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Robin Benson

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Louis Faurer
Louis Faurer
von Anne Wilkes Tucker
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen The loneliness of crowds, 31. Januar 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Louis Faurer (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I find it odd that since the publication of this perfect photo book in 2002 there has not been another on Faurer's photography. Maybe this will be his publishing legacy. By all accounts his work seems to remain on the visual fringe of American photographers during that very creative period from the mid-thirties to the early sixties.

The bulk of the photos are Faurer's remarkable night shots of the streets of New York, especially Broadway and the Times Square area and as another reviewer has commented virtually everyone in these photos is looking elsewhere and apart despite being surrounded by of plenty people. Page eighty shows a woman having a flower pinned to her coat lapel but she is not looking at this but away from the person doing it, on the opposite page a women is adjusting her husband's hair while he looks away from her. Faurer seems to seek out individuals in a sea of crowds. The forty-nine page illustrated essay by Anne Tucker explores this theme.

After these photos in the book there are twenty-six taken between 1948 and 1983. They include three fashion shots in colour, experimental work in black and white and colour, four in NYC in the seventies (but I thought without the vigour of Faurer's earlier city work) and three taken in Paris. Missing are examples of his fashion work, perhaps two or three pages with large thumbnails of magazine spreads would have done. Interestingly there are three pages at the back of the book with a listing of all of Faurer's magazine work. Oddly there is a colour photo (page 163) of a family in Times Square, from 1950, that is printed the wrong way round.

The book's production is perfect. The one to a page photos are printed as 200 screen duotones on a good matt art, and thankfully the captions are printed on the same page as the photos. Overall I thought this was a beautiful looking monograph of Louis Faurer's photography.

Jazz West Coast: Artwork of Pacific Jazz Records
Jazz West Coast: Artwork of Pacific Jazz Records
von William Claxton

4.0 von 5 Sternen Covers the Pacific, 29. Januar 2011
Published in 1992 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Pacific Jazz. This was the label (plus Lester Koenig's Contemporary Records) that established the West Coast Sound around the world. The book is full of LP covers using the photography of Bill Claxton; he designed about half the covers, too. There are 182 Pacific Jazz covers and 43 from other jazz labels that used Claxton's photos.

During the early fifties the covers mostly used black and white photos of the musicians as was the style for jazz labels like Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige. As Pacific became more successful during the fifties the covers became full color and possibly more adventurous: pages fifty and fifty-one shows nine covers using abstract paintings; pages sixty-six and seven has eleven that feature typography rather than a large musicians photo.

Though the book's contents now have a delightful period flavor (and I had many of these LPs) I don't think the covers overall were particularly well designed. The easy option was mostly taken by using a Claxton photo or graphic and just putting some type with the title and artist on top. None of these designs had the graphic punch of Blue Note's distinctive style or the brilliant drawings of David Stone Martin that brightened up labels run by Norman Grantz. Even Koenig's Contemporary Records had better designs by Robert Guidi and his Tri-Arts studio. Still, for me, the book has a nice nostalgic feel.

Apart from the covers there is a twenty-six page portfolio of Claxton photos, four pages just showing the backs of Pacific covers (and these look really dreadful and unimaginative) and nicely a spread with a numerical listing of all the Pacific releases.

John Gutmann: The Photographer at Work
John Gutmann: The Photographer at Work
von Sally Stein
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 55,51

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The urban lensman, 29. Januar 2011
The Product Description above will tell you a bit about this interesting photo journalist. This book is one of three monographs that have been published over the years and because it's the most recent it has a reasonably comprehensive coverage of Gutmann's career. Predictably all three titles have very similar photo content. 'The Restless decade' (ISBN 0810916584) 1984, has 167 duotones and 'The Photography of John Guttmann' (ISBN 1858940974) 1999, has 100.

Sally Stein's 2009 book is the one I prefer because the reproduction of the 175 photos (200 screen duotones on a good matt art) is better than the other two. With more photos it's possible to appreciate the quality of Gutmann's work, in particular his coverage of cars (one of his favorite subjects) and the man-made America, where he follows the style of FSA work by taking photos of commercial buildings and their signage. Plate thirty-six is a beautiful shot of a Hollywood drive-in restaurant; plate thirty-eight features a well framed image of the first Los Angeles drive-in theater. The weakest photos, I thought, are the five signs with white and neon type on a black background. They look simple enough to be student photographic college material.

The book's essay by Sally Stein, over thirty-nine pages is as comprehensive as you'll want and like the essay in 'The photography of John Gutmann' title it's illustrated with spreads from magazines with photos that influenced him. One minor point I noticed with Stein's essay are the footnotes, there are ninety-two of them and amazingly the numbers in the text are the smallest I've ever seen: three point and at that size they are virtually unreadable. Actually that's not the only rather unreadable type in the book: the imprint, footnotes and list of plates are also a strain on the eyes and the photo captions seem to be printed grey ink (someone at the Center for Creative Photography was asleep at the wheel when the proofs were checked!).

John Gutmann was born in Germany (1905) and he arrived in the US during 1933. As he had the eye of a European I think it gives his work a fresh take on the everyday American urban scene especially during the Thirties. This handsomely produced book proves it.

New York at Night
New York at Night
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 36,89

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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 47,44

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 22,10

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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

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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
Preis: EUR 36,93

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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.

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