Now that the year-end list hubbub has settled, it's time to write once again about photobooks. Although I like to find books through recommendations, for me it's far more enjoyable to discover them in used bookstores. Wherever I travel, whenever I pass a bookstore, I pop inside for a quick scan of the photo section. It's usually a quick procedure. For the store it's no more hassle then a flu shot, although perhaps more painful in the long run.
I never know what I'll find. Usually it's junk. But once in a while I find a nugget and when that happens it's a great thrill. Part of the thrill is the book and part is from the hunt itself, the sense of unpredictability and discovery. It's like the thrill of hunting with a camera for photographs.
The charge of finding a great book lasts a while. For many of my books, the memory of where and when I found the book is integral to reading them. I remember the trip I was on, the type of photos I was interested in then, perhaps the weather. It's almost as if these books have the personal resonance of a journal entry.
In addition to the book, there is the romance of the bookstore. In parallel with the biological world, the bookstore universe is currently undergoing a great wave of extinction. In 20 years who knows how many there will be? So I enjoy visiting and supporting them while they're still around. Here are some book and bookstore discoveries from the past few years.
Garry Winogrand, Grossmont College Catalog
Found: 1998, Unknown Bookstore on Oak St. (now out of business), Ashland, Oregon
Buried in a pile below the art monographs. I barely knew who Winogrand was at this point. Most of the photos in the book looked to me like silly tilted snapshots, but there were a few that caught my eye and at $4 it seemed worth a shot. The print quality is horrible but back then I didn't notice stuff like that. This is probably his worst book but it contains a few photos found nowhere else.
Tony Ray-Jones (eponymous) and A Day Off
Found: 2002, Paper Moon Books, Portland
Paper Moon established itself in 2002 right around the corner from my home in Portland, so I had a chance to hit it during opening week. The photography selection was so-so but they did have two books by this weird Brit named Tony Ray-Jones. I had no idea who he was but the photos looked interesting. I bought A Day Off, took it home and devoured it that night. Then I was a TRJ convert. The next day I went back for the other one. I think they were around $5 each. Still two of my alltime favorite street photography books.
Joel Meyerowitz, Wild Flowers
Found: 2001, Unknown Bookstore (now out of business), Route 201, Madison, Maine
On my first visit to my inlaws in 2001 after they'd resettled near Skowhegan, I made a careful circuit of all the local bookstores to see what was out there. I've found that East Coast bookstores generally have a better stock than West Coast stores. It's not that they're more sophisticated but they have a denser supply of intellectual debris nearby. An estate sale in Maine might turn up all sorts of gems, whereas one in rural Oregon is less likely. So anyway this store in Madison was in the next town over from my inlaws. The shop was a complete mess but they had a small photo section in the back shed and, lo and behold, an old tattered copy of Wild Flowers, which I'd heard about but until then had never seen. Unlike some of my other buys I knew right away that I'd stumbled on a winner.
Mark Steinmetz, South Central
Found: 2007, Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine
I do a quick bookstore scan in Portland whenever I'm flying into or out of Maine. The city has a fairly good photobook stock, far better than any comparably sized city on the West Coast, although at this point the stores are perhaps a bit tapped out. At the time I found this used Mark Steinmetz title in a pile of photobooks I was only vaguely aware of him. But the photos grabbed me right away and I made the purchase even though at $20 it was pushing my used book budget. I've wound up buying all of his books since (except Summertime) although I haven't been able to find used copies.
Burk Uzzle, Landscapes
Found: 1996, Turtle Island Bookshop, Berkeley, CA
This was one of the first photobooks I ever bought. It was in a very polished used store selling classy titles to the Berkeley Hills glitterati. Nevertheless I was able to score this cheap paperback of nice photos. Uzzle showed me a very formal way of putting graphics together that greatly influenced me at the time. I've mostly outgrown it by now but Landscapes still has a place in my heart, and on my bookshelf.
Die Deutschen, Rene Burri
Found: 2003, Powell's Books, Portland
When you scour the photobook aisles over and over you tend to get a sense of which books are common and which aren't. Titles like Arbus' Monograph or Leibovitz's Women or 40 Examples by Adams must circulate in the majority of bookstores out there. My eyes glaze over. By contrast, when I saw Die Deutschen at Powell's it was totally unfamiliar. Not only that but the photos inside were mostly new to me even though I'd looked at a lot of Burri. This was the third edition, a paperback, selling used. I've never seen it in any bookstore since.
Tom Wood, Bus Odyssey
Found: 2003, Powell's Books, Portland
Another Powell's find. I don't know what the story was but one day Powell's had a large selection of remaindered Tom Wood titles for sale. I wasn't familiar with his work at the time but I immediately took a shine to it. But I couldn't decide which book to buy. All Zones Off Peak? Bus Odyssey? Photie Man? There seemed to be some overlap between them. I think they were all around $12 or something. Cheap but I couldn't afford all three. Finally I settled on Bus Odyssey since I was riding the bus a lot back then. On my next trip to Powell's a week later every book had been sold.
Michael Ackerman, End Time City
Found: 2002, Tim Whelan Books, Rockport, Maine
Before it closed in 2010, Whelan ran one of the best photobook stores in New England. It was mostly new stock but there were enough enough discounts and used titles mixed in to keep the treasure hunting interesting. Ackerman's book was marked down as slightly damaged. It immediately appealed to me since I was shooting a lot of Noblex photos at the time and his book was the only one I'd seen that really explored motion blur with a swinglens. Other than a few images scattered in Sylvia Plachy's books, it's still the only one I know of.
Garry Winogrand, Figments from the Real World
Found: 1999, David Morrison Books, Portland
At $80, this is probably my largest outlay for any photobook. The thing was, I was under a heavy Winogrand spell at the time. After Grossmont I'd gone looking for more of his work but it was difficult. This was before any of his books had gone into reprint and before the online photo boom. All of his books were tough to find, especially this one. So Figments was a treasure trove and I probably would've bought it at any price. Morrison Books followed the way of most bookstores and closed their retail space shortly after. But during its short run it was the best photobook store in Portland, the predecessor to Ampersand. I think Morrison still deals online from a converted church in North Portland.
Bill Burke, Portraits
Found: 2005, Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers, Seattle, WA
A damaged book, steeply discounted, matching the distressed full-frame Polaroids shown inside. I didn't know much about Burke before seeing this but he has become one of my favorite portraitists. I've since seen the book here and there in stores but it's fairly uncommon.
Gilles Peress, Telex Iran
Found: 2000, Unknown bookstore, 49 Geary St., San Francisco
The antiquarian bookstores at 49 Geary are almost as much fun as the galleries. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the store I found this in. I just remember it had about 200 square feet of photobook bindings to sift through. I could've spent hours there, but after finding a used Telex Iran I decided to call it a day. I knew whatever else I found probably couldn't top that. I've rarely seen this book in any store since.
Lee Friedlander and Jim Dine, Work From the Same House
Found: 2010, Re-Books, Waterville, Maine
The one book in this post that I didn't buy. I've already written about the discovery here. Last summer I went back to check and the book was still there, and I still didn't buy it. Surpassing my book budget and probably the book budget of most Waterville residents, this will likely sit unsold until the end of the store, which judging by its general condition doesn't seem far off now.
Curious to hear from others if you have your own discoveries to share...
A couple off the top of my head:
Ghosts Along the Mississippi by Clarence John Laughlin, 1948 edition, $5.00 at a library book sale in Kalamazoo, MI, 2001
Photogrids by Sol Le Witt, $2.00 at a thrift store in Ann Arbor, MI, sometime in the mid 90's
Suburbia by Bill Owens, autographed, $3.00 at the Ann Arbor library book sale, in the early 90's
Spirit into Matter: The Photographs of Edmund Teske, $8.00 in a used bookstore in Chicago, last fall.
Not a bookstore find, but I came across Raymond Moore's "Murmurs at Every Turn" in my local library. I had never heard of him, and very nearly didn't borrow the book. In the end, I did borrow it and by the time I came to return it, I was a different photographer as a result. I never saw it in our library again, and finally tracked down my own copy ten years later, when I first got Internet access.
I missed a copy of Don McCullin's "Open Skies' on a trip to Hay-on-Wye. I'd seen it and made a mental note to come back to the shop and buy it before I headed home, but when I got there, someone else had beaten me to it. D'oh.
Hunting for photobooks in local bookstore, here in Tunis, Tunisia, is a habit I have been maintaining for nearly a year now. Finding the photobooks is often a challenge as books are rarely sorted by themes. So I really don't know what I might find which makes the hunt even more enjoyable.
two of the books I acquired in the last couple of months are:
- Paris! Photos, 1950-1954 , by Ed van der Elsken
-1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Compter en s'amusant. A counting book for children, with 12 black and white Rotogravure printed photos by Robert Doisneau
Blake, great post. I got Figments for $38.50 and Telex Iran off Sportsshooter for $20. Before my local bookstore closed I bought a bunch of vintage Aperture mags on average for $5 per copy including some of the monographs in one or two issues.
Around 1977 I bought a copy of Women Are Beautiful from Economy Bookstore on Salina Street in Syracuse, New York. It was a great store. I didn't like the book all that much but it was a Winogrand and I didn't have any others at that point. The price on the cover is $15 but I didn't pay that much. Around 1985 or so, Economy Bookstore was going out of business and everything was on sale. I think at the time I forgot that I had a copy and bought another for about $5. I remember feeling like a total idiot when I realized I had two copies -- until years later when I felt like a genious.
oh and I got a water damaged but signed copy of Suburbia direct (by mail) from Bill Owens. Don't remember what I paid but it wasn't much. And the water damage isn't that bad.
Good stories all.
The anecdote about wet Suburbia reminds me of Martin Parr's article in the recent Aperture PhotoBook reader. His first book Bad Weather didn't sell well and he was offered the chance to buy the remainders back at 40 cents apiece. He stored them in his car and tried to sell them here and there and sometimes give them away. But they got wet in the process and so all of his copies of Bad Weather became literally weatherized. The irony is that one of those water damaged, signed copies now is quite valuable.
The moral? Books work in mysterious ways.
Terry Toedtemeier's inscribed gallery exhibit booklet of Basalt images- $8 at library book sale.
Walter Rosenblum Photographer book inscribed to a physician friend with enclosed card from wife/author Naomi similarly thanking for gettogether- $15 at Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley,CA.
Not to mention ebay and Goodwill finds....
Among all the remaindered copies at "Book Off" of humdrum titles from the vanity imprint BeeBooks, the exceptional Kayabuki Tōkyō and Photographs by Akira Toriyama. Both books deserve non-vanity publication -- though here (as usual), BeeBooks' printing quality is as good as you might dare to hope, which isn't something I can say for some prestigious publishers here.
Ville Lenkkeri's Reality in the Making from another Book Off. I'd never heard of it or him. (Plus Tony Ray-Jones' A Day Off at yet another Book Off, but I already knew of this.)
Martin Parr's Bad Weather, no signature but no water damage either, in my father's house. He'd noticed a pile of these in some shop selling remainders; and as it was funny and going very cheap, he bought a copy.
Spotted in a very old-fashioned used bookshop in a Tokyo suburb two decades ago: a bunch of "erotic" western photobooks from the 1950s and 60s. Harrison Marks and so forth: mildly amusing, but not so amusing that I'd want to buy any. Among them, however: Bill Brandt's Perspectives of Nudes (1st ed). Mine for ¥3000.
Recently found Larry Fink's "Somewhere there's Music" for $20.00.
Although not strictly a "found" photo-book, I managed to score a copy of Trent Parke's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" before the Flickr crowd when gonzo for it.
Best non-photobook find was Neil Young's Complete Music Vol 1&2 (sheet music) for $5.00 each.
Yes, I too found a pile of Somewhere there's Music, new and wrapshrunk, for about that price. I bought a copy to give to a friend, and gave it to the friend. I should have bought a second copy.
At another time, the same shop had remaindered copies of The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings. I was sufficiently intelligent to buy two copies of this.
Blake I was given a copy of Winogrand's Grossmont College catalogue and many of the middle pages have come unglued and I'm not sure if pages are missing. My book has 40 full images in it. Do you happen to know how many there should be? I couldn't find any data like that on the internet. Thanks.
The book has 40. You've got them all.
So sorry to hear that Tim Whelan store does not exist anymore. I think I learned to love photobooks in that place. Tim let me wonder and grab and smell books without any questions asked. Haven´t been in Rockport for about 8 years but I loved that place and that book store is forever in my memory. Tim was the outsider teacher at Rockport College. Hail to the King!!!
Ricardo Peña Venezuela
Thanks for confirming the page number Blake. I appreciate it.
This is sort of a sorry post for me, had photo books in the tonnage back in the late 90's, and realized I was never going to be able to afford to move them around or buy more in the 'new amerika', and my waning ability to make a living, so sold them all. Love books over computers tho, that's for sure.
Interesting to note, I found a guy in the greater Chicago area who specialized in photo and art books, he went to art shows and photo expos and sold off of tables, and also did plenty of work on fleabay. He gave me top dollar for my Keith Carter stuff, I was early on the Keith Carter train and had all of it, and he probably gave me two or three times what I paid for some of the early stuff, wish I had it back and was living someplace I could put it on a bookshelf.
BTW, what's the deal with Telex Iran? Had a buddy, now dead, who was living in the Washington DC area and shooting video news, and he had a copy. I remember looking at it a few times and being really, really less than impressed. Are you guys buying it because it's rare, or because you think it's genius? Cetainly didn't think it was genius...
telax iran is one of the smoothest books ever, I love how it lays flat when open and the double page spreads are luscious and make sense
This is sort of a sorry post for me, had photo books in the tonnage back in the late 90's, and realized I was never going to be able to afford to move them around or buy more in the 'new amerika', and my waning ability to make a living, so sold them all. Love books over computers tho, that's for sure.poker guidemobile bingo
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