Josh Robenstone, Basta! (Self Published, 2014) • In terms of production quality, this book is among the best I've seen, self-published or not. Deep, rich colors and glossy reproductions that jump off the page. The photos are street snaps taken in Italy, then sequenced in small clumps based on surface pattern or, occasionally, multiple takes of one scene.
Mark Powell, Open At Noon (RM Verlag, 2014) • Powell is the Hamza El Din of photography. He executes with such quiet subtlety it hardly seems like he's doing much. But his photos grow on me with each viewing, and this small retrospective collects some of his best. If this book had come to me a few weeks earlier last December, it would've made my year-end top ten. I guess the mini-roundup three months later is an ok consolation prize.
Andrew Savulich, City of Chance (Filigranes, 2002) • I'm guessing some of these photos will be in Savulich's newbook The City, plus many more. So that might be the one to hold out for. But Steidl keeps pushing back the publication date. At this point it's late April. Who knows when it will actually come out. In the meantime, this is the Savulich book to get. There's a reason he's been called a modern Weegee. He's almost as good, but with a more absurd contemporary sensibility.
Allan Chasanoff, The Party Of The First Pot... (Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery, 1988) • Mix equal parts Daniel Gordon, Jan Groover, and John Pfahl and you might come up with something like the odd photos in this exhibition catalog by well-known collector Allan Chasanoff. The creations are bizarre, fantastic, and tough to accept as real. With a graphic layout featuring color blocks, jungle numbers, and skinny-tie font that scream late 1980s, this book is a steal online cheap/used.
Alias Johnny Stiletto, Shots From The Hip (Bloomsbury, 1992) • This isn't strictly a photo book but it's fun all the same. Stiletto gives a good sense of what goes through a street shooter's head in various real-life situations. Some accounts are more interesting than others, and the same can be said for the photos. Hit or (mostly) miss. But he's a decent writer (he writes "from the hip" and with humor), there aren't many other books like this, and it's easily available online. So why not?
Koji Takiguchi, Sou (Little Big Man, 2014) • An extremely personal and sentimental tale of aging and loss, Takiguchi's first book follows in the tradition of Araki and Furuya. Once again Nick Haymes has pulled out all the stops to produce a book that's as much art piece as photo essay. With beautiful production, layout, and elegant glassine dustjacket, and an interesting interview of the author by Dan Abbe.
Albano Garcia, Flaneur (Libraria, 2009) • Streetscapes from Buenos Aires. The word flaneur often refers to an observer of people but there's not a person to be found here, just objects. The photos are a mixed bag. The shots of buildings and streets are graphically cleansed to the point of sterility, in the realm of Baltz's Irvine work. But some of the quiet interiors and window displays are gritty enough to be poignant.
Photography Album 1 (Centre George Pompidou, 1979) • This is an odd and quite interesting collection of 20th century Francophile photographers published by Pompidou. Maybe it was a show too? Who knows. There's not much text but the photos are great. It includes a few well-known —Willy Ronis, William Klein, Richard Kalvar— and many lesser-known. Blanc and Demilly, anyone? Many of these photos were new for me. I run across a lot of old crappy compilations like this in used stacks. Most aren't worth buying. This one is. Recommended if you like b/w, documentary, street, or some mix of the three.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Pictures Of The Gone World (City Lights, 1955) • Yes, the world is the best place of all for a lot of such things as making the fun scene and making the love scene and making the sad scene and singing low songs and having inspirations and walking around looking at everything and smelling flowers and goosing statues and even thinking and kissing people and making babies and wearing pants and waving hats and dancing and going swimming in rivers on picnics in the middle of the summer and just generally 'living it up'. Yes, but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician.
Carolyn Drake, Wild Pigeon (Self-Published, 2014) • I don't know about all the high-falutin' poetry and sequencing and art-speak that went into this, or that come out of it in various reviews. All I know is the section of Wild Pigeon in which Drake collaborates with her subjects and has them draw on photos is fucking killer. Those are ones. Yes. They're like Magnum meets Basquiat which is like better than chocolate and peanut butter together. I usually hate anything popular just because, you know...principles, man. So yeah, I tried not to like this but I couldn't help it.
Randall Levenson, In Search Of The Monkey Girl (Aperture, 1982) • I suppose some might view this as a cruel book. When I showed it to my photo club, they all felt it was over the top mean. But these photos are so strong I can't look away. Randall Levenson doesn't just find riveting freaks. He makes great portraits. For those who feel Arbus is too gentle, this book is for you. With state fair stories by Spalding Gray as a bonus.
Jörg Colberg, Detritus (Self-Published, 2014) • This collection of snapshots compiled during recent San Francisco visits shows a predilection for quiet scenes and urban detritus. There are no people. Colberg is focused instead on texture, grit, and moody light. The photos were shot with an iPhone, then made to look like Polaroids with effects. Printed in a limited edition of maybe a handful?
Jim Stone, Stranger Than Fiction (Light Work, 1993) • This book opens with the old Winogrand aphorism, "There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described." Fitting, because the book is pretty danged mysterious. I bought it for the large format portraiture, which is strange and brilliant. Tucked between the portraits are newspaper clippings. I have no idea what they're doing there. Maybe no one else does either. I guess that's why it was only $7.
Bob Mazzer, Underground (Spitalfields Life Books, 2014) • Street shooting in subways is dangerous, and not because people might yell. It's because it's tough to find new territory there without getting bogged in cliches. But Mazzer is the real deal. Roaming London's Underground over the course of decades, he's turned up a fair number of winners. OK, some are cliche. But enough of these rise above the fray to make this an interesting book.
Jean Depara, Kinshasa Night and Day (La Fabrica, 2010) • This small booklet collects some of the best portraits by Angola-born Depara made in the streets and night clubs of Kinshasa between 1951 and 1975. Billy Monk and Malick Sidibe come to mind, and Depara unwittingly followed their career trajectory, becoming better known posthumously than during his life. Most of his negatives were destroyed when he died. Looking at this book, the gravity of that loss hits home.
Tom Short, Photographs 1971-1994 (Artsquad Books, 1994) • This one could be read in a few ways, as family chronicle, sabbatier experiment, Woodman-style picto-masturbation, or some mix of all three. There are definitely a fair number of images which fall in the Welpott/Uelsmann 1970s mush camp. What saves it are the many bizarre and wonderful portraits which express not only humor but a gently twisted soul. Not many people would be brave enough to publish this.
Alice Shaw, People Who Look Like Me (Gallery 16 Editions, 2006) • The realm of identity-tweak photo projects has some stiff competition —Nikki S. Lee, Gillian Wearing, Gordon Stettinius, to name a few. Alice Shaw's may be among the more warped, and I mean that in a good way. Some of her visual pairings are downright uncanny, and the whole thing is a mind-fuck of presentation and visual morphology. Letterman, watch your back. I found a signed copy of this at Powell's for $5, so whoop-de-doo.
Mario Cuic and Steffi Löffler, Year Of The Horse (Self-Published, 2014) • A nice Blurb book containing photos made traveling in China by Cuic and Loffler. The photos blend without captions in the book. It's only at the end that small thumbnails describe the authorship. By that point you realize that maybe it doesn't matter so much, since both have a good eye for moments and color.
Giancarlo T. Roma and Thomas Roma, Show & Tell (Powerhouse, 2002) • I picked this up recently after my chat with Thomas Roma. It's a pretty cool concept, one I've contemplated doing myself. Giancarlo was ten at the time of publication, and his captions have an open innocence which is refreshing contrasted to adult art criticism which can gets in the way of itself. Photographically Thomas Roma is a stud as usual, showing many images here found in no other books. If you're a parent, you'll dig it. If not, hard to say.
Troy Holden, San Francisco 2014 (Self-Published, 2014) • A small chapbook that shows what one can do with ingenuity, trimmer, glue stick, and roving eye for the bizarre. This book collects some of Troy's favorites of the year, B/W Street pix mostly shot on Market Street in San Francisco. A nice physical specimen, limited edition of 25. Maybe Troy has some left?
Daniel Dale, Reverie, Part I (Self-Published, 2014) • A thin collection of color street photos shot mostly at night and/or through dim glass, plus some scattered sidewalk scenes. Overall the vibe is quiet, shy, and concerned with obfuscation. Some are quite nice, reminiscent of an immature Saul Leiter. Others aren't as strong and detract.
Arjan De Nooy, Party Photographer (De Nooy Collection, 2014) • A fun little book that plays on the recent rush in photography of found images and reappropriation. Not only has Arjan De Nooy cast miscellaneous party photos as the work of one fictitious person, he's written an entertaining backstory. The pictures and reproductions are rather ho-hum, but kudos for great satire which fits the spirit of the times.
(The blog will be inactive for the rest of March while I take my family to Yosemite. Happy Spring to all. Seeya in April.)