The PhotoBook Journal

October 30, 2008

Nick Brandt – On This Earth

Filed under: Book Publications, Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:10 am

copyright 2005 Nick Brandt published by Chronicle Books

First let me say, I am not a big fan of “animal” books. But this is not photographic book of animals in the usual sense.

Oh, yes, Brandt does show us many of the wild animals of East Africa, but in a very different context than the normal safari document. There are also some East African landscapes, some with a hint of bird or two, or perhaps a wide view of a progression of Elephants or others in transit, probably foraging for food.

When Chronicle Books published On This Earth in Fall of 2005 I will have to admit they selected a very intriguing cover photograph, above. I was captivated by it and I could not shake it from my memory. Thus I was easily drawn to pick the book up and quickly browse the contents. But this was not a book that I felt that I had to immediately purchase. You see, it was an animal book.

So why did I keep finding myself remembering one or two photographs and to pick the book up again, not purchase it again, but leaving with still more images in my memory that I could not shake. For Pete’s sake it was an animal book.

But it is a unique book that I came to realize that perhaps was not totally just an animal book. The duo-tone, heavy manipulated black and white photographs are a clue. The photographs are designed to move your eyes to specific regions within the image. The photographs with the narrow depth of field create slices of the subject and landscape with very specific regions in focus.

Look here and see this. Look there and see that.

The photographs chosen for this book are very graphic; the animals are sculptured shapes.  Printed in dark contrast with the sepia and icy blue toning to remind you that they are also alive but at risk. I found the occasional blue toned photographs a bit disjointed within the whole but they do save the book from becoming too monochromatic. An interesting design concept, which seems to work.

Brandt’s project is not meant to document either animals or East Africa but to cause you to reflect and think about what was photographed. An area on this Earth which is threatened and perhaps in grave danger.

The book text is provided by Alice Sebold and Jane Goodall.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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October 25, 2008

Julie Blackmon – Domestic Vacations

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:21 am

 

Time Out, 2005 copyright of Julie Blackmon, courtesy Radius Books

At fist glance, Blackmon’s photographs are super real observations of a large knit family on the edge of total chaos and about to go out of control. In others words real life with family’s and real children. Whether her photographs really are direct observations or a constructed reality they connect.

For me her earlier photographs created for this series are a little more believable, which I attribute to the darker tonality versus the hyper-lit later photographs. Nevertheless all of her images seem to resonate with my own experience with my siblings and my own children. Probably even more so today where I have a greater ability to stand aside and watch the ebb and flow of emotions and events.

For Blackmons photographs there is a lot happening on and near the edges of the photographs. The activity on the edges would seem to pull you out of the photograph but I find that it creates more mystery while allowing you re-inspect the whole photograph for more clues.

Overall a playful and fun series with a wonderful sense of excitement, which creates a real sense of anticipation. You have been there and by what you see you can almost anticipate the total chaos which is about to explode about you. Which is to say normal life of parents in the suburb with kids.

The book is well designed with regard to the flow of her images with a nice mix of single and paired images on facing pages. It is a hardcover book with 51 color and black and white photographs augmented with an insightful interview by Alison Nordstrom.

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Best regards, Doug Stockdale

Update – (11/22/08)

One of the wonderful aspects of a book, unlike an exhibition, is the ability to return and browse at your leisure.  A new book is also a new acquaintance that can over time become an old friend. There are some books that are easily digested and perhaps sold or donated to the friend of the library while others you keeping finding yourself returning and finding more substance for the soul. The later is my experience with Blackmon’s Domestic Vacations.

This is probably the place that I admit that I am more of an urban landscape photographer who creates images with “found” subjects. That does have an influence on my objectivity with regard to the subject matter for book review thus it may take a little longer to gain a full appreciation of constructed works such as this book by Blackmon. The good news is that with a web-journal subsequent content can be added!

What I did not adequately discuss in my initial review is the creation and construction of Blackmon’s photographs. Some of which are disarmingly simple and with further analysis become deeper in complexity. The components of her photographs are not there by chance. Every part of her photographs provide clues and we are the ones that have the opportunity to create the resulting story.

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Such as this photograph, above, Green Velvet. The interplay between the girl on the couch and the woman in the painting with the action off screen on the right create an amazing tension. The woman in the painting is positioned with her vision directed off the left side of the photograph, while the dog and off screen activity is on the right. Then you notice that the countenance of the woman in the painting is a similar resignation as the girl who sits on the couch. The girl has her remote at near hand and apparently has to watch the adjacent dog performance perhaps with something far better to do?

Each of the photographs in Blackmon’s book need time to be read, thought about and reconsidered.

Still highly recommended!

October 20, 2008

Joel Sternfeld – American Prospects

Copyright 1987 Joel Sternfeld; 1994 stiff-cover edition published by Chronicle Books in conjunction with The Friends of Photography

I will first have to admit that I like Joel Sternfeld’s urban landscape photographs thus discussing his first book, “American Prospects” , will be a relatively easy task for me.

Sternfeld photographs the urban landscape in a similar vein as Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shores. For the Sternfeld photographs you have to pay particular attention to the edges of the photographs which is were you find some of the most interesting content. Such as his iconic photograph, McLean, Virginia, December 1978, which is the cover of the book, above. It is easy to become absorbed by the on-going house in flames and the battle to preserve it and then you notice the fireman in the lower corner holding one pumpkin perhaps shopping for a second. I find myself thinking is this fireman looking for pumpkins while the house burns for real?

Then I realize that I can doubt what I see because that Crewdson has recently attempted to recreate a similar photograph, which in a way is not “real”.

Likewise, one of my favorites photographs is After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California, July 1979. What appears to be a very interesting urban landscape photograph takes on new meaning after you notice the car almost buried in the foreground at the base of the wash. People, who are out in the desert building homes and structures and yet still at the mercy and whim of natural forces.

His photographs are usually straight on, subtle colors and are making wiry social comments. Looking at them today that particular social edginess that was noted in the late 1980’s is a bit diminished by the photographers who have studied his work and continued to work in a similar vein. Nevertheless his social urban landscape is well seen and photographed with a subtle wit and humor.

I am reviewing the 1994 stiffcover (perfect bound, aka “paperback”) version, published by Chronicle Books  in conjunction with The Friends of Photography. The original hardcover version of this book was published in 1987 by The Friends of Photography, #58 in their series of book publications. The forward was written by Andy Grundberg, Director, The Friends of Photography. The large color photographs are printed single image per double-page spread with a facing caption and the photographs are very enjoyable to read in this 12 x 10″ designed book.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

October 16, 2008

Windows and Mirrors by John Szarkowski

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 6:19 pm

Windows and Mirrors by John Szarkowski, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

When I initially wrote about Windows and Mirrors, American Photography since 1960 by the late John Szarkowski in August 2008, it was from my personal perspective of how I have used this book over the years to try to help me understand his two basic photographic tenets; a photograph as a Window (direct observation) or as a Mirror (introspective narrative). My thoughts were developed during the period that I was just formulating The PhotoBook.

Interesting is Szarkowski’s discussion about the divergent work of Minor White and Robert Frank and for me perhaps precursors for today’s photographers & photographs. And of course the implications for my own work. The way that Szarkowski discusses both White and Frank and the then current practitioners in the late 70’s is helping me understand the critical language used to discuss current photography.

FYI, Szarkowski states that White along with Walter Chappell provides a Mirror or “romantic view” as an evolutionary of Stieglitz and subsequently Weston; a love for the eloquently perfect print; intense sensitivity to mystical content of the natural landscape and minimal interest of man as a social animal. Subsequent photographers per Szarkowski’s categorization are Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, Danny Lyon, Ralph Gibson, Judy Dater, Robert Mapplethorpe and Robert Rauschenberg.

And for a long while, I could easily categorize my own natural landscape photography in this philosophical path. Seeing Lewis Baltz’s construction photographs in this group makes me wonder if Szarkowski’ categories are still relevant.

Then there are the photographs of Robert Frank who provided a “searing personal view of this county during the Eisenhower years. Frank is the vanguard for the Window or “Realist view” providing a “sophisticated social intelligence, quick eyes and a radical understanding of the potentials of the small camera, which depended on good drawing rather than on elegant tonal description.” As stated by Szarkowski in the realist view “the world exists independent of human attention, contains discoverable patterns of intrinsic meaning and they by discerning these patterns, forming models or symbols of them with the materials of this art, the artist is joined to a larger intelligence.”

The realist view in the 1970’s are that of Gary Winogrand, Henry Wessel, Tod Papageorge, Diane Arbus, Lee Freidlander, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Edward Ruscha and Joel Meyerowitz. Not surprising for me there are photographers whose work I identify with and whom I thought were doing some interesting work that inspired some of my own urban landscape photographs.

I appreciate that Szarkowski does state that photographers can not be categorized as purely one or the other and that you can find aspects of both in the many photographers work. In other words, you are not purely realistic or romantic but some blend of these and somewhere on the pendulum as it swings back and forth during your life. The book does illustrate Szarkowski’s main points very well and I found it a very insightful read and equally compelling in understanding today’s photographic images. It is also a wonderful survey of the 196o’s and 1970’s and if you have an interest in a particular photographer you will find it somewhat lacking. What it does provide is a nice context to review the work of photographers who are developing a similar vein of work.

As I continue to re-read this book I am motivated to purchase a used copy of John Szarkowski’s discussion of Eugene Atget. (Update: which I did, the review is here).

Windows and Mirrors was published in 1978 by the Museum of Modern Art(MoMA), NYC and distributed by the New York Graphic Society, Boston. The hardcover book has 152 pages, 127 plates (17 in color) and was published in conjunction with a traveling exhibition of the same name. My first edition copy now has a lot of my notes, highlights and underlines as this was more of my textbook on contemporary photography when I purchased it 1978.

The text is entirely by Szarkowski and he makes it clear early on that this book and exhibit was focused on photography from 1960 to 1978.  Thus the book does not include except by reference the photographs of Adams, White, Callahan, Penn, Siskind, Sommer and others who were a significant force in the 1950s.

The book provides a very broad representational survey of photographers of both intents as well as those who might be considered somewhere in the middle with some classic examples of their work. It is a great snapshot of this period and foretelling of what would continue to creatively develop.

The book binding, paper selection and printing were excellent for the late 1970’s and still reads and handles well today.

Although probably not meant to be a textbook it is a great study of the photographers and their photographs who have provided the developmental foundations for the current contemporary photographers.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

October 14, 2008

Diane Arbus – An Aperture Monograph

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 3:47 pm

I recently had the opportunity to purchase a copy of the Aperture Monograph of Diane Arbus, which had been reissued as a softcover in 1997 as a twenty-five year anniversary issue. With a retrospective look at a photographers body of work there is an opportunity to see how well it weathers the test of time.

The original publication of this book in 1972 was in conjunction with the retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) after her suicide in 1971. She already had been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships (1963 & 1966) and had been one of three photographers included in the 1967 MoMA exhibition “New Documents” along with Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander.

Arbus was recognized at the time as being in the  line of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Robert Frank. With her use of direct flash a little WeeGee (Arthur Fellis) thrown in.

I suspect that with the duotone separations completed by Robert Hennessey the images in the book are very faithful to Arbus’s printed photographic intent. Thus some of the images that do not illustrate the full tonal range were purposeful and are an interesting lesson on their own merits.

The eighty photographs within this book are not meant to be all inclusive of Arbus’s body of work and it does provide her best known photographs. Additionally, there are no photographs before 1962 but again I do feel that the intent was to be a complete biography and more about the personal projects that she undertook. There have been other books published about Arbus such as the SFMOMA Catalogue, and Diane Arbus Revelations which are more inclusive.

My principal (and minor) gripe with the book is the sequencing of the photographs as these are not in chronological order to perhaps provide a better grasp of the development of her vision and photography.  One plus is the capture of some of Arbus’s lectures just prior to her death to help place her photographs in a context of her intent. I had read about her lectures & writing but had experienced it only secondhand, thus it is a nice benefit to read them directly.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

Photo Book Publishers

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Books — Tags: , — Doug Stockdale @ 12:13 am

After extensive searching, I believe that I have the majority of the international book publishers who have a strong interest, if not an outright focus, on photographic monographs books linked up on the sidebar. These are the publishers who are printing the interesting photographic projects, sometimes in very limited production runs which can be very beautiful and very collectible books. They are the ones who also take more risks on photographers who are not as established yet.

I have purposefully not listed the really big publishers, for whom the photographic book market is but a small segment that they publish. The mammoth publishers are more risk adverse and make the big print runs of very established photographs or generic photographic themes. I have not listed a couple of smaller publishers who are providing only technical or how-to photographic titles.

If I have missed any, please let me know.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

Update: Since I started this list, I have found some very interesting titles being published by some of larger publishing houses, thus I realize that my earlier assessment was not entirely accurate, so the listing and links has become much broader. I still realize that I have a weakness in my links for the non-USA photobook publishers in Europe, South America and Asia, particularly Japan & China. So I will be adding these publishers as I become aware of them.

October 10, 2008

Play it again, Sam

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 4:33 pm

My friend Roy Hammans just alerted me to a relatively new small photographic book publisher Errata Editions who is re-publishing of some interesting photographic titles. The embarrassing part of all of this is that one of the founders of Errata Editions is Jeffery Ladd, who publishes 5B4 and was recently blogging from China during the press run who I have linked on this site. I guess you could say that I have not been paying very close attention as of late and better to find out later than not at all. Thanks Roy!

From the 09/2008 announcement of Errata Editions intent:

Errata Editions’ Books on Books series is an on-going publishing project dedicated to making rare and out-of-print photography books accessible to students and photobook enthusiasts. Each in this series presents the entire content, page for page, of an original master bookwork which, up until now, has been too rare or prohibitively expensive for most to experience.

Through a mix of classic and contemporary titles, this series spans the breadth of photographic practice as it has appeared on the printed page and allows further study into the creation and meanings of these great works of art. Limited edition sets will be available directly through Errata Editions.

Each in the Books on Books series contains; illustrations of every page in the original photobook being featured; a new essay by established writers on photography composed specially for this series; production notes about the creation of the original edition; biography and bibliography information about each artist.

The trade editions of each title are distributed by DAP / Distributed Art Publishers.

For me the book of most interest is the Walker Evans American Photographs in as that it will fill in my collection in a very good way. I already have a copy of A Vision Shared, (St Martin’s Press, 1975) which was edited by Hank O’Neal about the FSA (1935 – 1943) which contains some of Evans classic 1930’s images and some insight about Evans work during the FSA period (clue: Evans was not a happy camper with the FSA).

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

Added note: for those who are interested in what it takes to self-publish your own book, you should invest the time to read about the five days in China that Jeffery spent “on-press” for their first book.

October 8, 2008

Photo Book Publishers

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 8:49 pm

I have been adding a couple of more catagories to the side bar over the last couple of days, thinking that these links could be useful for those interested in the photographic book community, whether collecting or developing a book project.

I had deceided to add Radius Books to the book Publishers and while Googling them, I came across a great interview with Darius Himes, co-publisher of Radius Books and previously the Editor of photo-eye Booklist. So here is the link to the insightful interview by Rob Haggart with Himes at the on-line journal APhotoEditor.

Best regards, Doug Stockdale

Atget by John Szarkowski

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: , , — Doug Stockdale @ 7:00 pm

cour 7 rue de Valencia“, 1922, Eugene Atget, courtesy of MOMA

I had published an earlier article in Singular Images about my continuing interest in Eugene Atget’s photographic urban landscapes. I subsequently purchased the hardcover book Atget by the late John Szarkowski published by MOMA as a first edition in 2000. All I can say is that this is a wonderful book for anyone’s collection who is interested in Eugene Atget’s body of work.

Eugene Atget is usually characterized as the historical precedent for the photographic work of Walker Evans in the 1930’s then Robert Frank in the 1950’s and subsequently carried on by the photographs of Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Szarkowski elegantly articulates their direct way of seeing/photographing in his earlier book, Mirrors and Windows, which I commented on here.

I have a broad collection of photographic books that have had an image or two of Atget’s photographs and I really wanted to have a dedicated resource to read and study to further understand Atget’s way of looking at his environment. There are a number of alternative hardcover book options for Atgets photographs but to have access a paring of Atget’s photographs with the insights of Szarkowski and the beautifully printing and binding by MOMA in Italy was just too hard to resist.

The images are all well displayed in the book with a Atget photograph on the right and on the opposite spread the commentary about the photograph by Szarkowski.

So I have now traveled throught this book many times. At first I had hoped for a little more analysis of the structure of the photograph from Szarkowski and then I realized that he was helping to frame the context of the photograph as much as describing the photographs attributes.

The book sequences Atget photographs chronologically taking you on a historical journey through the development of Atget’s body of work. You come to understand that even Bernice Abbott, who became the champion of Atget’s photographs, did not get that close to the photographer himself.

So in conclusion this a book that I can really recommend.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

October 6, 2008

Photography.Book.Now winners

Filed under: Book Publications, Photo Book Discussions, Photo Books — Tags: — Doug Stockdale @ 11:03 pm

In the Garden, copyright of Beth Dow, and Grand Prize Winner, 2008

If you have not had a chance to browse the winners of the Blurb photo book contest Photography.Book.Now, you just might want to and see the possibilities of self publishing. The templates of many of the Print on Demand (POD) publishers can be limited, but within the available possibilities, good things can happen.

Blurb can be a nice place to purchase some interesting books.

I know from my own personal experience my first attempts with Blurb now seem a little awkward. I knew where I was trying to get within the limitations of Blurb and for my first book I was not as familiar with the ins and outs. Kinda like the Photoshop software that to learn it after you find out about the basics you just have to start using it. For my Blurb book In Passing I think now that I might design the cover differently. And for my Blurb book Places Amongst Us I should not have chosen the 7 x 7″ format as it was a bit too small.

One nice thing about the POD technology is that you can quickly change your self publishing project into a second edition with a completely different & revamped appearance.

Best regards, Douglas Stockdale

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