Saturday, July 24, 2010

Self-portrait

Yesterday I popped into a used bookstore in Waterville. In the back room was a single dusty shelf of photography books, the usual suspects mostly: nature monographs, TIME-LIFE compilations, a few Geddes titles. I was all set to leave when I noticed a thin spine tucked against a corner. I pulled it out. Holy Crap! Could it be?! It was Work From the Same House by Friedlander and Dine. In 20 years of hunting for photobooks I'd never seen a copy before.


This one was in rough shape. It was 40 years old and it showed. The paperback cover was slightly torn and yellowed. Some of the pages had separated from the spine. To the casual browser the book blended with the rest of the crud on the shelf. Would the store owner know what it was worth? Maybe I could score a deal? I checked the title page. $200 penciled in. Damn. The owner did know.

Untitled (Shoes), 1965-1969, Lee Friedlander/Jim Dine
from Work From the Same House

I sat down and leafed through. There were roughly 40 pages of Friedlander photos paired with weird hairy quasi-sexual etchings. About 1/3 of the photos were new to me. The rest I'd seen in later Friedlander books. But this was the primordial cauldron, his first book, before he'd really decided how to organize his work. The short bio on the back cover was perfect. "Born in Aberdeen, WA, 1934, nothing else is known about him." Or something to that effect. So even back then Mr. Lee had been elusive.

Any self-respecting Friedlander fanatic would've bought the thing on the spot. When you stumble on a book like that you were meant to find it. You don't pass it up. You bring it home and it becomes a cornerstone of your book collection.

On the other hand...$200 for a crummy old book that I might look through once or twice? A book with many photos I had in other books? And etchings I didn't really appreciate? A book that was well on its way to disintegration?

I don't need to tell you what I did. You already know.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

you stole it ;-)


Jon

Tom Leininger said...

A gallery in Dallas showed some of this work recently. I was struck with how much darker and contrastier the prints were as compared to his other prints I had seen.

Blake Andrews said...

That's the Photographs Do Not Bend show linked in the post, still up through 9/4/10. I don't know much about the show but I think the original vintage pieces somehow combine photos and etching in one print. Etchings printed directly onto silver gelatin fiber?

Marilyn Andrews said...

If you didn't buy it, I'm going to be really angry, because Jim Dine is absolutely stellar, and the book is worth way more than $200. Please tell me you bought it, and if you didn't, please go back and get it!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am an avid photo book viewer and collector but whenever they get pricey I think of the film and paper I could get and potential images created and then decide .... also interested in your decision....

Blake Andrews said...

I've priced the book out online, and $200 is about right for a copy in that condition. It's a ridiculous amount of money for a book, and certainly I would never spend that amount for some title found online. But that has nothing to do with the main motivation for buying it, that I was meant to find it in that place and return home with it. I think the decision is like a Minor White teaching exercise, a lesson in paying attention to opportunity, but not in a foolhardy way.

Tom Leininger said...

At the Photographs Do Not Bend show the photo appeared to be dry mounted on to the paper the etching was was on. The pictures were printed smaller than 8x10.

JG said...

Two years ago, I found a copy of the exhibition catalog for the 1975 New Topographics show in Rochester in a used bookstore. It was in very good condition and the price being asked for it was $400.

I didn't even try to haggle and four crisp one-hundred dollar bills later, I walked out the front door with it tucked firmly under my arm and a silly grin on my face.