Category "Photography Books"

This Week In Photography Books – Chris McCaw

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America. Today, belts will loosen around the fifty states. Cholesterol levels will rise faster than the sea in the six years since Al Gore’s Climate Change movie was released. And we’ll see “A Christmas Story” pop up on cable any day now. (You’ll shoot your eye out.)

It’s hard to imagine a movie achieving cult and classic status as quickly as that one did. I remember going to see it with my now-dead-Jewish grandma in South Florida when it came out back in the day. (Big ups to Nana, wherever you are.)

“A Christmas Story” endures because it contains so many memorable moments. It left us with one scene, once seen, that remains in your neuron-memory, forever. I’m talking about the bit where a dumb kid name Flick gets his tongue stuck on a frozen pole after a triple dog dare. (And I double dog dare you not to laugh when he starts crying.)

Despite the film’s popularity, that type of adolescent humor seems anachronistic in a Post-Jack-Ass world. Just the other night, I was watching the 3rd installment of the Harold & Kumar series, and the Korean dude got his penis stuck on a frozen pole while trying to escape from Ukrainian hit men. Like I’ve said before, the 20th Century seems like a long time ago.

Will this prosthetic penis be burned into my brain like the Flick’s frozen tongue? Probably not. It’s just harder to shock people these days. (Unless you choose not to caption photos of dead people in an interview about War photography.)

Perhaps the key to mental resonance is rooted in simplicity? I will spatter paint, instead of apply it. I will film a Western in Spain, instead of America. I will let the sunlight burn through a paper negative inside a view camera. Had no one ever thought to do that before? I don’t know. But when San Francisco-based-artist Chris McCaw stumbled on the technique, he was probably pretty f-cking psyched.

I just got to look at “Sunburn,” Mr. McCaw’s new monograph from Candela Books. (Richmond, VA.) It’s a beautiful new hard cover, and they even took the trouble to burn through one of the intro pages. (Amazing what they can do with lasers these days.) There are a couple of essays at the beginning, including one by New Mexico’s own Katherine Ware. The other was written by Allie Haeusslein, the gallery manager at Pier 24, thereby closing the loop on our San Francisco series.

The first time I went through the plates, I found myself just a wee bit underwhelmed. My eyes naturally went to the landscape subject matter, and I didn’t catch the emerging patterns of the Sun. Kind of like it’s hard to watch the crowd in a sporting event on TV. Your eye keeps tracking the ball.

Even so, the pictures of the Sun’s path caught my attention enough to decide to come back to the book again today. Good sign. The closing text, written by the artist, gives some more context as to where he’s gone to get the images, (the Galapagos, Alaska, and around the American Far West,) and the titles share specifics about the exposure type. He’s like one of those old Mayan shaman guys, charting motion to harness the power of light.

Upon the second viewing, I began to tune out the ocean and bay vistas, and just watch the lines, dots and dashes appear up in the sky. Code. The sunrise to sunset arch is a basically the portrait of a spinning planet. Wow. By the time I saw the vertical sunpath that ends the book, I was hooked.

Mr. McCaw has had a lot of success with this work over the last few years. Deservedly so. You might want this book, you might not. But the lesson in the power of reductiveness is one I’ll leave you with, now that you’re regretting yesterday’s binge-eat-turkey-fest.

To purchase “Sunburn” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Doug Rickard

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I like to mix things up. It’s a must for this column. Week in, week out, I’m going to write about a book. If I can’t sustain quality commentary, this venture disappears.

Last week, I cut out the personal narrative, and wrote about a book that proved controversial. Mostly because it didn’t look like the things I normally proffer. It was highly commercial, and not exactly original. But it also managed to create a maelstrom in the comment section. I won’t push my luck and say the work was brilliant, because it was not. But I have found that neat and tidy, safe projects do little to promote discourse.

Great art, or at least important art, need not be pretty. In fact, moving into anti-aesthetic territory is an easy way to distinguish “art” from “decoration.” Ugly doesn’t sell as well, until it’s branded “Genius,” but it does get people to rub their chins and fidget awkwardly in a museum context. Tweaking people’s expectations of attractiveness is a good way to get them to think.

Furthermore, as I discussed in the Boris Mikhailov review last year, when examining difficult, exploitative scenarios, it’s disingenuous to try to make things gorgeous. Or to avoid exploitation in one’s process. Difficulty of subject matter, rendered as metaphor through difficulty of concept and image structure, is a good way to take the carpool lane to MOMA.

Just ask Doug Rickard. Despite the fact that there are multiple artists that have come out with Google-street-view-themed projects in the last few years, Mr. Rickard is the one who made it into MOMA’s coveted “New Photography 2011” exhibition. Why?

He managed to take all the messy, uncomfortable strands that jut out of Google’s immaculate quilt, and tie them together in a coherent and edgy way. Mr. Rickard looked at a situation in which a major corporation was invading people’s privacy to an unprecedented degree, and he chose to take that exploitation one step further.

Is this a book review? Of course it is. Because Mr. Rickard’s new monograph, “A New American Picture,” published by Aperture, turned up in my book stack recently. The book is well-produced, with an essay and an interview with the artist. Aperture never scrimps on production quality, so you can trust that the book is well-built. The images themselves, however, will not match up with your expectations of quality and good looks.

The artist spent countless hours exploring dirt poor urban and desolate rural regions of the United States. All via Google’s street view interface. He slowly “wandered” the streets of some of the most crime-ridden, dangerous, and bleak spots, all without leaving the comfort of his Aeron chair. (OK, I made that last detail up.)

The plates are muddy, compelling, and not particularly attractive. On several, I could even spot banding. It appears that he output prints, which were then re-photographed for the book. Clearly, they’re meant to look “poor” on purpose.

And as to the subject matter, Mr. Rickard sees his exploration as a 21st Century version of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange rolling, in physical form, through the same types of poor places, looking for photos. Documenting poverty. Shining light on the disenfranchised.

The big story here, though, is how the artist shamelessly exploits the poor folks in the photographs. It’s safe to assume they won’t see a dime, mostly because he couldn’t track them down if he tried. He’s not the one who took the source photos to begin with. Google did. He’s just doubling down on the capitalistic land grab. If the suckers didn’t know Google stole their “image”, how will they ever afford the plane ticket and admission fee to go see the prints on the wall at MOMA? (Or for free at Yossi Milo, through November 24)

The answer is, of course, they won’t. This is smart work, and Mr. Rickard is a smart artist. He knows his pictures won’t change a damn thing about poverty in America, and he also knows that none of his subjects are ever likely to even hear about his project. Most of them might not even have access to the Internet.

It’s a dirty, wicked system. Some folks are born with money, get a great education, live in city sky-scrapers, and travel the world. Other folks live in middle-class suburbs, inured from the “fear” of gang violence, but engaged in more-than-ever-before diverse communities. And some folks just get the shit end of the stick. Like I said, difficult art for a difficult situation.

Bottom Line: Smart and well-conceived, but you might not like it

To purchase “A New American Picture” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – RJ Shaughnessy

by Jonathan Blaustein

Initially, I hated it. Today’s book: “Stay Cool,” by RJ Shaughnessy. I picked the thing up off my bookstack, attracted to the bright yellow color. (Mmmm, yellow.) Then, I set it down a moment later. It seemed insanely cynical, like a mashup of Larry Clark’s “Kids”, anything by Ryan McGinley, and an American Apparel ad. (No offense.)

But wait, you say. Isn’t he supposed to start off with either a self-referential or quasi-philosophical hook? He never just writes about the book. That’s for squares, man.

Well, today, we’ll (kind of) make an exception. There’s been a lot of my voice on APE this week, and I really don’t want to burn you out. I thought it more appropriate to cut to the chase. (Sort of.)

As I was saying, I didn’t care for the book. I put it back on the stack, and forgot. Today, I peeked again, because, you never know. Opinions, left alone without adult supervision, have been known to change.

Do you remember what it’s like to be a teenager? I mostly recall the endless supply of insecurity that pumped through my blood daily. Yes, I was an angst-ridden youth. Quelle surprise?

Fortunately, having taught photography to high schoolers for seven years, I learned to appreciate the combination of energy, intelligence, passion, creativity and curiosity that so many people display at that age. Fire and brimstone. Piss and Vinegar. (Insert one last random clichΓ© here.)

This book has little text, beyond the ubiquity of “Stay Cool.” Only an intro paragraph that speaks to the desire to tell the “story of youth.” (Naive, or refreshingly earnest?) It ends with an entreaty to pirate, copy, and share these photos any way you like. How Millennial.

The photographs represent a series of very-good-looking kids, in LA, goofing off, being very-good-looking kids in LA. They kiss, climb on top of cars, slap five with the PoPos, climb on some more things. Then they kiss each other again. Release some balloons. And walk around with signs that say “Stay Cool.”

Is this an ironic review? I’m not sure. Because as silly as it sounds as I’m writing about it, (and the first time I saw it,) the book kind-of does capture the spirit. In a world where everyone can’t stop talking about the obnoxious chick from “Girls”, and 20somethings living in their parents’ basements, this captures the phase, just before, when kids do stupid shit just because it’s fun. Not because they want HBO to option their life story.

Teenagers really do the sorts of things we see here. (Though I have no doubt this was thoroughly staged.) And in LA, of all places, I’m sure they’re not shy about showing off their trendy jeans and tight posteriors. No artifice, because it’s all artifice. (Wait, are we talking about LA now, or the kids?)

Bottom line: Fun, in a vapid kind of way

To purchase “Stay Cool” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Jonathan Hollingsworth

by Jonathan Blaustein

Here in the United States, we are a nation of immigrants. And yet, we have always demonized them. Does that make us self-hating Americans? Simply ridiculous. Do you know anyone who traces his lineage back to the Mayflower? I don’t.

Of course, those blasted Pilgrims were immigrants themselves. As were the brave, thoroughly crazy men and women who trekked across the Bering Strait land bridge 15,000 years ago. Can you imagine? How hard must life have been in pre-historic Siberia, (or Mongolia,) that it seemed prudent to walk across the frozen ice, into the great unknown? (And then to walk all the way to Argentina? I know people here who drive to the next door neighbor’s house.)

As you probably know by now, I live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. In my town, the Taos Pueblo claims to be the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the United States. The Spanish conquistadors, who arrived to cut off feet and f-ck shit up, came sometime around 1600. The invading hordes of white hippies and bohemians dropped in (or out) much later, in the 1970’s.

Ironically, all three groups of people have some delicious irony in common. (If I may be so bold as to stereotype.) Each wishes things would go back to the way they used to be. Before new people came to change things for the worse. The Spanish descendants, even today, decry the growth and change, but never seem to mention how their ancestors just took whatever the hell they wanted, at musket-point.

When you stack it up like that, it’s hard not to think hypocrisy hardwired into the human condition. (I do, at least.) A nation of immigrants that has never stopped persecuting itself. How strange.

In 2012, the derogated population du jour is the invading hordes of Mexican and Central Americans who face unthinkable danger when they walk across a forbidding and death-filled desert. Their purpose? To take the fruit-picking, hedge-trimming, and dish-washing jobs deemed too low-paying and thankless for America’s resident citizens.

I still remember the time I met a few Mexican immigrants at a party in Durham, NC in 1995. The idea of Mexicans moving to such a random spot made me laugh out loud. Now, of course, immigrants from points South have gravitated to almost every part of the United States, and have become a political wedge of immense proportions. (I say almost every part, because who would be surprised to find white dishwashers in Utah?)

How and when we deal with our internal conflict is beyond my capacity to speculate. But if we focus on the arduous journey, it certainly helps to contextualize the situation. Some people are actually willing, on a daily basis, to walk across a 130 degree patch of hell, for days, just to make a better life for themselves and their families. Noble, yet tragic, because someone dies almost every other day. (At least.)

They succumb to the elements. Their bones are left to slowly desiccate, in silence. No tombstone. No funeral. No way home.

Is this news to you? Probably not. But when was the last time you saw visual evidence that made your stomach tighten and your tear ducts fire up? (I know, that doesn’t sound fun. But who said art was always fun?)

Jonathan Hollingsworth recently put out a book, “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border,” published by Dewi Lewis, that does just that. It is among the more poignant and thoughtful objects I’ve seen in some time. If every American citizen had a copy, you can bet Mitt Romney would pretend he could speak Spanish. (Hola. Me llamo Mitt. Me gusta los niΓ±os, y caminando a la playa con mi esposa.) Demonizing such people should be a crime.

The book, though, lays out its case in a very straightforward and intelligent manner. The opening, short essay was written by the chief medical examiner of Pima County Arizona, in Tucson, where so many bones turn up at the end of the line. Credibility established.

There are three major sections to the project. The first set of photographs documents the sterile, fluorescent-lit confines of the autopsy locale. Sinks, tables, files, skulls, and a spine for good measure. It’s sad, of course, but also speaks to the power of our democracy. While tax rates are on everyone’s mind, it’s good to be reminded of the civil servants who toil in obscurity, day after day, to try to find the answers in these lonely deaths.

Then, we have a slightly-too-long section of images of the contents found on the possession of each corpse or skeleton. ID cards, cell numbers in Brooklyn, coyote contact info, girlfriend photos, belt buckles. Wow. The exact opposite of a dignified stone in a tony cemetery.

Finally, we have the establishment shots. Some landscape images, of course, but also a series of pictures made in a pick-up zone. Left behind shoes, water bottles, clothing. Were they to have come first, their impact would have been muted. At the end of the book, they tug the heart strings rather well.

The book closes with a very-well-written, but not-too-long piece by the artist. Once again, he does what he can to humanize a situation that normally just fumes as a set of statistics. Nicely done, Mr. Hollingsworth. Nicely done.

Bottom line: A sad, poignant, & important book

To purchase “Left Behind: Life and Death Along the U.S. Border” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Daido Moriyama

by Jonathan Blaustein

Two months ago, I referred to Daido Moriyama as a woman. My mistake. Let this be my official apology. He is clearly a man, and I was remiss for stating otherwise. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

How could such a thing happen? Well, I’m not omniscient. Despite the fact that his work is everywhere at the moment, (Tate Modern et al) I’d not seen much before I picked up that Okinawa book. And let’s not forget Dido, that New Age singer who was sampled in that classic Eminem song back in ’99. It must have stuck in my head as a woman’s name. (Like any parent knows, accidents happen.)

But I’d love to atone, and see an easy way to do so. I will now tell you of the existence of “Labyrinth,” Mr. Moriyama’s new book, recently published by Aperture. Yes, this week is more show than tell; not quite a straight review. (Even by my absurd standards.)

Why? Because this book consists of hundreds of black and white contact sheets. Only. Thousands of images. Not even an essay, thank the photo gods. Just an endless stream of photographs, presented with the hits next to the misses. As they were shot.

I’m providing a couple of extra photos, so you can feel confident about your prospective purchase. My two cents? Dynamic imagery, innovative concept. (I’m sure if anyone has ever done this before, you’ll tell me. It’s cool nonetheless.) And to you, Mr. Moriyama, you have my apologies. Keep up the good work.

Bottom line: Excellent book, countless photographs

To purchase “Labyrinth” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Yousuf Karsh

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s quiet right now. I can hear the soft hum of the refrigerator behind me. Outside, the cottonwood leaves are more than yellow. Mustard? Cheddar? Honey? Something like that.

The tips of those trees glance the tops of the PiΓ±ons that dot the rocky hill above them. (A skyline, from my vantage point.) Above the green, the sky is a confident blue, fading to powder as it bumps against the upward thrust of El Salto Peak, due East.

The light is always so three dimensional around here this time of year. I suppose that’s true many places in Autumn. Who doesn’t think their city or town or pasture the most beautiful in the world every October? (Hey Australians, does that mean April for you down there?)

Light and color. Mutual obsessions of mine, and for so many of you as well. Unless you’re a grayscale junkie. (Do you love the smell of fixer in the morning?) However we choose to make our work, I’d like to think most of us can appreciate a book of great photographs, no matter the subject, format, or style. Great is great, though terribly subjective.

“Karsh Beyond the Camera,” turned up in my book pile on the last visit to photo-eye. It’s a medium sized, soft-cover book, and really, it looks like a biography you’d find on the shelf at Borders. So unimposing. It’s like something your grandpa Morten would buy. Some biography of a general in World War II. Yes, that’s it. Churchill’s on the cover, for heaven’s sake.

Most of you would have heard of Yousuf Karsh, the Turkish-born, Armenian photographer who made his name in Canada. I had not. Opening up a book I thought would be mostly text, I was thrilled to find so many amazing, technically flawless images of so many important historical figures.

The lighting screams drama. It makes you think of old Hollywood movies. Orsen Welles, or Hitchcock. Moody, smoky, straight out of the 40’s and 50’s. Badass.

We see portraits of the aforementioned Churchill, plus Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Picasso, Khrushchev, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Edward Steichen, (twice) Truman, O’Keefe, Bogart, Castro, Frank Lloyd Wright. I could go on. When you photograph that much of history, inevitably you insert yourself.

Beyond the introduction, there are personal anecdotes that accompany each image, as well as recollections from Karsh’s long time studio assistant. I read a few, and they were amusing in the least. One message did pop out. Apparently, one secret to his success was an insistence on being polite, friendly, well-dressed, and entirely focused on the person he was meant to photograph. Great advice, no?

Bottom line: A chunk of history in an unimposing package

To purchase “Karsh Beyond the Camera” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Caleb Cain Marcus

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

I don’t feel very well at the moment. Last week was a mad dash through San Francisco and Denver, by way of Albuquerque. Planes, trains and automobiles indeed. I caught a nasty cold at a children’s Church carnival in Denver, so I’m surly as well as exhausted.

Ironically, my mental state has actually impacted plans for an upcoming project. Still secret of course, but let’s just say that my ambitions for a huge chunk of travel have withered. I may not be old, technically, but I’m old enough to know that my body and mind have limitations. My schedule will change to suit reality.

Tired though I may be, I’m also thankful. Travel is the great educator. We learn more about our own lives and cultures when faced with others. Not the most brilliant thought I’ve put forth here, I admit, but true nonetheless. We push out to know more about where we rest our heads each evening.

Sometimes, though, to get to the core of a story, one must stretch personal boundaries. Occasionally, an artist has to travel to the literal ends of the Earth to scratch obsession’s itch. Can’t say it’s happened to me yet, but we know the results when we see them.

This week’s book is a perfect example. “A Portrait of Ice,” by Caleb Cain Marcus, was recently published by Damiani. It’s an oversized soft cover book, with a delicacy that matches well with its subject matter: the Earth’s rapidly disappearing glaciers. (Insert random environmental statistic here.)

Mr. Marcus must have learned to love the neck pillow, and probably racked up a ridiculous credit card bill, in order to bring back these photographs. He visited Alaska, New Zealand, Iceland, Patagonia, and probably some other places I’ve neglected to mention. The resulting photographs make up the bulk of the volume.

This book goes against the rhythms I’ve extolled lately, in that there is not much of a narrative build-up. Good essays, some more nice writing, and then the plates. The production quality might make up for a lack of editorial lyricism, but, really, this book impresses because of the photographs themselves.

The pictures are uncomfortable artifacts of the 21st Century. They’re razor sharp, with a ridiculous pixel count, and are slightly over-saturated in the manner that marks the hyper-real. It’s possible that Mr. Marcus used something other than a medium format digital camera, but I doubt it. (And if so, he managed to ape the digi-aesthetic in a fantastic way.)

A sense of scale disappears, and you can’t really tell if you’re looking at actual glaciers, or well-made models in a studio. The awkward beauty mystifies a bit, as confusion and appreciation commingle. I think it’s a very smart way to approach a subject that is both topical and ahistorical. Big mountains of ice rendered by big mountains of data.

These images function as documents of objects that may well cease to exist. But rather than tug on our heart strings, like that crying-Native-American-litter commercial from the 70’s, this project pushes us away as it draws us in. And it also deigns to make the large look small, which is a great metaphor for a compressed world in an Internet age.

Bottom Line: Fascinating, topical photographs of Glaciers

To purchaseΒ A Portrait of Ice visit Photo-Eye


Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Berenice Abbott

by Jonathan Blaustein

I complicate things sometimes. With my elaborate introductions, I could be accused of stealing the spotlight from the books themselves. With the constant references to self, perhaps I am nothing more than a child of a meta-obsessed generation? Malkovich inside his own head.

If I were kind, though, I might focus on my laurels, like the desire to discuss these books in the context of a lived experience. We share more in common with each other than we don’t, I believe. And yet there are some ideas which cannot be accommodated with others. Some divides seem genuinely unbridgeable.

First on my list would be that gap between extreme religious believers, and the rest of us. Religion, taken to its limits, can be an Operating System. The code, once uploaded, can only work within those sets of instructions. No new information can infect a closed loop.

While Jewish in upbringing and somewhat Buddhist in leanings, I have nothing against the whole endeavor. Whether it’s creation mythology or community building, there is a lot of good in said holywater. But much of the death and destruction we see today is based upon either the nasty intertwining of religion and tribalism, or the inability of ancient beliefs to reconcile with a 21st Century understanding of the world.

Here in the US, we have an almost unbelievable battle waging. On one side lie those who believe that Dinosaur bones are only a few thousand years old, women are subservient to men, and the planet is not warmed by an excess of carbon in the atmosphere. Basically, they don’t believe in science.

The others, myself included, view the continuum of knowledge as a good thing. Physics and genetics and all manner of science wings pursue more and more information, while also admitting how much remains to be learned. It’s absurd and also humbling to believe we used to be Australopithecines, grunting and hirsute.

Is this going anywhere? Does it ever? This week’s book is special, and while I rarely go out and say it, this is probably a book to buy: Berenice Abbott, “Documenting Science” recently published by Steidl. Only in the end notes did I learn that this is the second in a series of books about the artist that Mr. Steidl is producing.

The book begins with a wonderfully written, obviously vintage letter by Ms. Abbott, pertaining directly to her desire to study the eponymous subject. So cool. “The artist through history has been the spokesman and conservator of human spiritual energies and ideas.” Serious intentions lead to serious work.

The photographic plates, made from scans in the Steidl studio, are masterful. (And will definitely suit the tonal range cultists out there.) Different scientific concepts, like Motion, Electricity and Magnetism, and Light and Optics are delineated through a variety of individual examples. Each idea has been rendered as an experiment, or visualization.

It’s terribly clunky in words, I know. That’s part of the point. There’s no magic in the phrase “Conservation of Momentum in Spheres of Unequal Mass.” Yet the photograph those words describe is genius. Kinetic yet Zen.

The book is solid as well as dense. If you read this column, and are a book consumer as well, this is one to consider. I’m not sure what it costs, but you’ll likely return to it again and again for years. As well as it’s built, it ought to resonate down the line, serving as proof that Science is more than just big words and thick glasses and white coats.

Bottom line: A masterpiece

To purchaseΒ “Documenting Science” visit Photo-Eye

This Week In Photography Books – Xu Yong

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Growing up hetero and male, there is nothing more alluring than a woman’s private parts. The vagina is talismanic, and leads to unhealthy obsessions. For years, in one’s adolescence, a woman’s naked body sits on top of the teen hierarchy, above even cash-money. Objectification may stem from the media’s depiction of women, but there is a genetic element as well.

Then one day, you have a daughter. The day you bring her home, and change the first diaper, the appearance of the vajayjay, as it’s now called, is disconcerting. Confusion follows repulsion, as one really doesn’t know how to recontextualize the situation. Do you look away? Stare at it? Wiping away the brown business requires focus and co-ordination.

I’m not the first man to have a daugher, obviously. We all deal with the awkwardness, and then get more competent. Now, I barely flinch at the task. But I do think, quite a bit, about how my perceptions of women were built upon that foundational obsession. And now, will it forever be different? Is this a clichΓ© sentiment? Probably.

But it could also lead to growth. Sure, I’m an avowed feminist, but raising a girl will inevitably roll over my preconceptions, like a tank over a bicycle. Diggety, diggety, crunch, diggety, diggety.

Father, or not, though, I was totally engrossed with “This Face,” a new book by Chinese artist Xu Yong, recently published by Editions Bessard. It’s a nice follow up to last week’s book, as these images also meditate on the the intersection of boredom and repetition. (Plus daily suffering for the almighty dollar.) Or, in this case, the Yuan.

The book is soft-cover, and probably not built as strongly as I would like. But I’m not the publisher, and of course, it must have been cheaper this way. The string binding sits on the outside, and the initial essay is an insert that falls out too easily. Which is not always a bad thing, because, in this case, it allowed me to see the images without context.

Each photograph is a tight portrait of a young, Chinese woman’s face. It takes a bit of page turning to determine that it’s the same person, because our eyes must acclimate first. (Which builds curiousity and interest.) It’s a great way to add a touch of tension, and keep the pages turning.

She wears no makeup, then lots, and then none again. Her expression changes, but always maintains its guard. We see this face, and want to keep looking, but there is never the payoff of vulnerablity that we crave. Kept at a distance, yearning for the personal connection, the tension remains.

After the pictures, there is a text page, in English and probably Mandarin, that reads “The images of Zi U’s face, a prostitute were photographed at intervals through a day of her work.” Jackpot. That’s what the story is about.

From there, we’re given a dense but taut diary, written by Zi U, that graphically describes the events, and penises, that she encountered while the photos were made. Totally fascinating. And then, of course, you go back through the photos and try to read her face more carefully. The narrative is linear, so the waking up is easy to spy, as is the end of the day. The in-between? Still obscure.

People will always be fascinated by the world’s oldest profession. The allure of the salacious is hardwired. It explains so much of our entertainment habits, from action movies to MMA to pornography. Here, I believe the artist has personified it in a poignant way. It boils down to a woman, making money with her body, and hiding the rest of herself from her Johns, as well as the camera.

Bottom Line: A compelling look behind a hooker’s veil

To purchase “This Face” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Florian van Roekel

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s the year 2000.

Google is a big number, but not quite infinity. Hanging Chad means the guy who’s always sitting on the couch, next to your roommate Aaron, drinking your beer. The Soviet Union is dead, China has yet to rise, and Americans feel like the world is a big apple tree, and all you have to do is grab what you can.

I’ve just moved to San Francisco, and live in the Mission District with my girlfriend, Jessie. (Now wife.) Dotcom millionaires peek their heads out of limousine sunroofs as they cruise through our neighborhood at night. I get my coffee with a bagel and cream cheese at the cafe on the corner for $1.50.

Tired of waiting tables and ready to be an adult, I get a job at a non-profit, progressive public relations firm on Mission St. The organization, since merged with Fenton Communications, was a spinoff of the famed liberal bastion, Global Exchange. My co-workers are a typically San Franciscified bunch; all colors, sexes, and sexual orientations are represented. (Yes, I’m being literal.)

We were housed within the same building as our Global Exchange brethren. Thick body-odor musk, wafting taqueria fry grease, and a lingering marijuana stench contributed to a healthy, lived-in aroma. Everyone was talking about how they were just in Nicaragua, or Guatemala, and pronounced the names with proper Spanish emphasis. Life was good.

Two weeks in, the ED announced the company was moving to the Embarcadero, right on the Bay. My commute would grow from a short walk to a 30 + minute hassle, requiring BART. And lots of rain.

We moved into a re-done, second floor office, built directly onto the pier. Nice view: seagulls, the TransAmerica tower, the shimmering reflection of the Bay Bridge on the water. Unfortunately, the space inside bore the typical corporate color scheme of gray on gray on gray. Carpets, partitions, office chairs, all gray. Immediately, my job, answering phones, helping to change the world, lost its glamour.

Sure, the higher-ups were battling to make the world a better place. But I was stuck fighting my myopic boss about which garbage cans to buy for under everyone’s desk. Foolishly, I made a rash decision, and was shamed as she slowly circumnavigated the room, interviewing each employee as to their desired preference of trash-bin-recepticle. Chastened, I promised never to make a unilateral decision on matters of such significance.

Days became weeks, and I became less happy as each passed. My naive desire to join the San Francisco non-profit community led me straight into my own, boring-ass version of Office Space. The phones rang, I answered them. The trash filled up, I emptied it. Wow, just writing about it bores me. So lets move on.

One day, I woke up and realized that the average-joe-lifestyle was not for me. Monotonous, sterile, repetitive. Gray on top of gray on top of gray. Please, make it stop.

So I quit, ready to commit to being an artist.

Here we are. It’s 2012, and this week marks my one year anniversary of writing this column. I’m sitting on my favorite green couch, my feet now wedged against my daughter’s crib. I’m headed back to San Francisco in a couple of weeks to check on the art scene, and report back. My how things have changed.

But this wouldn’t be a column if I didn’t write about a book. Today, the above musings were brought to you by Florian van Roekel, who seemingly self-published a super-cool book called “How Terry Likes His Coffee.” Some of you might have seen it before, but the 2nd Edition landed on my book pile, and I’m loving it.

The book is black, with yellow post-it-style sticker on the front. It looks like a fancy pad that you might use to take notes at the Friday Staff Meeting. Straight away, it opens on the doodles that some Terry might have made while studiously not listening to what was going on in said meeting.

Apparently, Mr. van Roekel spent some time in actual office parks in Holland, because you could never fake it so well. (And I’d guess he was influenced by Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” as well.) Even Thomas Demand’s fastidious recreations lack the soul-sucking, stultifying reality of what we see here. I’m having flashbacks. “Hello, Communication Works. This is Jonathan. How may I direct your call?”

The book follows a pattern of my current favorites, which is to include non-photographic imagery, and to create a natural progression. A narrative. A plan. It begins with with office party decorations, file cabinets, cubicle art, the water cooler, jackets on the back of chairs. All the images feature a heavy use of flash, which by now you must know I enjoy. Not everyone does.

Then we’re into the portraits, mostly backs of heads. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Too real to mock, to awesome not to appreciate.

–“Hey Terry, how was your weekend?”

–“Oh, you know, the ususal. Bought some terrific hash at the coffee shop, stared at my reflection in the canal for 45 minutes. Watched a football game on TV. That Robin Van Persie is such a wanker. How about you, Josh?”

–“Oh, you know, the same. Shannon’s mother is in town, though, and you know how that is. Hah, hah. If I’m not careful, she likes to grab my package under the dinner table. Just pour her whisky a bit heavy, though, and she’ll fall asleep before it gets to that.”

After the back of the head shots, and more portraits, the artist moves onto a set of double-images. Slightly, slightly different, but really the same. The sales pitch. The cold call. A terrific metaphor for monotony. If I use the word monotonous one more time, I will have acheieved its effect.

Next comes the office get-together at the pub at the end of the day. No faces here, just shoes, suits, & some sneakers on the ladies who got tired of high heels. Hands on shoulders, hands on elbows, coasters on the table. Routine. Finally, at the end of the book, we see some nature images. A walk in the park on Sunday? Has to be. Right?

Bottom Line: Has somebody got a case of the Mondays?

To purchaseΒ “How Terry Likes His Coffee” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Miquel LLonch

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s cold and grey outside. A wet wind whistles in from the West. Summer’s sultry sun is gone, taking with it the long, languid days. (And the afternoon-delight-style naps are gone as well.) Soon enough, my nose will freeze and my toes will cry as I cram them into my snow boots. Winter is long in the Rockies.

Fortunately, I have an antidote. I fire up the teleportation machine, as it needs a few minutes to warm up. (Don’t we all.) Then, I step inside the lexan booth, enter the encrypted security code, say a prayer, and push the button. Poof.

I emerge, almost immediately, in a purple/yellow/green field. Trees sway gently in the breeze, which carries whiffs of garlic shrimp, bitter coffee, and roasting peppers. It’s quiet; the grass soft beneath my feet. At first I am alone, at the edge of the woods. Intermittently, I am joined by passing wanderers: a man and his daughter, two young-ish boys heading deeper into a tryst, a pair of gypsy children.

The light needs a camera for proper description. The colors are not natural, but only because the remnants of sun’s castoff rays commingle with the light pollution at the margins of the city. Which city? On the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, I’m not sure it matters. The teleportation device’s range is notoriously broad, like a pre-smart Navy missile, so it could be any number of places.

If only.

Fortunately, with a 5 year old at home, I’m skilled at pretend. Today, I owe my lingering daydream to a quiet, little soft-cover book, “In the fields of gold,” by Miquel LLonch. It was recently published by Poursuite, with support from the cultural board of Terrassa.

The book is slim and delicate, but not in the kind of way that makes you worry about ruining it. The inside flap has a short statement, in French and English, explaining that the artist is a child of the Mediterranean, and hopes to live and die there like his forebears. Keep the integrity of the tribe and all.

Then, we’re right into the photographs, remnants of twilight walks at the edge of the city, which remains unnamed. As I’ve said before, if an artist wants you to know something, he/she will give you that contextual information. So here, clearly, the exact locale was unnecessary. I’m guessing Barcelona. The book has Spanish thank you section, and the artist’s name seems Catalan to me.

As to the photographs, there are exquisite landscapes mixed in with dreamy portraits of the aforementioned passers by. The people shots are nice, but it’s the landscape images that sit in my brain still. Wow, are they lovely. Mystery without menace is a difficult balance.

Are the colors real? Silly question in 2012. Everything’s subjective, whether your picture is massaged in camera via settings, in a web app via filters, or back in Old School Photoshop via color correction. The more appropriate question might be are the colors expressive? Claro que si.

Sadly, I have to give these books back. My little sojourns are temporary, and then the pictures live in my head. In this case, I’m ambivalent. Sure, I’d keep it if I could, but it’s not necessary. I can taste the salt on my tongue, feel the next-day sun on my cheeks, and relish the hangover churro as it slides down my gullet into a grumbling stomach.

Bottom Line: Pretty twilight landscapes, perfect for September

To purchaseΒ “In the fields of gold” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Chris Killip

by Jonathan Blaustein

Your Dad works in the ship yards. Your brother too. And your Dad’s brother, for good measure. There’s no such thing as the Internet. It’s cold often, and gray more often still. School is there just to carry you over until it’s time to get a job at the ship yard too.

Life is dreary. You get that job, when the time is right, and after work one day you like the look of the lass at the end of the bar. You offer to light her cigarette, thinking you’re suave, till you notice the guy to her left. He’s already struck the match, and they both laugh. Fairly confident of yourself, you tip your fisherman’s cap, nod, and turn back to watch the football match on the screen above. She’ll marry you yet.

I know you’re none of these things. More likely, you’re reading this over morning coffee. Or during a quick break from color correction. Or perhaps before you hit the Metro on the way to a shoot.

But if you were me, and spent some time over the last few days with “arbeit/work,” the new monograph by Chris Killip, you’d probably get where I’m coming from. The book was released by Steidl and Edition Folkwang, in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s work. And it’s one moody piece of business.

As you might have gathered from my momentary hallucination, I like the book. Not surprising. At some point, and I’m not sure when, I morphed into an Anglophile. (That’s not true. I do know when. It was the second time my wife made me watch the Colin Firth/ Jennifer Ehle version of “Pride and Prejudice.” That Mr. Darcy is so dreamy.)

Where was I? The book. It’s divided into sections, each focusing on a segment of one of Mr. Killip’s interlocking projects. They were shot predominantly in the North of England, in the 70’s and 80’s. Evocative stuff, this.

The photographs are entirely in Black and White, and feature a gruff textural sensibility that matches the cultural landscape. Graffiti, coal mounds, drifting garbage, massive waves crashing here and there. Excuse me whilst I grab a sweater.

I loved the woman hanging out her door, a massive tanker ship just outside her field of view. And the father, downtrodden and hot, holding his daughter on his lap, wedged into a corner of the sidewalk. Punks having a laugh, neck tattoos and beer cans, fishermen and grandmas. Another favorite: a suit-wearing old dude, along with his lady, lounging on a blanket, surrounded by trash.

Bottom Line: Terrific B&W images of UK bleak beauty

To purchase “arbeit/work” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Daido Moriyama

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Get out of your comfort zone. Popular advice nowadays. I’ve dispensed it myself, in this very column. I must admit, though, its begun to sound like a giant clichΓ©. Too bad.

People say it all the time, as if a comfort zone was a physical place, like an oppresively small powder room. You’re trapped, with little more than a toilet and a sink. The walls are closing in. And you must get out. Are you too big to shimmy out the window? Are you strong enough to break down the pinewood door? If not, you’ll be trapped in your comfort zone. Forever.

It doesn’t work like that. Though the phrase is admittedly overused, the meaning is profound. What do you do well? What is your behaviour pattern? What can you bang out in your sleep? Those are difficult questions. Once answered, then comes the hard part. Stop doing what you do well, and try things that you are bad at.

I push myself with my artwork, and realize that I need to do it here as well. Lately, I’ve tried to change up my writing routine by letting books germinate in my head, rather than being so quick to judge. Does it make me a better writer? I don’t know, but the point is that growth rarely happens without work.

Today, we’re going to follow up on this new trend. In fact, I’d like to discuss a book that I previously dismissed: “Okinawa,” by Daido Moriyama, published by Super Labo. If you read this column religiously, you might remember that I made an offhand comment about how even great artists can make boring books. True.

To challenge my preconceptions, I picked this one up again off the stack. And, for once, I decided to look at it back to front, which is my old habit with magazines. Reverse the narrative, as it were. Backwards book review.

Open the back, and the first thing you find is a statement by the artist. Apparently, in 1974, someone organized a photography workshop on Okinawa with Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki, among others. Wow. Talk about getting your money’s worth.

Mr. Moriyama goes on to describe a place where it was hard to tell night from day. Her senses were on high alert, as everyone scoured the Island for “photo moments.” His experience was so powerful, that he claims, “These were sensations that I could not experience elsewhere… meaning that it was as though my body had, on a celluar diension, understood Okinawa preceding my arbitrary thoughts and preconceived notions I possessed then.”

OK then.

Thank goodness we’re going back to front, because that informs everything to follow. Now, looking at the book, I can visualize a team of photographers, including Japanese masters, roaming around a somewhat-desolate Island, replete with American Military Presence. Mr. Moriyama, compelled to shoot, follows her instincts, and produces the dreamy, grainy, stylized time capsule from the year I was born. (Big ups to 1974.)

When I looked at the book the first time, it felt arbitrary and too long. Now, we have purpose. I notice that the book shifts formats regularly: some images require it to be turned on its side. Then, I see that many of the horizontal format images are diptychs. Some are terrific: an old building, it could be 200 years ago, then the companion image shows the same building, slightly to the right, and a 7UP sign brings us back to the 20th Century.

Elsewhere, we see lots of Pepsi signs, and burger joints, symbolizing the impact of the US Military, and Globalization. There are dogs, and horses, and motorbikes, and cool 70’s cars. Long dirt roads, leading who-knows-where, but always with a person far off in the distance, or close, yet walking away.

Overall, the photographic quality is very high. There are still too many images, but the narrative tightens up quite a bit, with enforced hindsight. Light shimmers off of rain slick roads, kids are everywhere, the perfect subject for the roaming photo army. This time, it’s an altogether more pleasurable viewing experience.

Daido Moriyama: An Okinawan timecapsule from 1974. Can you dig it?

To purchaseΒ “Okinawa” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books – Mitch Epstein

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m sitting in my library. Diaper packs are stacked around me. Pink blankies peak at me from disparate piles. They mock my attempt to focus. “Enjoy it while you can, Fool,” they say. “Your precious quiet is about to DIE. This is our turf now, Fool. Move along.” Damn pink blankies. Who knew they could be so cruel?

Yes, as I shared with you a few months ago, my daughter’s arrival is now imminent. Any minute now. I sit, and wait. Which leaves a lot of time to think. I channeled much of the anxiety into a fruitless search for a new camera, but really, I was just hiding from the truth. (Big Ups to Rich Andres at Fotocare.) Change is coming. And few things cause more fear in humans than the Unknown.

Understandably, then, change has been on my mind. Beyond the obvious, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to grow as an artist. Thankfully, at 38, I’ve finally managed to have a bit of success. But my ego is healthy enough to admit that I have far to go, if greatness is my goal. We all have our own ambitions, true, but I’m not one to accept that my best work is behind me. Better to jump off the Gorge Bridge and be done with it. (RIP Tony Scott. That “True Romance” face off between Chris Walken and Dennis Hopper was a cinema classic.)

Given the scope of my ruminations, I was fortunate to get my hands on “State of the Union,” a new book by Mitch Epstein. It was published by Hatje Canitz, in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s work in Bonn. And, it is unique in all the books I’ve reviewed thusfar.

The oversized hardcover features several essays, and an insightful interview with the artist that alone makes the book a worthy purchase. It is impeccably produced; basically divided into two sets of plates. The first features a set of photos made in the 70’s and 80’s: very obvious temporal references. The photographs are big, each spilling from the right page to the left, and they are terrific. Talk about implied narrative.

Whether we see a man sleeping on a cot, next to a car, in the shadow of the former Twin Towers, or a pack of ladies scrambling to pick something up off of a Madison Avenue sidewalk. (A contact lens? A buffalo nickel?) Snake handlers, snow-cone-eaters, and children chilling in a pack-and-play while their dad pulls in fish off of a nameless pier. All are lovely, all draw you in, and force questions: What is going on here? What are they looking at? Where was this taken? How big is this freaking country?

The photographs are terrific, but definitely fit beside Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, and William Eggleston. They were contemporaries, and it shows. Each has a slightly different personality, which emerges in the work, but the similarites outweigh the differences. Here, section 1 gives us a glimpse of the best young Mr. Epstein could offer.

Then, a big jump. Bam. The next set of plates time travels to the 21st Century, each a sample of Mr. Epstein’s recent opus, American Power. Immediately, the style shifts. We get to see Mr. Epstein’s vision at a more mature stage, and his growth separates him from his other famous peers.

These photos were obviously taken with an 8×10 camera, which the text confirms. They are as sharp as a Hattori Honzu sword. Details shine, compositions are more formal. They are excellent images, and the plates are better than many of the prints I’ve seen at portfolio reviews. If you love Mr. Epstein’s work, but are not in a place to buy an editioned print, the quality here is reason number 2 to buy this book.

I loved seeing this before/after mashup. The new photographs, look at the energy industry, and the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina. Smoke billows from a power plant, a security guard stares through binoculars in the ravaged New Orleans Museum of Art, a newer hurricaine swirls on a projection screen, just outside the 2008 Republican Convention in Minnesota. There are more, but I don’t think it’s necessary to list them all.

So there you have it. This book is worth purchasing for a variety of reasons: the interview, the print quailty, and the potential inspiration it offers. And rest assured, I’ll continue writing these reviews even after my life gets turned upside down. I’ll just have to find a new favorite spot in which to do it. C’est la vie.

Bottom Line: Amazing production, unique in its dual vision

To purchase “State of the Union” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Paul Graham

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

My wife loves to watch “House Hunters International” on television. The premise is rather straightforward: strangers shop for houses or apartments around the world. The camera follows, showing the details of each prospective home. You root for your favorite choice, like a satellite-beamed horse race. (House porn and travel porn in one tidy package.)

I admit, I watch it sometimes too. It’s oddly addictive, like greek yogurt. Writing about it makes me feel silly, but no more so than watching. Often, as the images flicker on screen, I wonder, “Why am I looking at someone’s kitchen in Bulgaria? I could just skip a step and stare at my own microwave.” Why this obsession with the the talking box, rather than the light fixtures, or the electrical outlets, or the mountains out the window?

Our lives are complicated. In the 21st Century, the barrage of responsibility is more daunting than Paul Ryan’s ego. Insurance, mortgages, rent, taxes, bills, keeping the car full of gas, taking the kids to school and activities, checking in on social media, making photographs, chatting with friends and family, holding the door for strangers, doing your job. The list could go on.

Art, literature, and other such things ultimately function as a distraction. Look here, bestow your attention, and I’ll take your mind off your problems for a little while. That is the basis of the transaction. Idealistically, we hope what we peruse will replace our thoughts with new ones, grand and eloquent, but really, how often does that happen?

As photographers, we’ve all been seduced by the present. The camera serves as shaman, shocking us into appreciation for that which we see before us. Photography morphs the present into its own form of entertainment, offering a respite from the norm. The time we spend shooting grounds us in the now. Makes it thrilling. As it should be.

Normally, when I review a book, I look it over thoroughly, think for a few minutes, go for a walk, and then sit down to write. Exercise gets the blood flowing, and creates a 30 minute window of increased creativity. It’s been proven. This week, though, I eschewed the routine.

I first picked up Paul Graham’s “The Present” a few weeks ago. Another of the fantastic MACK publications, this book got inside my head and demanded further contemplation. The artist’s vision wormed itself into my brain, a bit further each day, like that nasty earwig from the first Star Trek movie.

It took some time to appreciate what was going on here. Nominally, the book is about New York City. As I’ve written about that subject many times before, (and likely will again,) I was a bit apprehensive about reviewing this one. Really, how much can I say about the Big Apple that hasn’t been said?

But, inch by inch, I realized that the book’s locale is strictly allegorical. It could have been London, or Barcelona, or San Francisco, or almost any city on Earth. The title of the book is not “NYC,” it’s “The Present.” Mr. Graham is asking us to take him at his word, and look beyond the obvious.

The book is basically a series of images broken down into diptychs and triptychs. Sometimes, they occupy the same page, in a vertical orientation. More often, the images are consecutive, or separated by a page. You turn, you fold, you refold, you try not to mess things up. (It will have little re-sale value if you bend or crinkle.) The book, therefore, demands a patient and experiential approach, setting the tone for the images themselves.

Each set of photographs focuses, literally, on a moment or place in time. Mr. Graham finds a location, a little patch of momentary drama, and then shoots, often shifting the depth of field from one character to another. It heightens one’s awareness of the nature of the photographic medium, highlighting the manner in which technique impacts the way we absorb information. Or, less often, he creates a connection between the two random people who occupy the same space.

The photographs luxuriate in the perfection and absurdity of a vast herd of humans, tromping back and forth across concrete and asphalt. Every moment of every day, people, with their attendant worries and woes, are walking, talking, pushing strollers, crying, laughing, ad nauseum. The urban experience is one great mega-drama. Here we see bits, there we see pieces.

The story opens, as a good film would, with an establishment shot. A Heineken truck blocks an intersection, with a policeman standing, his back turned. Next, truck gone, we see a view uptown towards the Empire State Building. Our entire experience of space shifts; closed to open. The following spread features a young Asian girl wearing an I heart NYC T-shirt. (In case anyone missed the initial cue.) In its companion, the focus has shifted to another young Asian girl in the background. The first girl moves along; an afterthought.

Onward weaves the narrative. We see someone who looks interesting, and then we forget. There are a few relationships that raise a quirky hand and say, hey, viewer, there are patterns out there if you choose to look. An African-American man, dressed for a corporate job, crosses an intersection. Part 2, and it’s a stooped over African-American homeless dude. Elsewhere, a man walks down the street with a yarmulke on his head, or was it another in a turban?

The one piece of high drama, a woman walking, and then she’s collapsed, is done tactfully. No blood, no vomit, no explanation. The real meat here is how the artist, and the camera, with its mastery of voyeurism, make us crave what we so often choose to ignore. Here, we escape to that which we normally flee: the present.

As far as books go, I can’t imagine many people not liking this one. If you look to me for recommendations, this one comes wholehearted. The pictures below, whether you like them or not, do not tell the story here. The experience of the book is fluid, more video than still. But, so often, this column is about more than just book reviews. So, for once, I’ll end elsewhere.

Life is short. Tragically, absurdly short. We will be gone for far longer than we were here. (Infinity.) We, lovers of the photographic medium, know the thrill of seeing something before our eyes that raises the blood pressure, drops the adrenaline. The rush of discovery. The joy of now. Let’s all endeavor to wean off of the most powerful drug, Entertainment, and spend more time with plain old reality. Myself included.

Bottom Line: A fantastic project from a major artist, in his prime

To purchase “The Present” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me

by Jonathan Blaustein

Good boys make good husbands, but bad boys have all the fun. So they say. Ever the dutiful first son, I fought the truth of the adage for years. While young, I doted, wrote poems, gave flowers, held doors, basked in my own chivalry. And what did it get me? Not very much.

As it stands, I am a good husband. I cook for my family, and sometimes even clean up. But I’d never have made it to husbandhood had I not embraced my dark side. It’s what makes us whole.

Argue if you must, but there are very few sociopaths out there, and fewer psychopaths still. Most of us possess the milk of love and murder in our veins, and almost everyone does the best they can. Horrible deeds, more often than not, come with easy justifications. Most miserable acts are not seen that way by those who commit them. There are reasons that cloak the wave of unstoppable emotions.

We have, and will always be fascinated by those who dance too close to the darkness. Literature, Film, Photography, and many other media have long mined the hills of sorrow, and rarely do they celebrate remorse. People just love to watch other people get killed. (Pretend, now. Not so, back in the day.)

Bad guys are like fun house mirrors. When we gaze into their eyes, we fool ourselves into believing they contain all the horrors of the world, sucking it out of us so we may remain clean as the carpets in the White House. (I’ve never visited, but even with our huge government debt, you know they’re not scrimping on the President’s hired help.)

I am no different, whether yelping with delight as a teen-ager, as Stephen Segal broke bones Aikido-style, or whooping with dismay as another head dropped in Game of Thrones. Like I said, I’m no different. It’s a part of the human psyche, and deny it at your peril. Repressed emotions, in my experience, are far more powerful than those honestly expressed.

“Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me” is a powerful new book, for all of the reasons above. Recently published by TBW Books in Oaktown, (as they call Oakland,) the small, black soft-cover book contains a trove of images found by one Mike Brodie in 2006. The book was put together by the publisher, Paul Schiek, with an opening essay by Vince Aletti.

Speaking of Oaktown, I recently read that there have been a spate of robberies of late, where photographers, like us, have been relieved of their heavy camera equipment. (Thoughtful burglers, no?) Televison news vans have been jacked too, multiple times. My wife’s friend swears that every major item in her home has been bolted to the floor. Her neighbors, she claims, have all done the same. Welcome to California in the 21st Century.

The book, though, remains rooted in the middle of the 20th. (Yes, I do remember to review the books from time to time.) The photos contained within were made in a Georgia prison; each image a portrait of an incarcerated inmate. Without the provided backstory, you’d probably figure that out for yourself.

They’re all white, as Mr. Aletti points out, and in the range of 25-40. Conmen, grifters, fighters, killers, car theives, rapers, hustlers, and maybe even one or two who didn’t do it. (Is everyone always innocent in their minds?) Most, if not all, have that look about them. Trouble, but the kind that makes you look twice. Dark charisma.

We’ve all seen books of found photos before. This time, the photographer was maybe some prison guard named PorkPie, who took his job seriously. Even mug shots can have class, after all. (Thanks, PorkPie.)

I love flipping through these pages. The images are not really that old, so maybe some of these guys are still alive. Drinking cold, cheap beer on a trailer porch. Shooting cans, laughing with a deep smoker’s growl, and telling tales of all the stuff they did before they got caught.

Bottom Line: A gem of found robber portraits

To purchase “Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

This Week In Photography Books – Lucas Foglia

by Jonathan Blaustein

By coincidence, I was in New York the day after Lehman Brothers crashed, back in 2008. Fear was in the air. Not a nice smell.

I sat in a Hungarian pastry shop near Columbia University, downing cup after cup of diner-style coffee, chatting with a friend. His name is Ivan, and he’s the only person I’ve ever met who introduced himself as a Mexican Marxist Yankee Fan. Top that.

He was my professor in graduate school, an expert in the Globalized Economy. We stayed in touch after I left school, but this was our first meeting in 4 years. Each sip of the weak, caffeinated beverage sped the pace of our speech. Spittle flew, hair was tossed, eyes ablaze.

In the end, we agreed that the Global Economic System would not collapse. The crisis, in it’s purest form, was not yet 24 full hours old. Still, we thought it through, and both believed that there was too much money in the system, too much at stake, for Chaos to Reign. Whosoever had any money left at all, be it the Chinese, the Oil Kingdoms, the Russians…little matter. Money would, in the end, protect itself.

I clung to that belief as the markets fell. It will get better. It will get better. Back home, my in-laws would make off-handed comments, like, “Well, at least we have lots of water, and we can always grow our own food on the farm.” Or other times, someone would say, “At least Tim (my brother-in-law) knows how to hunt. A big elk can last a long time.” Not. Very. Re-assuring.

By now, we all know it never came to that. The system defended itself, though, of course, many still suffer. Still, the milk trucks run, McDonalds cranks out it’s faux-burger-patties, and now we have Facebook. It’s hard to channel the depths of that early fear, but I remember it’s smell.

There are those, though, who need not fear a system crash. They eschew the system, and re-create the old ways. Living off the land, beards aflowing. We have lots of folks like that in Taos, and we call them hippies. Most of them live on the Mesa, where the water flows 600 feet beneath them. Good luck drilling through that.

But that’s all I know of such communities: local gossip and hearsay. Not much to go on. And the little I’ve seen makes me root for the system to chug along a bit longer. I don’t think I’d like the taste of bony rabbit, but you never know.

That said, I was fascinated to get a glimpse inside the lifestyle, courtesy of Lucas Foglia’s new book “A Natural Order,” published by Nazraeli Press. It’s a straight-forward, very well produced volume that settles down into a group of off-the-grid communities in the Southeast of the United States. Fascinating stuff.

The first test that I give a book, when I pluck it from my stack, is, do I want to see more? Is there a need to turn the page? Do the pictures build to something, or can I get a good sense of the thing from the first 10 pages? You’d be surprised how many books, by great artists, are not designed to hold attention. Simply to show off the plates. (Just this morning, I set down a book by Daido Moriyama for that very reason. A big name artist does not guarantee a great book.)

When I picked this one up, though, I was captured, and transported. Ironically, I’d seen some of these images before on the Internet, and was unimpressed. But a book is a thing, with a built-in structure. Not a few illuminated pixels on a screen. And in book form, this work shines.

I’d guess that the artist was using a large-format camera, given the sharpness and clarity of the photographs. But the angles and setting, deep in the woods, would have made that a difficult proposition. Either way, kudos to the image quality.

The photo on the cover shows a young red-headed lad, in the woods, holding up a big cast iron skillet filled with mystery meat. The title, given later, confirms that it’s possum. Yummy, yummy possum. (I think I’ll keep my refrigerator, thanks.)

After the title page, the artist delivers a short statement about his upbringing. Apparently, his family lived off the land, not far from NYC. But they didn’t take it as far as the subjects of the book. So Mr. Foglia, curious to see his how far the lifestyle could be pushed, set out to discover the answers for himself. That is how it’s done.

The pictures are well-composed, and slowly build together the details that matter. Animal skins covering windows, teepees popped up alongside pretty lakes. Guns, and bows and arrows, and chainsaws and women with underarm hair. Water serves to bathe, but also as a mirror for a man checking out his new haircut. An oxplow is pulled by a Toyota pickup truck, a boy drinks raw goat milk from the teat, and a poisoned dead bear rots on the ground. (We also see a token boob shot. Remember, Boobs Sell Books.β„  To be fair, it’s balanced with two penis shots, one belonging to the perfect cross between Chris Robinson and Jesus.)

It’s a seamless vision, clad in cloth, of some people who don’t conform to the standards of the majority. Will you be curious to see this book? I don’t know. Will you?

Bottom Line: Happy Hippies, one possum at a time

To purchase “A Natural Order” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.


This Week In Photography Books – Uta Barth

by Jonathan Blaustein

Just now, not three minutes ago, I saw a hummingbird. Clomping down my dirt road in flip-flops, I was lost in thought. The first few paragraphs of this column were dancing through my brain; synapses firing, mentally banging on my keyboard. A hundred yards from my computer, and already I could hear the rhythmic song of plastic on plastic.

Then, I saw the whizzing wings out of the corner of my eye, hovering above the most beautiful orange/red wildflower. I stopped dead, turned my head towards the little creature, and watched. Of course, you can’t see the wings move. Everyone knows that. But the blur is hypnotic.

Suddenly, I could hear a magpie squawking. Then, two different bird calls joined the chorus. Next, the sound of the Rio Hondo behind me, whoosh, whoosh, gurgle, gurgle. A symphonic moment, all thanks to Nature.

Of course, the sounds were there all along. I just didn’t hear them, as I was too busy listening to the voices in my head. Ironically, I was planning to write about the intersection of Nature and religion. I had it all worked out.

Then, I saw the hummingbird, and everything disappeared. I was left with only my immediate surroundings. My mind cleared, and I felt much better than I had the moment before. Now, I’m writing a different column than I would have otherwise.

If you were trite, you might say I had my “Moment of Zen.” (Thank you, Jon Stewart.) To all the urbanites out there, I’ll tell you this: I know it sounds clichΓ©. Mountain guy writes about hanging out with the birds, while your background noise consists of honking horns, cursing neighbors, ice cream trucks, and jackhammers working on the roads. (I think they were hammering on Canal St. the entire time I lived in NYC.)

Or, maybe you’ll think something else. “Wow, that sounds amazing. I wish I could live in such a pretty place.” I tell you, we have problems here just like everyone else. Violence and poverty and addiction and wildfires. And you can’t get a decent slice of pizza to save your life, even if you have mad cash like Mikhail Prokhorov.

With respect to the idea of Zen, though, I think it’s worth taking a step further. Art communicates information. (For once, I state the obvious.) Information is a general term: it can mean ideas, of course, but also emotional energy. We’ve been through this before.

Most of time, we tend to focus on the Art that shakes us: dynamic, baroque evocations of Environmental disaster, sexual trafficking, or death. Things like that. Everyone’s always talking about whether Art can change the world, or how images of War are so important for our general body of knowledge. All true.

But how often do we talk about Art that will simply change your mood? Is there value in a photograph, if it only slows you down, soothes your mind, and hijacks your brainwaves away from anxiety or fear or exhaustion, if even for moment?

Minimalism and abstraction have been around for a long time. (The former was popular in China 800 years ago, and the latter evolved in painting a Century ago.) Personally, I tend to prefer my minimalism Sculptural, in the Donald Judd or Carl Andre style. Minimalist photography is not normally my thing.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see Uta Barth’s new book, “to draw with light,” recently published by Blind Spot. Slowly tease the simple hardcover out of its matching slip-cover, and the world’s noise begins to melt into the background.

The volume is broken down into three sections, each displaying a very narrow range of imagery. The first, my favorite, connects to the title. Curvilinear, wave-like forms of white light are depicted on luminescent, white curtains. Again. And again.

One person’s seductive beauty is another person’s “boring as hell,” but hear me out. One minute, I was stressed out about having to write this column, not sure I had the proper creativity-juice-cocktail today. The next moment, my mind was still. I felt better.

The photos are unquestionably beautiful, and simple, lacking any over-arching socio-political message. If you asked the artist, she might not discuss the Zen qualities, the hint of Buddhism. Or perhaps she might. It doesn’t matter.

The other two sections are similar. The second depicts white light on white studio cabinets. The final returns to the curtains, this time interjecting solarized images with the normal ones. Not my style, as I’ve seen a few too many student-cell phone-solarizations to find the tactic worthy of such a major artist. Little matter. I’ve had my few minutes of peace for the day, and have emerged thankful.

Bottom Line: Beautiful and simple, which ought to be enough

To purchase “to draw with light” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.