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Robin Benson

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Pictures from the Southwest
Pictures from the Southwest
von Dan Martensen
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 47,02

3.0 von 5 Sternen On the road, 14. September 2012
These sixty photos were taken between 2001 and 2011 on road trips across the rather desolate southwest USA. Clearly a favourite for photographers like Eggleston, Sternfeld and Shore who are mentioned in a discussion between Martensen and Magnus Berger at the start of the book. Another piece by Jason Farago mentions that you'll not see any of the natural spectacle associated with the area and this is where I think many of the photos fail. Too many could have been taken anywhere though many do have that unique aspect: blue skies and wide spaces.

It is unfortunate that several photos really don't seem worth including: a pillow resting on a window ledge in an otherwise bare room; a close-up of some insulation material revealed after a ceiling tile had been removed; two photos (facing each other) looking out of dirty windows; an out of focus close-up of a car's rear red light; a clos-up of a window with vertical blinds. Why these were included in just sixty photos seems, to me, a serious editorial mistake.

There, of course, some really great photos. A white fence entwined with tree, a couple of chairs sitting in some scrub with rusty fencing, an empty motel pool (in the style of Bennett Fitts lovely `No lifeguard on duty book') a head-on shot of the front of a Peterbilt truck. These photos really stand out amongst the more mediocre ones.

The books production is as one would expect from art book publishers Damiani. An excellent matt art for the photos and printed with a 250 screen (or maybe 300). I think a more a more energetic look at the region is revealed in the two photo books by Peter Brown: On the Plains and West of Last Chance.

Modern Ruins: Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region (A Keystone Book)
Modern Ruins: Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region (A Keystone Book)
von Geoff Manaugh
Preis: EUR 40,60

5.0 von 5 Sternen Out of time, 31. Juli 2012
Who would have thought that decay would look so fascinating? I've now bought several books on contemporary ruins and O'Boyle's book is an excellent addition to my collection. The book is divided into two ruin formats: the institutional and industrial. I thought the former interesting (and the part with colour photos) with its long state hospital corridors, confined space prisons and everywhere peeling paint but it's in the industrial pages where I think O'Boyle's superb photos really come alive.

The chapter on steel has some quite stunning images of Bethlehem Steel Company blast furnaces inside and out. These structures must be a photographers paradise (even when brand new, too) with their irregular shapes, shadows and sheer size. The section on coal is perhaps more subdued, here the photos reflect the effects of coal on the community so there images of houses, a drive-in theatre as well as the inner workings of a defunct mine. The last section is a sort of hybrid of the institutional and the industrial: the Bannerman Island Arsenal on Pollepel Island near Cold Springs, New York. There are only seven photos of what could easily be mistaken for a ruined castle on the Hudson River (check out some colour photos of the place on Google Earth).

The landscape book is nicely designed and printed with a 200 screen on a matt art paper. The last four pages have a short interview with the photographer and his thoughts on the ruins, how he finds and explorers them.

The Photographs of Gordon Parks (Fields of Vision)
The Photographs of Gordon Parks (Fields of Vision)
von Charles Johnson
Preis: EUR 11,53

5.0 von 5 Sternen Gordon Parks, 16. Juli 2012
Gordon Parks was the only black photographer to work for Roy Stryker at the FSA/OWI. Stryker was at first reluctant to hire a black photographer and Parks quickly discovered that Washington was a 'hate-drenched city' but he did some of his best work in the city. The fifty photos in the book were taken in 1942 and '43 mainly in Florida, New York and Washington DC. Several of the New York ones are from a May-June 1943 assignment to cover the Fulton fish market, part of a series of studies the Government wanted on food production. Some of the Washington photos are from an assignment to record the life of Ella Watson, who cleaned the FSA offices. Included here is the famous one of Ella posed in front of the Stars and Stripes, holding a broom and mop, inspired by Grant Wood's 'American Gothic'. I thought it was slightly unfortunate that the Fulton and Watson photos weren't placed as a sequence in the book.

The photos are full of interesting detail and mostly well framed, probably thanks to Roy Stryker's exact shooting scripts for photographers out on assignments. A stylistic point about Parks photos is that many of them are low down shots, as if he had the camera just above knee level, either straight on to the subject or slightly looking up.

The book is well printed with a 175 screen and the layout follows the same style as the other eight Fields of Vision books. This is an excellent collection, so far, of the sixteen FSA/OWI photographers.

The Dutch Photobook: A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards
The Dutch Photobook: A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards
von Frits Gierstberg
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 58,43

5.0 von 5 Sternen Netherlands nice, 11. Juli 2012
I think Aperture is to be congratulated on publishing another excellent photobook to go with their Japanese and Latin American editions. Both of these are quite different from this latest title: the Japanese pages reflect a much more personal photo style and the Latin one features a lot more overtly political titles.

This Dutch book features 124 photobooks (just over half published since 1983) divided into six chapters: landscape; youth; industry; travel; city; art. To reflect the broad scope of editorial the section on industry includes several corporate titles essentially used as company promotions but still full of creative images. Perhaps the biggest difference between Dutch photobooks and the two titles is the look of the books. Holland has a tradition of creativity in design, printing and the visual arts. These clearly came together as I looked through the pages. Though it's not possible to comment on the printing of the books shown here the layout, typography and photos are of a high order.

The format is the same as Japanese and Latin editions: the cover of each book is shown followed by several spreads with a technical caption relating to size, pages, publisher, print run et cetera. Also each book has a very comprehensive and detailed analysis of the photographs, who took them and why, the designer and publisher. The book's production really can't be faulted, excellent matt paper for the 300 screen images and a nice touch is printing all the black and whites in four colour. The back pages have several indices: a timeline; photographers; designers; book size; print runs. These pages look rather intriguing because they all use small thumbnails of the 124 book covers.

The Dutch photobook continues the very high editorial standard set in the two previous Aperture photobooks.

Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950
Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950
von Peter Dans
Preis: EUR 28,09

5.0 von 5 Sternen Real people on real streets, 7. Juli 2012
Rebecca Lepkoff must have been an interesting person because how many other people would have taken photos like these? Cameras were for creating permanent records of family snaps, weddings and other uplifting occasions not the grit and grime of a working class neighbourhood.

The map near the front of the book outlines the Lower East Side in 1939 and despite it not looking all that big an area the photos suggest plenty of commercial activity mingling with tenements. The photos capture life on the streets beautifully and give real sense of place. The book's photo section is based around streets and although individually most are not captioned several do have details about areas in the images.

The first forty-three pages have an essay by Peter Dans about living in the Lower East Side followed by Suzanne Wasserman's short biography of Ms Lepkoff. The book is nicely produced with the photos printed with a 200 screen on a reasonable matt art paper. I thought it slightly unfortunate that several photos are a bit too black and hide the some detail that is obviously there. Overall these content rich photos capture the people and seasons in one little corner of New York.

Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Esther Bubley: The Library of Congress
Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Esther Bubley: The Library of Congress
von Amy Pastan
Preis: EUR 11,14

5.0 von 5 Sternen 1943: what a year, 4. Juli 2012
Esther Bubley isn't as well-known as some of the other FSA/OWI photographers who covered life in America from 1936 to 1945 but I think her stature is growing as the years go by. She started to work for Roy Stryker, head of the photo-agency, in 1942 when she was only twenty-one. He promoted her to a field photographer in 1943 and she contributed over 2000 images during the year.

The fifty photos in the book are all from that '43. A fascinating fifteen are from a two week assignment to photograph wartime transportation with Bubley covering Greyhound buses. She travelled from Washington to several cities in the east of the country and back again. 445 photos from that assignment were probably her greatest contribution to the OWI files (she repeated the assignment, again for Stryker, in 1947 when he was the head of the Standard Oil photo library). The other photos in the book are a selection from Washington and the surrounding States in the documentary style that makes the OWI collection so important as a record of American during the war years.

The book is an excellent introduction to Esther Bubley. The format is the same as the other Library of Congress Fields of Vision books: a simple, elegant design with one captioned photo a page, printed as a 200 screen duotone. Each book has an informative essay about the photographer.

Joel Meyerowitz (55)
Joel Meyerowitz (55)
von Colin Westerbeck

4.0 von 5 Sternen Small moments, 4. Juli 2012
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Joel Meyerowitz (55) (Taschenbuch)
Phaidon are to be congratulated on their fine 55 photo series and now they seem to have corrected the major fault of all the original titles: at six by a little over five inches they were just too small. This particularly applies to the Meyerowitz title because so many of his photos are full of detail and when they appear one to a page at five inches wide the essence of the image is almost lost. This title is now available in the bigger 55 format.

The photos run from 1962 to 1999 (the book came out in 2001) and the first three are in colour when Meyerowitz was first experimenting with this new medium (for him) out on the street. Several photos show his ability to be at the right place to capture some quirky happening: a man getting tangled up with some cabling or a swimmer jumping of a bridge in Central Park while another photographer does a fashion shoot on the bridge. Some of the shots reveal his fascination with light and how it can change the mood of a colour photo (he explored this more in the Cape Light book).

Overall I thought this was a fine selection of his work. Colin Westerbeck contributes a thirteen page essay and Meyerowitz provides a commentary on the photos as you turn the pages. This is certainly a plus because in most photo books the images are interpreted by anyone except the photographer. The printing uses a 175 screen on a reasonable matt art and this being a Phaidon book there is the usual odd bit of design: the page numbers are in a light face type and positioned at the bottom of each left-hand page near the gutter.

Design in Question
Design in Question
von Elisava
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 20,00

3.0 von 5 Sternen Questions and more questions, 10. Juni 2012
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Design in Question (Gebundene Ausgabe)
For a rather small but chunky book this packs a large number of questions about creativity in the broadest sense. Such as: Is graphic design necessary in a non-capitalist country?; Is there a system of values in design?; Do we take design too seriously? You, of course, have to provide the answers.

The idea originated with Ruedi Baur who created a typographic wall of questions at the Elisava School of Design in Barcelona. The book could be quite useful within an academic setting to get students to think outside the box of purely practical exercises that is the main function of commercially creative colleges.

I do think though that the publishers could have been a bit more creative with the book's editorial. There is one question a page and all set in the same typeface; it would have made more sense if a different typeface was used each time with its name. Also each question is in colour on a coloured page, how much more useful if these colours all had Pantone numbers. Two simple ideas that would have given the book a positive practical use as well as the stated philosophical one.

American Horizons: The Photographs of Art Sinsabaugh
American Horizons: The Photographs of Art Sinsabaugh
von Keith F. Davis
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 46,10

3.0 von 5 Sternen Art deserves better, 29. April 2012
I think it's a pity that as more people discover this rather under-appreciated photographer they will have to rely on 'American Horizons' as the only monograph available because the reproduction of the eighty-five plates is just not good enough. This became evident when I compared several of Sinsabaugh's photos in this book with the same ones in 'Chicago photographs' (ISBN 0970245238). In particular 'Chicago landscape #214' appears in CP as a bright, clean image full of precise and fascinating detail, in AH it is a very subdued photo and in comparison with the CP one hardly worth looking at. The other photos in both books make me believe that the majority of images in 'American Horizons' are also too dark and grey.

The explanation for the poor quality can be put down to the coarse screen used. Though the photos are tritones they are, rather amazingly, only printed with a 150 screen, hardly much more than the screen used in most consumer magazines. 'Chicago photographs', also tritones, use a 300 screen and it shows. Sinsabaugh used a large plate camera to capture every detail and it seems a nonsense to print his photos in a hopelessly inadequate screen, it just can't reproduce the detail that he took so much trouble to capture.

Despite the poor reproduction 'American horizons' does deliver a huge amount of information on Sinsabaugh. The first thirty-four pages have an excellent illustrated essay from photo historian Keith Davis. After the plates there thirty-seven pages of Notes concerning the photos, a Concordance to the Art Sinsabaugh Archive at Indiana Uni art museum, Bibliography and finally an Index.

Art Sinsabaugh can perhaps be considered as the first of the New Topographic photographers with a vision of the central states he shares with Wright Morris. It's a shame the photos in this book don't display his brilliant creativity to the best advantage.

LIFE 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE
LIFE 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE
von Editors of Life
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen Living the Life, 23. April 2012
Yet another 'Best of...' book about the world's greatest photo magazine. After the weekly folded in 1972 and the monthly folded in 2000 then another go at a weekly which folded in 2005 Time is left with magazine specials and anniversary editions like this one to generate income. All the top photos in these pages, that appeared in the magazine over the years, have been reprinted many times, especially in the last anniversary book `Life: the first fifty years 1936-1986'.

This book though does have some interesting things going for it. A large format, at sixteen inches deep, making stunning photos and even more impressive and printed on a good matt art paper with a 175 screen. The layout and typography is probably the best I've seen in any Life book. The back pages reproduce thumbnails of all the weekly covers from issue one and nicely all the special editions and books right up to the magazine edition of this book.

The cherry on the cake for me was the facsimile of the first edition inside the back cover. (If you're buying a pre-used copy I suggest you check with the seller that this included, I've already seen a copy where the seller stated it wasn't) The production is probably better than the original, the paper certainly is and I doubt it had a thicker cover paper like this one. It's a pity the heading and captions are missing on page fifty-four, a heading and caption from the previous page is used and on sixty-nine the caption is missing above a photo. Hard to imagine why these mistakes happened.

If you are too young to remember Life this book is a good introduction to a magazine that presented some of the world's best photojournalism to several million readers each week. If you want the same photos a more conventional format check the remarkable 'The great Life photographers' (ISBN 0500542937).

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