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Robin Benson

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Early Color
Early Color
von Saul Leiter
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Size matters, 5. November 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Early Color (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I was surprised at how small this book was when it arrived (of course, had I checked the Product Details I would have seen that it's about eight inches square) but now having looked through the pages several times I can see why Steidl published it this size. Photographers like Crewdson, Gursky or Shore require a large page because their work is saturated with detail. Here, these wonderful photos are a sliver of city life and presenting them about postcard size is perfect.

Leiter gives us an intimate look at the everyday in what seems to me an almost unique vision. Fred Herzog's colour work during the fifties and early sixties in Vancouver does seem slightly similar especially the vibrant reds that appear in both their work. Leiter's photos though, capture the small fragments of colour and shape on the street which he cleverly takes further by using reflection, shadow and soft focus to make an image that could be considered a sort of photo/painting.

I liked the way he uses commercial street signage (as does Herzog) to provide small areas of bright colour amongst the dark hues and shadows so prevalent in any city. I doubt any of the photos were taken in bright sunlight and even a few that include snow still have a dark hue to them.

The book has a hundred photos printed with a 175 screen on a matt art, one to page, except for two spreads and opposite each photo there is the briefest of caption: location and date. The first edition came out in 2006, second in 2007 and this one to coincide with an Amsterdam exhibition of Leiter's photos. The publication of this edition should bring the high prices of earlier copies down to a more realistic level. All three editions seem identical except for some type changes on the imprint page.

This is one of those books whose size works in harmony with the contents and really helps to bring Leiter's intimate city photos to life.
Kommentar Kommentar (1) | Kommentar als Link | Neuester Kommentar: Mar 10, 2013 3:33 AM CET

Is Britain Great? 3
Is Britain Great? 3
von Sara-Jayne Parsons
Preis: EUR 19,18

5.0 von 5 Sternen Another generous helping of reality, 28. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Is Britain Great? 3 (Taschenbuch)
A very welcome third title from the Caravan Gallery and the perceptive eyes of Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale. The photos here carry on the theme of the previous books and having recently looked through them all it does seem that the two photographers still manage to captured a unique vision of the Nation. I thought it was interesting to compare the photos in the first book with those in the next two. There seems a shift away from the hard-edge vulgarity in book one to a more mature perception of the everyday environment in this one.

The photos look at the urban landscape and pick out what most passers-by don't even notice because it's there all the time but presented as a large photos on the page they immediately pull you into the frame. A good example of this is the Mad Sales shop in Gravesend with a stack of stock on the pavement, shot straight on and bursting with colour and detail. The Leith, Edinburgh, Ocean terminal looks like a derelict site but a gleaming white cruise liner is moored there. So many photos reveal the everyday and make it look interesting, frequently helped by an incongruous notice. Some of the images are just downright quirky: a snowman in a Portsmouth street has two huge, red, round blotches for his eyes and a beer bottle tucked under his arm.

The 125 photos are mostly one to a page. A few pages have two photos mostly, close-ups of off-beat notices and signs. Perhaps these photos should have been four to a page because having taken in the ironic message they convey there is not much else to look at.

A book of photos like these might not be to everybody's taste but I've always like the way Teasdale and Williams capture the commonplace of real Britain. This third book continues their unique vision.

Art Deco Postcards
Art Deco Postcards
von Patricia Bayer
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 15,95

5.0 von 5 Sternen Just too good to mail, 18. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Art Deco Postcards (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I've been waiting a long, long time for a book like this. In most of the books I have on Deco (or Streamline or Moderne) there is always one or two of these postcards included, they were, in many cases, the only visual surviving examples of what the buildings looked like. Patricia Bayer has done us all a favour with this delightful book of 264 postcards.

Perhaps the Art Deco title is slightly misleading because as I looked through the pages Streamline seemed much more appropriate. So many of the buildings have those wonderful curves, right angles, glass blocks and occasional porthole windows that were part of any proper Streamline building. I always thought Arrasmith's stunning Greyhound terminals were ultimate examples of the style.

A really nice feature in the book are postcards of Streamline buildings in parts of the world were you really wouldn't expect to see them: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Yokohama, Japan; Pula, now Croatia; Kharkov, Ukraine; Benalla, Australia; Casablanca, Morocco; Copenhagen, Denmark; Caracas, Venezuela. Page eighty-nine has a postcard of the remarkable Italian Colonia Fara beach front building designed in 1935 and still standing, pure streamline and looking like it was transported from Los Angeles.

The author covers it all with the postcard selection, exterior and interiors of buildings, motels, transport, commerce and industry, world's fairs, it's all here. Near the back of the book there are eight pages of perforated cards ready to mail (though far better, I think, to frame them). At the very back are thirty pages of captions for all the cards, full of fascinating detail about the buildings that were torn down over the years.

This is a gem of a book for those who love the Deco/Streamline/Moderne style. Surely there must be enough of these postcards for a volume two!

The New Cars 1964
The New Cars 1964
von Jeffrey Fraenkel
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 35,95

3.0 von 5 Sternen A little and that's it, 16. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The New Cars 1964 (Gebundene Ausgabe)
A remarkably underwhelming photo book. Not because of the photos: they are stunning as one would expect from Friedlander. Not because of the production: beautifully designed by Katy Homans; perfect three hundred screen printing by Meridian from Thomas Palmer prints. Underwhelming because there is so little here: just thirty-three photos and little else.

Harper's Bazaar asked the twenty-nine year old Friedlander to capture the excitement of Detroit's new '64 models. Back in those days the three manufacturers really pushed the boat out with extensive media coverage. I remember Look Magazine had an annual feature with several pages of photos presenting the new cars in the best light. Friedlander ignored all this hype and took his usual wonderful playful shots full of different layers of visual interest, reflections in windows or just creating unusual situations like putting one of the cars in an empty drive-in (because it was during the day). Predictably the magazine didn't use any of the photos, though he got paid anyway.

I really would have expected more than just the photos and the short intro from Jeffrey Fraenkel. Friedlander found the images in his darkroom storage. Were there no contact prints that would provide some additional interest if they were included in the book, did he have any recollections of the assignment and what were his original thoughts on the brief from Bazaar art editors? The book is, editorially, completely unimaginative.

Because there is so little here and it certainly doesn't have the punch of Friedlander's amazing 'America by car' I think it's only worth considering if you are regular LF fan (like me).

New York in Color
New York in Color
von Bob Shamis
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 31,95

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5.0 von 5 Sternen City capture from Eve Arnold to Charlie Zoller, 15. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: New York in Color (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Bob Shamis choice of 235 colour photos in these pages clearly lift it way above the usual New York photo book and there are enough of those around already. I thought this was a vibrant selection of work mostly from known photographers, a hundred of them and they all have something to say about the world's leading cultural centre. Obviously very few photos are pre-forties but Steichen's 1904 Flatiron Building is here and over the page is Alfred Dutertre's Pointillist style shot of the Plaza Hotel from 1908. Other older images were originally in mono and hand coloured including one from Jacob Riis taken in 1888.

The city comes alive with colour from the fifties onward and Saul Leiter has some great work included, sort of colour versions of the influential mono New York School work of the period. Most of the fifties and some of the sixties photos come across with muted colours probably as much to do with the technical aspects of film back then as to do with the subject choice of photographers experimenting with this new medium. The vibrancy and dazzle of colour had to wait until the eighties, now it's permanent. There's a stunning shot by Andrew Moore (page sixty-five) of Times Square taken in 2002 that sort of sums up the colour image one expects of the city now. Thomas Hoepker's famous 9/11 photo (page 210) and one by Joel Meyerowitz, also from 9/11 (page 217) are also good examples of the documentary colour style.

The subject matter of the photos is a mixture of cityscapes, street scenes and a some interiors. A few feature personalities, Gay Talese, Diana Vreeland for example but it is basically the city that comes across so strongly.

The book's square format works well with one photo a page, printed in a 175 screen. There is a minor designer's conceit in having no page numbers on the left-hand pages and on the right-hand pages the number is paced near the book's gutter, a pretty pointless position in my view, especially when a reader uses the Index.

'New York in color' is sort of comparable with Taschen's huge 'New York: portrait of a city' (ISBN 9783836505147). Both books look at the city using work from the same photographers though the Taschen book is arranged historically and has as many mono photos as colour ones.

In Serie: Poster Collection 23
In Serie: Poster Collection 23
von Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Preis: EUR 28,00

5.0 von 5 Sternen One after another, 11. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: In Serie: Poster Collection 23 (Taschenbuch)
The latest poster book from the Zurich Museum for Gestaltung looks at poster series. Forty-two or so are considered and they start with the brilliant Gerstner+Kutter designed work for National Zeitung newspaper in 1960. Luckily the same capital letter works for both words if the rest of the letters are turned ninety degrees. I thought the four posters for the newspaper are probably the best posters in the book and still fresh and exciting today.

The ninety-six pages are in two sections separated by Fabian Wurm's essay in English. The first group are mostly straightforward posters with a clear message using graphics plus type or just type. There are six type only ones from Georg Staehelin for a Basel museum where he uses Akzidenz Grotesk in large sizes and they work so well because of the simplicity of the typography. Work from other well known designers like Michael Engelmann, Joseph Muller-Brockmann (he obviously had to be included) Otl Aicher, Almir Mavignier and Oliviero Toscani (Benetton) make up most of the first section.

I thought the second section of posters perhaps more problematical. There some from years ago and they obviously work well but they are mixed with designs created in the last two decades. These look much more visually complex and possibly almost anti-poster if one assumes that any poster should communicate its information quickly and with clarity. Examples from Elektrosmog, Cyan, Ruedi Wyss, Polly Betram & Daniel Volkart and Muller+Hess seem to be deliberately confusing. Maybe this was a clever visual trick from these designers to force anyone who looks at their designs to spend time working out what posters are saying.

The 203 posters in the book are all in colour well printed on a matt art paper. Each has a caption with the designer credit, client and date. This is poster book twenty-three and the series is building into an excellent overview of poster art, primarily from Switzerland and Europe.

First Pictures
First Pictures
von Joel Sternfeld
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 48,00

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Creative beginnings, 9. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: First Pictures (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I thought the 140 photos here provided a satisfying look back at Sternfeld's work between 1971 and 1980. The book is divided into four sections and with one exception (Rush hour) I can see how he perfected his creative vision to create these significant photo essays: American prospects (1987) On this site (1996) and Sweet earth (2006).

The four sections are `Happy Anniversary sweetie face!' with forty-eight photos taken across the country between 1971 and 1980. Revealing interior and exteriors, commonplace street scenes and portraits. The section heading is from a 1978 wedding anniversary billboard. Jessica May's back-book essays mentions Sternfeld's choice of non-primary hues for his work during these years as he felt it reflected the decade, as Day-Glo color is associated with the Sixties. `Nags Head' has forty photos all taken in June and August 1976 in the North Carolina beach resort. The narrative here is people on the beach and enjoying their company after dark, with plenty of interiors. `Rush hour' has thirty-two photos, taken in 1976, of people movement mostly in New York and Chicago. By their nature these seem to me not much more street quickies with several distinctly odd shots. Rather than show masses of people on the move Sternfeld has concentrated on close-ups of parts of bodies and nearly all of them taken at dusk so that the travelers merge into the darkness of the environment. Certainly the weakest section of the four.

The last section `At the mall' taken during June 1980 has thirty-four shots and here I felt Sternfeld has developed the idea of a visual narrative that works so well in his later books. He visited a series of New Jersey malls and asked shoppers to show him what they bought. Unlike the `Rush hour' shots the buyers proudly face the camera and generally look satisfied with their retail experience.

This is a chunky substantial book with the one photo to a spread, the blank left-hand page could well have carried the captions (only location and date) but Steidl insists that readers will have to flip to a caption page at the back of the book. The paper is a lovely silky matt art, just right for the 175 screen printing and a light colored Kraft paper with the titles starts the four sections.

I thought the book an excellent overview of Sternfeld's colour explorations and in particular the development of his narrative style which comes across so forcefully in the books I mentioned.

Rudy Burckhardt
Rudy Burckhardt
von Phillip Lopate
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Shooting the avant-garde, 4. Oktober 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Rudy Burckhardt (Gebundene Ausgabe)
I recently reviewed a wonderful book (New York, N. Why? ISBN978-1590052297) of sixty-seven Burckhardt photos, admittedly not a lot but what made the book special for me was the reproduction. It was a carefully prepared facsimile of a photo scrapbook that Burckhardt made in the late thirties of his New York street scene photos.

On the strength of that book I wanted to know more about this Swiss born photographer and Phillip Lopate's book does nicely. Burckhardt is another of those émigré photographers who came to America to avoid the thirties turmoil in Europe. The most famous is probably Robert Frank though Alexander Alland, John Gutman, Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth, Lisette Model and Marion Palfi each achieved professional success partly due their European perspective of seeing things.

There are two essays in the book, over forty-four pages, the longest by Lopate is excellent and goes into just the right amount of biographic detail to keep the reader interested and fortunately avoids those elitist meanderings that seem quite common in art books these days (and certainly in photobooks from my experience). Though Burckhardt isn't a photographer that you'll find in the Index of a History of American Photography book his work here shows off his creativety. I especially like the New York street scene photos taken in 1938 to 1940, it's much more controlled and considered than the excitement of the New York School photographers output that came after the Second World War.

The 278 duotone (175 screen) photos in the book are presented chronologically up to 1999, the year he died, aged eighty-five. As well as plenty of New York images there are photos from trips to Trinidad and Alabama (both during WW2 military service Italy, Spain and Morocco. The back pages include artists at work, sidewalk and building shots and finally a nature selection taken in the Maine countryside.

Overall I thought this was a first-class monograph of a photographer (artist and filmmaker as well) perhaps not too well known but the photos here reveal a person here with plenty of creative ideas.

In a Lonely Place
In a Lonely Place
von Gregory Crewdson
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen A firefly sanctuary beneath the roses, 27. September 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: In a Lonely Place (Gebundene Ausgabe)
If you have these three books: Beneath the Roses; Sanctuary; Fireflies you don't need to get this latest title from Gregory Crewdson. It is a selective reprint of his photographs with twenty plates from Roses, twenty-one from Sanctuary and fourteen from Fireflies.

Crewdson is probably best known for his wonderful tableaus in Beneath the Roses (2003 to 2008) with forty-nine plates capturing, as label on the back of this book puts it: `...the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb'. His Sanctuary book had forty black and whites of the deserted Cinecitta movie studio in Rome. I hadn't seen these before and they do look very intriguing with their mix of old fake buildings and plenty of scaffolding. Some look just like a huge trompe l'oeil painting on a backdrop.

Of the three sections in the book Fireflies seems the weakest to me. Taken in 1996 while Crewdson stayed at a cabin in Becket, Massachusetts. The original title was published by the Skarstedt Gallery in 2007 and had sixty-one black and white plates. No doubt fireflies in action, at dusk, would capture any photographers spirit but the fourteen plates here seem very experimental and devoid of any real interest to anyone other than Crewdson and why in black and white.

'In a lonely place' was originally issued by German art publisher Hatje Cantz earlier this year (and they printed this edition, too) with Abrams picking up the English rights. Oddly there are two sets of printing, the colour for Beneath the Roses uses a 200 screen while Sanctuary and Fireflies uses a 250 screen. The paper in the book seems average. In the front of the book Crewdson writes an interesting eight page illustrated essay about the creative folk who have influenced him.

If you are new to the work of Gregory Crewdson this is a sort of introduction but I would go for 'Twilight' or 'Beneath the Roses' to provide a much more satisfying look at this remarkable photographer
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This is not a House
This is not a House
von Edgar Martins
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 34,95

3.0 von 5 Sternen The state of contemporary shelter, 21. September 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: This is not a House (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The fifty-seven photos in the book originated in a New York Times commission to reveal the effects of the mortgage crisis across America (the photos were run in the Times Sunday magazine but because there had been some digital manipulation, which the editors were unaware of, they were removed from the paper's website). Shot in November and December 2008 in eight states they show houses in various stages of construction and abandonment of completed ones

There are some wonderful colour images throughout the book but unfortunately mixed in with what I thought were rather bland ones. The colour, compositions and detail in several landscape photos of newly or partially built houses is quite remarkable and this applies also to several interior images showing, in fine detail, the wooden construction prior to drywall being added (at least five of these could well be used as part of the visual content of a DIY book on house building).

The book really should have included more than fifty-seven photos. The ones that I thought work best are mixed in with an assortment of alternative images. In particular eight where Martins has created, in the corner of a bare room, some small sculptural effects with bits of debris. They hardly seem to add to the story of the recent American housing crisis.

I was disappointed that there are no captions with the photos. Several of them made me wonder `What's going on here'. The two essays in the book are equally unhelpful regarding the photo's contents. Both are rather long winded works with plenty of obscure sentences like:
Fictions, like decisions, and crises, are made. However much we continue to accept photography's indexical facility, to photograph something is necessarily to fictionalise it, to select, intensify, to link the abstractions (cut) from the visual continuum into sequences and so on are all acts of fictionalising. Photographs establish not so much a reproduction of the Real, as a relationship to that federation of perceptions and reflections, discourses and simulations that, beyond brute materiality, makes up the Real.

The book's production is excellent. Quality matt art paper, a 200 screen and generous margins create the perfect photo book environment for these images. I thought it was a pity that too few quite remarkable photos are somewhat overshadowed by some that don't fit the brief, a lack of captions or background detail regarding the photos content and two rather obscure meandering essays, so three stars.

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