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Robin Benson

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New York at Night
New York at Night
von Christopher Gray
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 29,96

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3.0 von 5 Sternen New York dark, 28. Januar 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: New York at Night (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The world's premier city looks pretty cool in daylight so its look after dark should be dazzling. Photographer Jason Hawkes has done his best to capture the dazzle in these 130 images. It should have worked but I didn't think the idea quite comes off, partially because of the concept and also because of the book's presentation.

The bright lights of the city really only look dramatic where the skyscrapers are: midtown and the Wall Street area. The rest of Manhattan, after dark and from the air, sort of looks like any other huge metropolis stretching to the horizon. There are many photos in the book with not much to look at and taken from above doesn't help. Apart from the skyscraper area distance reduces what lights there are to small dots and the shapes of buildings disappear. The same shots during daylight, of course, look much more fascinating. Some of the aerial shots of skyscrapers do look quite stunning but the rest could just have as easily been taken from the top of buildings in midtown. This is what two other photographers have done with their photo books: New York vertigo (ISBN 9780810995116) and Manhattan lightscape (ISBN 1558591214). Both include some night shots among the panoramas of the city and both books are a landscape shape rather than Hawkes square format.

I thought the book's presentation rather reduced it to a tourist offering rather than a creative photo book. Everything in the book is black, reasonable enough, it goes with the theme but unfortunately there a many spreads with two photos and a thin black strip which separates them, only it doesn't. Because darkness makes building shapes disappear two photos frequently look like they merge together and destroying the feel of both and all the photos bleed off the edge of the page. Another problem are the long captions. They are white text on black panels and annoyingly, quite often, these are placed on the photo.

If these photos had been presented in a more formal photo book style with more thought given to the text, still keeping the all black page design, I think it would made a more interesting book.

Home: Tom Arndt's Minnesota
Home: Tom Arndt's Minnesota
von Tom Arndt
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 36,06

4.0 von 5 Sternen The heart of Minnesota, 23. Januar 2011
When I glanced at a thumbnail of the book's cover photo I immediately thought of those remarkable FSA ones from the Thirties, maybe it was a shot by Walker Evans or Russel Lee or Dorothea Lange. Finding a larger cover revealed that it must have been taken in the last few decades (actually 1976) and then I saw that it was taken by Tom Arndt. Not all the photos in the book come up to the quality of the cover image but most do though I have to say that there are some that I thought, with a more rigorous selection, could have been left out.

The 157 plates follow a rough sequence of: fairs; street scenes; parades; bikes; circus, agriculture; diners; old folks and sport. They were taken between 1967 and 2007. Street scenes have the largest selection with thirty-six, mostly in Minneapolis and St Paul. Another book that I've enjoyed of these cities is Mike Melman's `The quiet hours' (ISBN 0816643288), seventy-five photos that really do live up to the book's title. They were taken just before dawn of empty streets and the insides of buildings. The Uni of Minnesota Press also published this book.

In `Home' some of the photos pull you right into the frame. Plate forty-seven of parade watchers sitting and standing on the sidewalk is just beautiful. The sort of scene Norman Rockwell might have painted for a Saturday Evening Post cover. Plates 113, 114 and 115 create wonderful mosaics of interior and exteriors of shops just by using reflections in their windows.

On the other hand there are a few in the book that I thought definitely lacked creative sparkle. Plate eight shows a ticket seller in a booth filling half the photo with a large expanse of white wall, some motorbikes and the back of a car fill up the rest of the frame with an out of focus something lower right. Unfortunately this is opposite a perfect composition of a pop-corn seller in a truck looking out the back window. On either side, in the distance there is activity and detail. This image does everything you expect a photo to do, where as the one facing it seems to do everything a photo shouldn't do. A mere snap the book could well do without. The few other photos that I thought rather weak had dull compositions and no obvious focal point, events that weren't really worth covering (plates fifty-eight and nine) and buildings that lacked uprights (plate twenty-seven and 104).

The book is a large square format, ideal to show off Arndt's work and there are some spreads where the photos are square with a half-inch margin all round, these spreads look just perfect and I thought it was a pity that the whole book wasn't like this (a format that Lee Freidlander has used in his books). More than half the photos are either landscape or upright on the page and strangely some have a thickish black border and others not. They are 175 screen duotones printed on an excellent matt art paper. A really nice touch, in the back pages, are the photographer's thoughts and details about seventy-seven of the photos, illustrated with large thumbnails. The plates all have a single line caption but someone at the publishers had the silly idea of grouping up to three together on a page which requires the reader to try and work out what caption applies to what photo by flipping the pages back and forth.

Tom Arndt's `Home' delivers a wonderful slice Minnesota life from the recent past and it's almost the perfect photo book.

Before Color
Before Color
von William Eggleston
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 48,00

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4.0 von 5 Sternen The South: diced and sliced, 20. Januar 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Before Color (Gebundene Ausgabe)
With an initial flick through these pages you could be looking at Eggleston's 'Guide' or 'Ancient and modern' or 'The Democratic Forest', only these three books are all color. 'Before color' will give you an idea about the origins of Eggleston's style of capturing commonplace and overall I thought it was an interesting selection, though in the nature of this kind of project some photos really stand out and others seem rather marginal.

My favorites are the urban landscape of street scenes, retail units and houses. The interiors, whether commercial premises or homes seem to lack the punch and vitality of the outside shots. The three all color books I've mentioned are almost all exterior images.

The 152 photos have been scanned from Eggleston's original prints (and here they are printed as 175 screen quadratones) and I found it interesting to see how the texture varied from photo to photo. Some have a stippled appearance ( two military personnel, page 94/95 or office equipment, page 128/129) a newly built house (pages 74/75) looks as if you were standing in front of it in real-life because the detail is so precise or the very soft look of three teenagers at a wedding (page 193). Two night photos on pages 162/163 have incredible contrast unlike anything else in the book. Eggleston, by doing his own black and white prints, seems to be experimenting with the textures it's possible to get with various photographic papers.

As this is a photo book there is the usual essay at the start of the book. I find, from experience that these seem to fall into two categories: the extremely informative, like John Szarkowski's in 'William Eggleston's Guide' or the very generalized as the three pages by Dave Hickey in this book. It's called 'Deconstructing reconstruction: Eggleston in before color' and says very little including stuff like this:
'The shadowless, white urban symmetries and green arboreal chaos dissolve into the smooth grisaille of penultimate entropy'.
'So the pleasure we derive from these photographs bears with it a cautionary obbligato about the horrors of careless ennui'.
I wish art book publishers would stick to a critic's overview of the artist or subject and forget about anything from others.

Because much of Eggleston's work in these photos suggests his searching and experimenting for a style that eventually exploded with his amazing colour work I think the book is more for the confirmed fan rather than others.

New York: Capital of Photography
New York: Capital of Photography
von Max Kozloff

5.0 von 5 Sternen Spontaneous snaps, 17. Januar 2011
This has to be my favorite book on New York photographers after Jane Livingstone's brilliant study The New York School: Photographs, 1936-1963: Photographs, 1936-63. The 101 photos capture the feel of the city over the decades of the last century and especially the street ambience of the thirties to the sixties.

The book is a record of an exhibition of the photos organized by the New York Jewish Museum in 2002. Most of the fifty-nine photographers who exhibited were Jewish. NYC is, after all, their city and perhaps no other metropolis has generated such an amazing number of talented, creative camera folk. The book's contents clearly show this.

The first seventy-eight pages have a wonderful essay, by Max Kozloff, about all these photographers and the various influences that showed up in their work. Here and there a bit of editing wouldn't have gone amiss though, as in this example:
'They almost describe an arc, wherein a material triumphalism is aestheticized to an apex of etherealization, then rounds over to an accounting of the social and human costs of "progress", and finally descends to the pathos of life and the solitude of observation'.
Karen Levitov's Introduction, over seven pages also adds to the book's overall comprehension. The back pages provide useful biographies to all the photographers followed by a good bibliography (with ten references to Kozloff's writing). There is a slight editorial lapse in not providing, in the Index, any reference to 101 images.

As to the photos I found them enormously varied in content and style. The first, by the Byron Company, is from 1913 and shows Indians and teepees on the roof of the Hotel McAlpin. A wonderful shot by Ruth Orkin taken on the canopy to the Hotel Astoria in Times Square on V-E Day and includes what looks like a TV camera. Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Lewis Hine, Edward Steichen, Helen Levitt, Bruce Davidson, Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott, Andreas Feininger and many others are all represented.

The book's production is as you would expect for a photo book, one photo to a page with generous margins and thankfully the comprehensive captions are on the same page. The paper is a good matt art for the 117 duotones printed with a 175 screen. I was made aware of an interesting point while with Morris Engel's 1937 photo of a Harlem merchant (plate twenty-one) looking out of a small window of his street stall. The photos show plenty of detail: small packets and bric-a-brac; strip ads for products; bottles and jars etcetera. This same photo also appears, about the same size, in a 1972 Time/Life book on documentary photography but the print used was darker and shows a lot more detail that was obviously included on the original negative. It was also a duotone but although it was printed with a 150 screen it had stronger second black plate to punch out the detail. This does raise the point that photos in art books can have a look that varies depending on the quality of the original print supplied to the printer. A reader could have a different interpretation of a photographer's creativity depending on how their work is presented on the page.

1950s Glamour (20th Century Pin-Ups)
1950s Glamour (20th Century Pin-Ups)
von Ian Penberthy
Preis: EUR 19,02

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Incredibly soft, 16. Januar 2011
Worth a look especially considering that you can buy back issues of Fiesta and Knave, where all these photos originally appeared, at ludicrous prices on the net. The three hundred (mostly in colour) photos would be the equivalent of several issues of these two magazines.

Though the title says the 1950s I think the contents really run from the mid-fifties and well into the sixties, Knave magazine wasn't published until 1966. The photos come from the studios of Russell Gay and Harrison Marks and these two seem to have cornered the market back then for this magazine glamour work.

Both photographers had their regular models, especially Marks with Pamela Green. Other names that appear throughout the book are Margaret Nolan and Lorraine Burnett but annoyingly no Paula Page! While not expecting to see anything too strong I thought the photos strangely absent of any kind of tease. The poses are all very predictable and unimaginative, no doubt Gay and Marks churned out what the magazine editors wanted and they in turn thought this is what the readers wanted.

Perhaps the problem was that this was studio photography. Where would these places be without their brick-wall wallpaper, plaster columns, bullfight posters (always torn and stuck up at an angle) bits of bamboo and checker-board backdrops. The models are just placed on these props and told to look coy. In particular they never do anything with their hands.

This style of fake arty studio photography seems encourage a bland slightly sexless appeal unlike the down-market pin-up mags like Spick & Span and Beautiful Britains which really did feature the girl next door with amateur shots of them posing, mostly in their underwear, in the living rooms and bedrooms across the country. The fact that there was no nudity in these titles didn't seem to matter. On pages 214 and 215 there are four shots unlike others in the book. They are taken in the countryside with a model and a car that won't start. This situation requires a quick disrobing down to her underwear and heels so she can pose by the car to attract a passing motorist. The whole thing is contrived but seems a lot more teasing than pages and pages of the other photos throughout these pages.

The book is a neat square format, nicely designed and printed and excellent value at the Amazon price. The publishers have issued three other decade long glamour titles for the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Katherine Avenue
Katherine Avenue
von Larry Sultan
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 48,00

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Sultan only slightly uncovered, 1. Januar 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Katherine Avenue (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The title comes from the avenue the Sultan family moved to in the San Fernando Valley from Brooklyn in 1949 and the book is published in conjunction with an exhibition of Sultan's photos at the Gallerie Zander, Cologne in August 2010. He died in 2009 and his photographic legacy is in several books, especially these three: `Evidence' (1977) with fifty-six mono photos, `Pictures from home' (1992) with ninety colour and twenty mono and `The Valley' (2004) with ninety colour photos.

This book has fifty photos with eighteen each from Home and the Valley and fourteen from an assignment in 2008 called Homeland. My repeated viewing through the pages confirms that Larry Sultan had something to say. `Pictures from home' is a visual diary of life with his parents. Of the eighteen photos six show his mum with a partially obscured face, just the sort of thing, I thought, that commentators could well pick up on and offer all kinds of deep and penetrating analysis regarding the family dynamic. How about his mum wasn't too keen on having her photo taken anyway! Photographer Mitch Epstein tried the same format with his 2003 `Family business' (ISBN 978-3882439137).

The eighteen from the `Pictures from the Valley' feature an interesting idea: coverage of the porn industry in San Fernando. Rather than shoot videos in a studio, it seems Valley residents hire out their homes for the two or three days it takes to shoot a typical porn movie (a sort of ramshackle fame for the home owners). The photos are all very tasteful and suggest that, like real movie-making, there is a lot hanging about involved.

The fourteen from `Homeland' is also an interesting concept because Sultan hired day laborers to stand in the various landscape shots he took of southern California housing developments. The positioning of the men (all from Central America) suggests a Gregory Crewdson feel but without the complex visual storyline Crewdson injects into his shots.

I thought `Katherine Avenue' a wonderful overview of Sultan's work but I was disappointed that there were only fifty photos (so three stars) and none from his fascinating collaboration with Mike Mandel in their `Evidence' book. To really make this title complete the publishers should have included largish thumbnails of all of the spreads from Sultans three books and put them with the existing biographic pages in the back of the this book. The title might have become the standard reference on this intriguing photographer.

The Contact Sheet
The Contact Sheet
von Steve Crist
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Making contact, 30. Dezember 2010
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Contact Sheet (Gebundene Ausgabe)
An interesting idea for a photo book but I wasn't sure what photos in the title were private work by individual photographers and what were commissions. There is a difference between the two. I've commissioned plenty of photographers for publication articles and many cases they can involve quite tight briefs. Take this person with plenty of sky, where the heading will go, or against a dark background on the right for the heading and text. At the other extreme photographers can just be commissioned to go and capture someone or something on any particular day.

Most of the work in the book I feel belongs to non-commissioned work. As such the work of the forty-six featured photographers included are personal statements and it's quite fascinating to see other work from assignments where one image has become well known.

Some of work maybe just too personal. Adam Jeppesen's eight shots of snow taken in the headlights of his car seem extremely dull but no doubt very meaningful to him. On the other hand the four from Dorothea Lange are masterpieces and Carl De Keyzer's 1994 shots of a Soviet labor camp saw-mill are equally extraordinary. I think one of strengths of the book is the very wide range of work, though they are mostly all of people with no still-life studio.

The book is pleasingly designed and in four languages. Tough on French, German and Spanish readers because their text is tiny and printed in grey! The matt art paper is ideal to reproduce the 175 screen printing.

What Can We Believe Where?: Photographs of the American West (Yale University Art Gallery)
What Can We Believe Where?: Photographs of the American West (Yale University Art Gallery)
von Robert Adams
Preis: EUR 18,60

4.0 von 5 Sternen Way out West, 23. Dezember 2010
I thought this was a useful introduction (and very reasonably priced) to the creative photography of Robert Adams with 110 beautifully printed photos. Taken between 1968 and 2003 in Colorado (mostly around Denver) California and Oregon, they reveal the changing West from nature to a man-made landscape. Adams has devoted several decades to this changing geography.

The photos have all been published before in various books by Adams and I thought a listing of what books they have appeared in would have been useful to the reader. I'm particularly interested in how Adams covers the urban landscape and the Denver photos in the book can be seen in his two remarkable books: What We Bought: The New World: Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974 (Yale University Art Gallery) and Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area, 1973-1974 (Yale University Art Gallery) with 310 photos in all.

The twenty-nine Oregon photos reveal a changing landscape of nature being cleared ready for industry and suburbs. A beautiful shot on page ninety-three shows part of a mechanical devise, with hydraulic cables, resting on the ground. It sums up the alien (a bit Geiger like, too) about to take over nature.

I've given the book for stars despite the wonderful photography because I thought the book's format wasn't quite right. Yale published the two Denver titles I mentioned and they come across as perfect photo books: right shape, paper and printing to bring out the best in the images. It would have made this book so much better if it had been the same landscape format and with larger photos so the detail they contain could be appreciated. In the book they 300+ plus screen tritones (almost like looking at the original prints) but smaller than I expected. The landscape format would have allowed them all to be bigger.

von Joachim Brohm
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen The state of Ohio, 19. Dezember 2010
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Ohio (Gebundene Ausgabe)
These forty colour plates were taken Brohm during 1983/84 while studying for an MA at Ohio State University on a Fulbright Scholarship. Like European photographers from Robert Frank (on a Guggenheim fellowship) and his 'The Americans' onwards Brohm zooms in on the urban landscape and its rich selection of everyday Americana: neon signs, street furniture; utility poles; store fronts; autos and the general run-down, yet colourful, state of many cities. The photos here were mostly taken in Columbus, Ohio and all except two are exterior shots.

I thought it a pity that there are only forty photos because with more the few also-rans wouldn't be so noticeable. One of these is the second to last in the book, a shot taken from inside a car looking at a huge water tower which cut off by the car`s windscreen. The cropping and out of focus rear-view mirror just make it look odd. Some photos really grabbed me though: page fifty-four has a shot looking down a street with the detail vanishing into the distance or page sixty-five of a street corner with pedestrians waiting to cross with street furniture framing shop signs on the opposite side of the street. The two interior photos are interesting because they seem very reminiscent of William Eggleston's interiors with their saturated colour. Thomas Weski in the book's intro refers to Eggleston and 'his snapshot style and a 'painterly' interpretation of colour'.

The Imprint page says the photos have been scanned from colour prints which would explain the slight softness and lack of really solid blacks throughout the pages. They are one to a spread and printed with a 175 screen on a reasonable matt art. The book is the usual high production one would expect from Steidl.

'Ohio' will join my slowly expanding shelf of fascinating photo books that take a wry look at the man-made American landscape in recent decades.

Posters of the Cold War
Posters of the Cold War
von David Crowley
Preis: EUR 19,98

3.0 von 5 Sternen Rather cool in hot times, 5. Dezember 2010
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Posters of the Cold War (Taschenbuch)
The seventy posters shown reflect the political times quite well because so many of them have an urgency that implies an amateurish production rather than the slick design techniques (and message) that posters for commercial products use. The posters, from fifteen countries, would win few design awards because they weren't designed for considered appraisal but to get an immediate message across quickly in situations where posters wouldn't necessarily be seen.

David Crowley writes introductions to the four chapters and the rest of the text are long captions to the posters, mostly one to a page. Despite so few posters in the book the coverage is wider than I expected. Posters for the `Ipcress File', Kubrick's `2001' and `Solaris' are included and a lovely spoof of `Gone with the wind' starring Ron Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

An interesting book but I really would have liked to have seen far more posters included, overall it seems a bit lightweight to me.

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