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Robin Benson

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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
Kommentar Kommentar (1) | Kommentar als Link | Neuester Kommentar: Nov 26, 2011 5:10 PM CET

This Is Not a House
This Is Not a House
von Edgar Martins
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 43,31

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.

Rudolf Burckhardt New York, N. Why? /Anglais
Rudolf Burckhardt New York, N. Why? /Anglais
von Burckhardt Rudy
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen An intimate look, 18. September 2011
Rudy Burckhardt is probably best known for photos of artists and their work during the fifties and sixties in New York. He was familiar with artists long before that, there is a photo here of his neighbour Willems De Kooning which he took in 1938 and dance critic and poet Edwin Denby was Burckhardt's companion for many years.

What makes this book rather different and special from the usual photographer monograph is that it is a facsimile of one of Burckhardt's photo scrapbooks, the original is in the New York's Metropolitan Museum. The fifty-four pages are printed in four colour (with a 200 screen) though all the photos are black and white but colour gives the pages a faded look and picks up the slight shadows created by the edge of the prints in the scrapbook. The title page is in Burckhardt's handwriting and dated 1938 though a copy of Life magazine on a newsstand photo is a September 11, 1939 issue (he could, of course, have started the book in 1938 and added photos over the coming months).

Burckhardt divided the photos into three sections with a poem by Denby introducing each part. The first eleven one-to-a-page photos are sidewalk close-ups of buildings showing fire hydrants, grills and parts of entrances. Part two has thirteen straight on shots of advertising signs, barber shops and newsstands. Part three, over sixteen pages, has forty-three street scenes of pedestrians walking past Burckhardt's camera. Some of these shots are four or three to a page.

Overall I thought this was an intriguing look at the work of a lesser known émigré photographer (he was born in Switzerland) and made even more fascinating because it is a beautifully produced facsimile of Burckhardt's original scrapbook. Somehow I feel closer to his work while turning the pages because of the intimate presentation.

The back of the book has an interesting illustrated twelve page essay by Doug Eklund, Associate curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum. A nice touch is that this essay is printed on matt white paper.

Shit London: Snapshots of a City on the Edge
Shit London: Snapshots of a City on the Edge
von Patrick Dalton
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 11,49

2.0 von 5 Sternen Weirdness captured, 8. September 2011
A mildly amusing book with a few really fun photos amongst all the rather bland ones. The 106 show what you can expect to see in various parts of down-market London though I think it's possible to see most of the these in any major UK city. The majority of photos show the predictable defaced posters and signs with a few hand-lettered ones. Other shots show the falling apart environment, like an abandoned car full of weeds or a bike padlocked to some railings but minus both wheels and a saddle.

This has all been done before though and I think rather more successfully. The Caravan Gallery from Portsmouth, in southern England, has produced two lovely photo books that beautifully capture the holes in the fabric of contemporary British life. 'Is Britain great?' (ISBN 978-0955025815) and 'Is Britain great? 2 (ISBN 978-0956390103). The really nice thing about these two books is that none of it is contrived or false and the presentation is far superior to the Dalton's London title which is really nothing more than amateur snaps.

The book features several quirky London shop fronts. A really big selection, from around the country can be found in Guy Swillingham's 'Shop horror' (ISBN 978-0007198139). The art of the pun name clearly hasn't deserted Britain's shop owners.

Menu Design in America, 1850-1985
Menu Design in America, 1850-1985
von Jim Heimann
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 39,99

5.0 von 5 Sternen A tasty dish, 23. August 2011
I hope no other publisher is thinking of doing a book on menu design because Jim Heimann's wonderful collection in this Taschen title can't be beat. With almost eight hundred covers and nicely, many showing the insides so you can see what was available when your folks ate out decades ago.

It's the inside meal listings that I found intriguing: the Palmer House in Chicago, on May 17, 1885, offered Fried frogs, a la Crapotine; when the Iowa Register and Tribune papers had their banquet in 1917 they could tuck into Dross smothered in onions; United States Lines SS America on Monday June 9, 1930 listed a dessert called Blanc mange; the Sea Cave in Oakland, California, had thirty-three oyster dishes and claimed `We open our oysters daily'.

Little snippets of information pop up everywhere. The 1943 Red Sails Inn in San Diego menu said `We are closed on Tuesdays', because of wartime regulations required meatless Tuesdays. The Disney Studio in 1942 had very low prices for breakfast to prevent their workers going of the lot. Many of the menus before 1940 have daily dates printed on them, presumably they were frown away when the places closed at night. All the up-market menus used a mixture of French and English though the swanky New York Colony in 1954 had every thing in French and handwritten, too.

The menus included aren't just restaurants but from anywhere that provided cooked food, the Colony to Bob's Big Boy and everything in between, no early McDonalds though. The covers come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, a few shown include location maps and I found one that featured photographs of the meals.

The book is the usual well designed Taschen format. Good page layouts and printing with a 150 screen. I would have preferred to see a gloss paper to bring out the wonderful colourful graphics rather than the slightly soft matt art that has been used.

Jim Heimann's book will be a treat for those in the food business and graphic designers will appreciate all the amazing visual goodies. This is his second title on the subject, check out `May I take your order' (ISBN 0811817830) a large paperback from 1998.

Armin Hofmann (Poster Collection)
Armin Hofmann (Poster Collection)
von Museum Museum für Gestaltung Zürich

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Swiss leader, 31. Juli 2011
The poster collection of Armin Hofmann is the seventh title in a series of poster books from the publisher. I believe twenty-two titles have so far been published. The sixty-seven posters in the book cover Hofmann's career and I thought it was interesting that his design principles have stayed constant over several decades. One word perhaps sums it up: simplicity.

Look at any of these designs and you'll see striking typography, sparse and careful use of colour and graphics all carefully blended to create an instant statement. They are, of course, incredibly central European looking, helped perhaps because they are for non-commercial concerns like cultural institutions in Basel. Though many of these designs are from past decades they still look fresh today.

Hoffmann has spent a lifetime teaching and six pages in the book show forty-two large thumbnails of past students work, some of going back to the late 1950s. Karl Gerstner, Nelly Rudin are a couple of names I recognise. You can see the Hofmann approach in some of this student work though many designs seem overly complex. Hofmann's wonderful Giselle poster is included in the book, where he playfully turns the Standard Medium square dot on the i into a circle and you can compare the clarity of this poster with a student's work for the same ballet, a rather fussy type and graphic interpretation.

The book has two essays (in English and German) and the posters are well reproduced with a 175 screen on a good matt art. Overall I thought was an excellent coverage of the poster work by one of the founders of Swiss modernism.

X-ray Art
X-ray Art
von Nick Veasey

5.0 von 5 Sternen Inside out art, 28. Juli 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: X-ray Art (Taschenbuch)
How refreshing to come across a book that will grab you open it any page. Nick Veasey's photo art gives you fresh take on the humble x-ray which is interesting because the technology has been around for years but how many photographers, in the past, had a big lead-lined studio and the latest GE digital imaging equipment.

The two hundred plus photos are divided into: Objects; Body; Nature; Fashion. I thought the Body was the most fascinating chapter. Seeing a landscape bus with twenty skeletons or a plane in a hanger, this time with mini skeletons, is rather awe inspiring. Objects produces some winners, too. Looking inside everyday things like an MP3 player, computer mouse, mobile phone or a movie camera will just make you look and look. I thought the natural world section didn't hold my interest as much as the other three chapters. Nature provides a staggering range of outside shapes and textures without even looking inside them.

The book is handsome production using a 175 screen on good matt art paper though the many black pages will probably show up finger marks eventually. The back pages have two hundred thumbnails of the book's spreads with very comprehensive captions.

Nick Veasey has produced one of those books that generate many repeat viewings.

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