike, or denigrate Jews, because we “run the world.”

Growing up, I heard plenty of big-nose jokes, or pick-up-the-penny insults, and everyone knew which Country Clubs were No Jews Allowed. (Not that we belonged to a Country Club.)

They even had a nickname for it: NJA.

These days, my own brother is as assimilated into wealthy, conservative Christian culture as any Jew has ever been, including all the trappings: Catholic School, tennis, golf, Country Clubs, hobnobbing with Upper Class Republicans.

You name it.

But we both began as a couple of Suburban Jewish kids, raised by the same parents, all those years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

I admit, this wasn’t the opening I was planning.

But I went for a walk, (as I often do to get the blood flowing,) and this is where we landed.

Right before I left, heading out into the white snow, blue sky, and ice-covered dirt roads, I looked at a photo book.

 

Walking in the snow

 

Which one, you ask?

Good question.

 

 

 

 

 

This morning, I went to the book stack, and looked for the oldest submission I could find.

I’ve told you it often takes a year for me to review a book, these days, and sure enough, I found a submission from Carole Glauber, in Israel, sent in February 2021.

“Personal History” was published by Daylight in 2020, and features an opening essay by the Israeli photographer Elinor Carucci, (who’s based in the US,) to give immediate context.

Unlike Rich-Joseph Facun’s book last week, this one sets the scene straight away, and then lets the pictures do the rest of the work, until a series of afterwords at the end.

And what is the book about?

Carole Glauber, a photographer and photo historian, raised her two Jewish boys in America, and I believe she is American herself, though she currently lives in Israel. (I could be wrong, of course, as the book doesn’t specify.)

She used a 1950’s Kodak Brownie camera to document her sons as they grew, which lends a dreamy, soft-focus haze to most of the images.

It’s a look, for sure, and represents a structural metaphor for the way our brains represent memories, which are rarely, if ever, as sharp and clear as a top-shelf lens on a medium format digital camera.

That’s the gist of the book, anyway.

But how does it function?

 

 

 

 

 

Elinor Carucci’s essay mentions her kids are nearly 15, and she’s begun to fret about how soon they’d be leaving the nest, after her 18 years with them.

My son is four months away from High School, so of course I’ve been having similar feelings of anxiety, wondering how we got here so fast?

(Did we though? The first two years of the pandemic felt like 5 years, so perhaps I’ve gotten extra time with him, experientially.)

In Carole Glauber’s photographs, there are time jumps, of course, as her boys go from very young to young men, and I was able to recognize settings like Italy and Oregon, though I’m not quite sure where they were raised.

(The Grand Canyon makes an appearance too. Who hasn’t created extra-vivid memories with their children on vacation?)

At one point, we see a Bar Mitzvah image, and her son Sam wearing a yarmulke.

They do not hide their Jewishness, though when I was growing up, that was still common, as the scars of the Holocaust were still so evident.

One of my Dad’s relatives had a concentration camp tattoo on his arm, and I never, ever forgot that my people had nearly been annihilated.

(To be clear, the one culture in which Jews most assimilated before the US was Germany, and we all know how well that worked out.)

In general, I don’t care or think much about Whoopi Goldberg, and haven’t since I saw her in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

 

 

But I sure has hell got offended when I read her recent words.

One group’s suffering should make them more empathetic and supportive of others who’ve shared a fate, but it rarely seems to work out like that.

(Again, I’ve written several times I don’t support Israel’s apartheid policies towards Palestine, though I don’t think either side has ever looked good, stewing in their respective hatred.)

This book pulled at my heart strings a few times, but not as much as I anticipated, because I think the concept is stronger than the images.

Photographs made in the snapshot aesthetic can still lean heavily on elements of technique: great compositions, lighting, color palettes, dynamism, and such.

I found these to be OK, for the most part, but rarely more than good.

(With a few exceptions.)

In the end, after the artist’s afterword, each son, Ben and Sam, writes a piece about their reaction to the book.

I was amazed how their differing personalities came through.

One was circumspect and brief, the other hyper-specific, and perhaps a tad insecure, wanting the audience to know he could dissect art, and understand its intricacies.

It really is amazing how it works like that.

Siblings, growing up with the same parents, sharing so much genetically, can sometimes become so different, they can no longer relate to one another.

But I suppose the future has not yet been written.

Has it?

 

To purchase “Personal History” click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.