Friday, February 7, 2014

Used Book Reviews

Thomas Consilvio - Snapshooters (1973)

Consilvio is probably best known as Winogrand's printer, and this book won't do anything to improve on that legacy. It's a series of b/w snaps from the 1970s focused around the idea of snapshooting --each photo is of someone taking a photo. I don't know, maybe the concept seemed promising at the time. Somehow it got the green light. But the material here is tired and uninspiring, and the most unfortunate irony is that the printing is lousy. A book for the Winogrand completists maybe. Others should steer clear.

Tipper Gore - Picture This (1996)

Tipper Gore's first job was as a photojournalist for the Nashville Tennessean. She set her career aside as family and politics assumed a larger role in her life, but kept shooting photos for herself. The results are mixed. This book has a little bit of everything, from family snapshots to humanitarian missions to political galas, joined together with short reflections by Tipper. The twist that gives her photos some kick is her incredible access. There are a few photos here of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and their inner circle that would've been difficult for any regular photographer to get. But she was there on the scene, usually with camera. The photos hold interest only as far as their subject matter goes. Probably most appealing to political junkies or curiosity seekers.

Eric Paddock - Belonging To The West (1996)

Who the fuck is Eric Paddock and why haven't I heard of him? Those were my immediate questions after finding his monograph buried in the stacks as Smith. This is a gorgeous book all around, carefully designed and written, with enough white space around each image to simulate a museum experience. But none of that would matter if it weren't for the photos. They're a real treat. Colorado color landscapes which remind me of Stephen Shore, Gregory Conniff, or Missy Prince. Actually the central influence here is probably Robert Adams, and indeed he contributes an excited blurb on the rear cover —"visionary work..." But these pictures are craftier than Adams and probably more accessible. I love books like this that come out of nowhere and hit me on the head before they're quickly forgotten again. Turns out Eric Paddock is now a photography curator in Denver. Not sure if he's still making photos.

Tim Davis - The New Antiquity (2009)

Rome and the Italian landscape get the Tim Davis treatment. That means nothing fancy, few "moments", just sharply seen vernacular grabs. Davis has a nose for material and knows how to put a photo together. That much is beyond dispute. But I can't help wondering if he's preaching to the converted. The main audience for this work is probably a small group of other elite photographers who shoot in the same style. But when it comes down to it, that's something. In fact it's probably as much as any photographer can hope for. You work your ass off creating wonderful pictures and for what? So Tipper Gore can outsell you? So your precious baby can be forgotten and wind up in some used book review? Goddamn. I need a drink.

Gary Stochl - On City Streets (2005)

This guy was Vivian Maier before there was a Vivian Maier. Self taught and working in isolation, he wandered into a curator's office in 2003 with a box of Chicago street photos. The result was this book. I think we all know the drill by now, b/w street, Tri-X, a 50 mm lens on an M3, looking for downtown moments. On the whole Stochl was pretty good at it. Not worldclass — certainly not in Maier's class— but definitely talented. There are a few photos here which are absolute killers. If you're into street photography it's probably worth buying the book just to have them. But for me On City Streets has too many photos which don't achieve liftoff. It took 40 years to get these? He does the Ray Metzker thing dividing light and dark. Then he does it again. And so on. Recommended if you're into street photos, Chicago or fairy tale discoveries. Not for others.

Brad Zellar - Suburban World - The Norling Photos (2008)

There has been a glut of books in recent years re-examining and recontextualizing old photographs. Suburban World is one of the better ones. Norling was town photographer in Bloomington, Indiana during the 50s and 60s. He was seemingly everywhere with a camera, documenting civic functions, accidents, sporting events, and everything in between. His photographs, discovered in a basement by Zellar in 2002, depict a typical town life in snapshots. But the photographs here aren't just historically valuable. They are consistently entertaining as photographs, on a par with Teenie Harris, Weegee, Metinides, or other civic shooters. How much of that is due to Norling's genius and how much to Zellar's careful editing is unclear. In any case it works. As a sidenote, this is the first published collaboration between Zellar and Soth (he wrote the forward) before they teamed up later for LBM Dispatches. 

Richard Simpkin - Richard & Famous (2007)

What started off as a lark —a snapshot with a touring rock group —became a lifelong mission for Simpkin. Over the next two decades Simpkin's goal was to track down and have himself photographed with as many celebrities as possible. I care nothing about celebrity, but even I can grudgingly admire his achievement. The volume and range of portraits here is extraordinary. Each one comes with a little story about how he got the shot. In fact the book's intro offers tips for those hoping to get their own celebrity portraits. The fascinating subtext is the life of Simpkin. In the earliest photos he is a pre-teen. By the end of the book (2007) he's in his thirties. We come to realize that these photos aren't so much about famous faces but about Simpkin's development. Although marketed as a cheesy Hollywood exposé, this book could fit into the Kessels In Almost Every Picture series.

Betsy and Jeffrey A. Wolin Stirratt - Peek  (2000)

Culled from 75,000+ photos in the Kinsey archives, the selections here transform one of the most compelling and widely relatable aspects of human life —Sex— into a medical catalog of possibilities. All manner of sexual combination, taste, and behavior is represented. Some of the photos are fascinating. Others are rather exhausting. All are presented in a spirit of scientific inquiry reminiscent of the Burns Archive photographs. In other words these sex shots are not very sexy.  Most will kill the mood while leaving you curious to see more. Sex? Who has time for sex when there are photos to see.

Ken Graves & Michael Payne - American Snapshots (1977)

Compilations of old found photos are a dime a dozen now but back in 1977 that wasn't the case. I'm not sure if this was the first one but it was definitely a pioneer. Grave and Payne found material by going door to door and asking for old photos. They unearthed some gems. Unfortunately the book's print quality is stuck in the muddy 1970s, and now the material itself has been surpassed by the found-photo revolution (by Robert E. Jackson, for example). Maybe its time has passed. Nevertheless, with historical value, some great photos, and available on Amazon for a penny, what's there to lose?

Jerry L. Thompson - The Last Years of Walker Evans (1997)

The title says it all. This a memoir written by a student/assistant of Walker Evans during the last few years of Evans' life when his photographic reputation was once again on the rise after years of dormancy. The prose is entertaining and readable, not too academic. It reads more like a diary than photo essay. For Evans fans it's full of factoids, tips, and anecdotes. For the more general reader it's a nice summation of a fertile period in the 1970s when photography was undergoing seismic shifts. Mostly text, but contains many photos (several Polaroid) by Evans and some by Thompson.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate you giving us these honest book reviews. Such a nice change from other reviews I come across in photographyblogland that are filled with fluffy meaningless language and devoid of real opinion or critique. Thanks.

Mike in Colorado said...

Eric Paddock is currently the head of the photography department at the Denver Art Museum. He's been there for at least a couple of years now.